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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

Poets Plays And Funeral Homes

   Last month I told you I was on my way to the 46th Listowel Writers’ Week. And needless to say it didn’t disappoint. The opening was an evening of anticipation, celebration and entertainment. The festival was opened by Richard Ford. The Jackson, Mississippi author and winner of many awards regaled us with a witty and informative speech. We learned among other things that he certainly didn’t vote for Donald Trump.

   The John B. Keane Lifetime achievement award was presented to Brendan Kennelly. Ryan Tubridy didn’t exactly sit still but artist P.J. Lynch painted a wonderful portrait of him in ONE HOUR.

Ryan Tubridy

   Former Government Minister Jimmy Deenihan has found a connection between Shakespeare and Listowel. According to Jimmy the Character MacMorris in King Henry 5th is based on a one-time resident of Listowel Castle. And . . . he also claimed that the first Writers’ week was not in 1971 as we were always lead to believe but in 1589 when three poets came to the Castle with the intention of staying for three days but left six months later.

   Space doesn’t permit me to even scratch the surface of the action-packed week.

    Listowel playwright Tony Guerin has written another play “Jury PM”. In the words of one journalist Tony “ . . .looks at the workings of justice in the crosshairs of his pen.” The play is about a jury charged with coming to a decision in a Rape case. Perhaps it's down to having worked as a detective on the mean streets of Dublin at a time when drug gangs and junkies were starting to wreak havoc, but Tony Guerin ain't much interested in frying small fish. His first big drama Cuckoo Blue took on Garda corruption long before 'Donegal cops' became a byword for the abuse of power within the force; Solo Run went gunning for the cruellest realities of Catholic dogma based on an horrific true-life tragedy in Listowel and The Laird of Doon tackled paedophilia, to name but three of his hardest-hitting works.

   Now, at 78 years of age, Tony is as engaged as ever with public life and the workings of justice in his latest play.

   It's a hot-topic subject following the recent collapse of the Sean Fitzpatrick trial. It's to be staged later this year in Dublin. Meanwhile, Tony has also updated his classic 'Solo Run' for a run early next year with his great interpreters in the Lartigue Drama Group. And he has another two plays on the go at present - it's enough to leave writers even half his age feeling exhausted.

   "I had three novels written, one of them published, before I turned to drama and it was the making of me as I never had much interest in describing colours, or hairstyles or the quality of light on the bog say. It was the human drama of the story I was only after and I can't believe it's more than 20 years now since Danny Hannon produced Cuckoo Blue for the first time!" Garda corruption was at the core of it - 'it was straight from what I'd seen on the force.' 'There were a lot of good people in the guards of course, but you had lads too who abused the 'button power' of their uniforms.'

   Trial by indictment in this State falls under the Guerin microscope in Jury PM. The subject matter sounds overly worthy explained like this, but the play is very much the opposite of dull. Like all his work, it's bursting with brilliant, boisterous dialogue, larger-than-life characters and hilarious exchanges. " Jury 'PM' refers to 'post mortem' and it's about a particular jury charged with coming to a decision in a rape case.

   Just like his earlier play “Cuckoo Blue” “Jury PM” is based on Tony’s experience as a Garda. He says, “I always said 'lucky was the accused who had self-employed people on the jury' as I remember one friend, a builder who was trying to get a number of houses done when he was called, telling me he walked straight into the deliberation room when the hearing was over saying 'he's guilty'. But another juror said 'hang on now, we need to discuss this'. 'Ok fine, he's not guilty' he said. He had fellas working on the buildings and needed to get back to work immediately.” “Jury PM” is a brilliant play; not to be missed and it has the trademark Tony Guerin “twist.”

   Just back from Writers’ Week I was asked to say a few words at the opening of a funeral HOME. Clarke’s Funeral Directors, , was established in 1945 by Michael Clarke. It was always a family- run business. It is now managed by Tony, Regina and Gordon. Three generations have run the business from Main Street, Blessington. It has now moved to a new state of the art premises at Burgage Mor, just outside the town. This new facility offers a large car park and inside has a relaxing foyer, two funeral viewing rooms, family reception room, offices, kitchen, display room which all come with ancillary requirements.

   One of the main aims of the Clarke Family is to work with the bereaved to organize a funeral in a calm, organized and dignified manner. They work hard to carry out all arrangements in a stress free manner tailored to each family’s individual requirements. In addition to religious services Clarke's Funeral Directors can also cater for non-denominational, humanist and civil ceremonies When the ribbon was cut by Regina and Gordon Clarke , with a giant ceremonial scissors, Clergy of several denominations, people who had availed of Clarkes’ services in their time of bereavement and local dignitaries listened as present head of the dynasty Tony Clarke, in a witty and word-perfect speech , thanked all who had been involved in the project. It seemed like the list was endless. Names rolled off Tony’s tongue without reference to notes. (Or as one local wag said, ”without the aid of ropes or pulleys.” As the large crowd dispersed, after copious refreshments, Gordon Clarke took custody of the large ceremonial scissors. No doubt it will be eventually passed on the fourth generation of Clarke undertakers. (I’m told that the towels in Tony Clarke’s bathroom are marked HIS and HEARSE. ) Tony is a good few years younger than me and I called in to let him know about my only remaining ambition. When I shuffle off I want to be brought in, feet first, to the aforementioned established by a ninety-five year old Tony Clarke.

    As George Bernard Shaw said, “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh. “ Some deaths are commented on in colourful language and at Clarke’s Funeral Parlour opening many colourful stories were told. One fellow told me, “I’m Just got back from my mate's funeral. He died after being hit on the head with a tennis ball. It was a lovely service.” Speaking of which, we, in west Wicklow, are sometimes accused of having a peculiar attitude to death. I don’t think we have and by way of illustration let me tell you the following story which I picked up the same day. Many years ago when English writer John D. Vose was doing research for his book Tales and Yarns of Glendalough, he was interviewing sheep-farmer Bill fanning, in Zeller’s pub in Lacken. Bill related how when he and Paddy Haley were rounding up sheep over Liffey Head they went into Nick Higgins for a “sup o’ tay.” Nick lived with his younger brother John and an older sister who had lived in America for years. Over to Bill Fanning; “Well, Frank asks after the old sister’s health. ‘She’s sick in bed ‘says Nick, ‘John’s just after takin’ her up some tay’. Me and old Haley goes off up the mountain after strays and we’re away for several hours. When we came back Frank asks Nick how the sister was. Oh’ says Nick’ she’s not so good at all. She died two hours ago and John’s gone off to find someone to take her away’. Oh you had some quare adventures in my day along the road.”

    My play “And All his Songs Were Sad” which is based on the life and works of the late Sean McCarthy will be staged for the first time in Ireland on July 08th. See Link;

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