Bosie in Dingle
McCARTHY’S BAR, DINGLE
After a quick bus change in Tralee, arrived in Dingle town at 12.30am. The journey over the Dingle Peninsula had been uneventful but so indescribably beautiful that there was little point in describing it. I had been looking forward to seeing Dingle again. It had always stuck in my mind as the classic Irish town; it had the romantic exhilaration of being the end of the line – the most westerly place in all of Europe. Its proudest boast was that the next parish was New York.
Sat on the harbour wall and watched the tourists wandering round the pottery shops and health food restaurants. Something had changed. It all looked a bit too well organised.
Phoned Michaela, my Kerry contact, and she drove in by car with her boyfriend, Chips. They lived even further to the west, about six miles out towards the Blasket Islands. Although her family was from Kerry, Michaela had been raised in London and had worked in public relations in the rock world. She was now performing much the same sort of work for the Irish film industry.
Chips worked for the BBC. It was a measure of just how much the West of Ireland (and, in a way, the world) had changed, in that two professionals in very fast moving, internationally orientated jobs could carry on working normally in a geographical location where previously only the remotest goatherd would have been able to scrape a living.
Michaela, always a byword for efficiency, had arranged the venue at a pub called McCarthys. We drove up the hilly main street and went inside for a drink and to meet Tom, the publican. I thanked Michaela for placing the Kerryman article about the show. She apologised for the mistake over the name – ‘Alan’ Titley rather than ‘Neil’. It turned out that there actually was an actor called Alan Titley who lived in Dublin.
“The Kerryman must have got the two of you mixed up.”
It crossed my mind that, if my namesake ever read the Kerryman, he might be rather puzzled to learn that he was hitch-hiking through Western Ireland dressed as a Victorian gay aesthete.
I also thanked her for suggesting the Listowel gig and enthused about John B.
“He gave me a tenner.”
Chips remarked “You should have got him to sign the note.”
“Hmm, I don’t think either he or I are that insane.”
“It would have made it a very valuable tenner” Chips replied.
“You try telling them that in a Spar supermarket.”
At 2pm, Michaela and Chips dropped me off at a hostel campsite down near the fishing harbour. The warden was a young, friendly American who led me out to the sloping lawn at the rear of the house.
“Put the tent up anywhere you like. It’s a great view from here. You might even see Fungi if you’re lucky.”
Taking into account his long hair and laid back Californian cool, I assumed that this must be a reference to magic mushrooms. However, it turned out that ‘Fungi’ was the name of a dolphin that had adopted Dingle Harbour as its home. He had become a revered local hero, with special ‘Fungi Boat Trips’ laid on for sightseers. Somebody had even written an opera about him.
Several other tents were in the process of erection; their owners were all French. Beyond a nod or two, though, nobody actually spoke. It was becoming a quite distinct phenomenon; the two worlds of the Irish and the Tourists. The first unquenchably loquacious, the second, quiet to the point of reticence. Two separate nations living cheek by jowl.
On a religious side-track, in some respects Dingle was unique in the Province of Munster. In the 1830’s, there had been a successful conversion of the town to Gaelic-speaking Protestantism. Converts were rewarded with specially built houses. This was a considerably less harrowing experience than an earlier Munster conversion. St Patrick is reputed to have converted the King of Munster to Christianity but, during the baptismal ceremony, he accidentally impaled the king’s foot with his crozier. The king remained stoically if grimly silent, under the impression that this was part of the initiation service.
Walked back into town to the main supermarket. There was a large poster in the window: ‘Oscar Wilde Hitch-Hikes Ireland! Tonight 8pm!’ Michaela had been at work again, the darling. Gathered the usual groceries of ham, tomatoes and rolls; anything to balance the basic diet of curried chips.
Another minor embarrassment was arising from the hat collections. Most of my money was in coinage. Today, in particular, I felt a distinct hip-sway from the bulging coin-stuffed trouser pockets. There is in Ireland (and presumably elsewhere) an expression known as ‘boozer’s pockets’. This comes from the fact that, when drunk, people tend not to pay out in coins but rather pay out note after note because it’s easier. This results in having piles of change the next day, which they’ve received after each transaction. Now, although my coins had come from an entirely different source, the consequences were exactly the same. I was becoming used to the knowing grins of shop assistants as I laboriously counted out handfuls of copper and ten pences.
“Did you have a good night of it, then?”
After a siesta and picnic back at the tent, I returned to McCarthy’s Bar at 6.30pm. It was deserted apart from the landlady, Pauline. Together, we checked out the large lean-to shed at the back of the pub that was to be tonight’s theatre. It resembled a looted junk shop. Pauline looked around doubtfully.
“It’s not been used for a while. Apart from mending motor bikes, that is.”
We set to work with wet rags to wipe up the worst of the dust and oil.
In some respects, though, it wasn’t too bad. There was a raised stage area and there were two genuine lights overhead – the best lighting I’d had so far. In fact, apart from Molloy’s psychedelia, the only lighting I’d had so far. The disadvantage was that they were both rigidly fixed directly overhead, so that the light descended into two glaring pools on the stage, while everything else remained in darkness. Decided that I’d just have to concentrate on standing in the pools. And at least the darkness shrouded the assorted bric-a-brac that was stacked onto the rest of the stage. The ‘Parisian café’ illusion was not helped by having a drum kit, a park bench and a bicycle piled at the side. An ancient piano accordion provided some sort of authenticity, I supposed, but I’d never liked the instrument anyway. I’d always agreed with the famous definition of a gentleman as ‘someone who knows how to play a piano accordion. And doesn’t.’
By now, I had become accustomed to making up in public and applied the slap under the critical gaze of four schoolgirls. The 8pm start time came and went as usual with only the schoolgirls for company. Felt under some pressure to perform well tonight, not just because Michaela had put effort into promoting it but because the show itself had dipped. So far, Letterkenny had been good, Donegal poor, Westport and Ballina reasonable and Galway excellent. But then had come the lunacy in the Arans and the fairly lousy performance in Listowel. I needed to raise the game. There was a sudden influx from the crowded front bars, as if the audience had made a spontaneous decision to start the show and, by 8 20, the shed was packed.
“As far as my own works are concerned, ideal dramatic criticism should consist of unqualified approval. But I suppose that I really must disapprove of critics. If a play is easy to understand then an explanation is unnecessary. And if a man’s work is totally incomprehensible, an explanation can be cruelly embarrassing. I am informed that all drama critics can be bought. However, I must say that, judging by their appearance, they really can’t be very expensive’.
At last, a technically good show. It was a bit low on real emotion and elan, but there were no fluffs and the timing was dead on. A clinical success. The donation sortie with the hat went well also – a welcome few fivers in amidst the coins. Michaela had to leave for another engagement. I embraced her with thanks, she’d done a great job. Cleared up the gear, then moved into a side bar with a free pint from Tom.
Michaela in DingleTwo girls arrived in the bar and came to share the bench. They were called Shivaun and Elizabeth. Shivaun was the elder and worked for the Regional Development Board, while Elizabeth came from Dublin and was an unemployed weaver. She said that in order to qualify for a government grant to buy a loom, she had to stay unemployed for a year.
“Jaysus, it’s boring.”
As they had missed the show, I explained about the tour. Initially, they seemed charmed by the idea.
“It’s just like the old wandering labourers who got killed off in the Famine”, said Shivaun. “They would travel the country to the hireling fairs. They carried just a spade with them and they doubled up as poets and storytellers.”
She was more disillusioned when she discovered that, instead of a spade, I carried a mobile phone.
“It’s OK, though” I told her. “It makes up for its modernity by not working.”
Shivaun talked about her job in Regional Development “The real trouble now are the big global supermarkets. You see, the real heart of Ireland is the small shop and the small pub. That’s how the villages stay alive. And people can pass the business on to their families. It’s not just about retail, it’s about community. Once the small shop has gone, Ireland might as well pack up and be finished with it. We’ll just be another tenth rate version of America.”
I agreed. “That’s what is happening to England already. But Ireland will be a tougher nut to crack. Even for the most ruthless corporates.”
I carried on at some length and volume about the effects of flogging off one’s country to the highest bidder.
Elizabeth nodded enthusiastically and said: “That’s right. You’re quite a wise man.”
I suppose that, after a certain age, a man no longer receives compliments about being handsome or muscular or virile. You have to settle for ‘wise’. Then I thought about what she’d said.
“Elizabeth, you are talking to a man who’s dressed in half an Oscar Wilde costume, whose only companion is a shopping basket and who is voluntarily preparing to go and spend the night crammed into a small tent. Possibly in the rain. Wise?”
At midnight, I said goodnight to the company and walked down the hill to the waterfront. Queued up in front of a kebab van. A small Scotsman approached and muttered conspiratorially:
“I liked that show of your’s”.
It turned out that he was unemployed, having been made redundant in Belfast, and then having had four jobs in Dingle, all of which had flexibly disappeared. We were strolling along the harbour front when he asked suddenly:
“Would you like to hire me as your theatre producer, sir?”
Declined regretfully. “I’m sorry about it but I can’t really afford this kebab, let alone a producer.”
He nodded understandingly and disappeared into the night.
Returned to the camp and, after turning down an invitation to join a singing session with the American warden and the French tourists, crashed out in the tent.
DAY FIFTEEN: SATURDAY
Woke at 7am. Brewed up some tea on the primus. It tasted even more like shampoo than usual. Despite earlier weather warnings, the rain still had not arrived but there was a distinctly chill wind blowing in from the sea. For the first time on the tour, I was forced to wear a scarf. Folded up the tent and repacked Bosie, then walked down and sat on the harbour wall.
My initial misgivings about Dingle had intensified. One could accept the barrage of tourist paraphernalia, the ‘last plastic leprechaun shop before the motorway’ culture, but it seemed that the old atmosphere had gone as well. It reminded me of Cowes more than Ireland. That ‘last refuge of the damned’ magic had disappeared. In Celtic mythology the Land of Youth, Tir Na Nog, had been located out to the sea across Dingle Bay. Oisin, the son of Finn Mackool, had taken Niamh, a local beauty, and together they had galloped out on huge white horses across the bay to Tir Na Nog for three hundred years of rumpy pumpy. These days they probably would have crashed into a passing oil tanker.
Considered the options. Having successfully completed eight shows, a feeling of reckless over-confidence had begun to creep in. I felt as if things could not go wrong. Michaela had suggested a pub in Killarney called the Brickeen as the next venue but I felt that I wanted to get away from the tourist scene that Killarney inevitably represented. I wanted to test Fate a bit. Tom from McCarthy’s Bar had mentioned a town called Killorglin as a possibility. Why not?
By now, the wind had turned quite viciously cold and I walked into town to try and find a hot drink. Or at least one that didn’t taste of Badedas. The time being 9 30am, nowhere was open. In the West of Ireland not much really gets going till ten. Instead I stood in a sheltered shop front to avoid the raw gusts. The shop was called O’Sullivan’s Agricultural Merchants. From an open first floor window came the sound of vigorous splashing in a bath and a man’s deep bass voice singing ‘Kevin Barry’:
“In a dreary Brixton Prison, Where an Irish Rebel la-a-ay….”.
It sounded great – at least some semblance of old Dingle had survived.
Then, as I walked down the street towards the bus stop, the door of a terraced house opened and a little old man darted out. He gave me a vacant grin, rolled his eyes, and followed me cackling:
“Good morning, good morning.”
He had a strong resemblance to John Mills’ village idiot in ‘Ryans Daughter’. Wondered if John Mills had taken him as a role model? Or if he had taken John Mills as a role model? It was the same Nature mirroring Art question again – the same conundrum as that in Listowel.
Caught the bus bound for Killarney at 10.30am and watched the last rays of the sun being extinguished by a black cloud looming from the south west over Dingle Bay.
And then the rains came.
Next Week – on Tuesday April 9 – Into the jaws of Killorglin and a problem.