It’s been years since I last lived in Clontarf. I did my time in Dublin 3 many lifetimes ago. And I loved it. Being able to smell a low tide. Waking up to seagulls (before we were on the outs). Living in relatively luxury in a mews built by an avant-garde American couple at the back of a house on Castle Avenue before it was popular to use up every available parcel of land for housing. It was great.
Occasionally, I’d venture down to the village itself and have a pint in The Sheds owned by the Connollys. Their name is still on the window but whether that’s just laziness or actual testimony to the fact that they still own the place some 30 years later, is debatable. The pub hasn’t changed. Not a bit. And it’s great to see that it has survived the tide of modernisation that swallowed up neighbouring pubs like the Yacht. It’s only concession to progress is the conversion of an upstairs room into a theatre space that now houses Viking Theatre.
My birthday week had kicked off in style the night before with dinner in Drumcondra and a visit to an old haunt from my NIHE days – the Cat and Cage – another pub that has survived the Celtic Tiger relatively intact. Friday night was earmarked for dinner in Moloughneys, a lovely eatery in Clontarf village that does good food well. Then a nip around the corner into the Sheds for 75 minutes of excellent entertainment in the guise of Philip Doherty’s The Pilgrim. Starring the sublime Rex Ryan (the late Gerry Ryan’s son – apparently he was named Rex because Gerry thought it would look good on a poster ), this one-man man show is the best piece of theatre I’ve seen since Hilda Fay in My Name is Alice Devine.
Billed as ‘an Irishman’s odyssey through a world set ablaze by 9/11’, it is brilliantly written and was even more brilliantly performed. Ryan plays Christy, a young lad from Dublin who is about to discover that the world doesn’t revolve around him. He also does justice to an old man with a powerful shower, various airport employees, locals, and even a pregnant woman (does anyone know why marigold gloves stuffed with ice cubes might be something a pregnant woman might want?)
His plane home to Ireland after five months in San Diego was diverted to Newfoundland for four days in the aftermath of 9/11. I’d never given much thought to the hundreds if not thousands of planes grounded that day in the USA – and the ‘plane people’ they carried. He gets drunk during their overnight on the plane and wakes up in a church. For a minute he thinks the Virgin Mary is appearing to him. You had to be there – it was the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.
The various calls that go out for the likes of toilet paper and condoms as the locals struggle to cope with the influx of temporary refugees – what Doherty calls a ‘Noah’s Ark of nationalities’ and the various short-term relationships that spring up reflect societal interaction at its best. Russian musicians entertain the masses with their version of a ‘Communist Céili’. And time passes marked with activity: ‘three beatings, two benders, and one fake apparition since I last had a shower’. The links between Ireland and Newfoundland are subtly woven with fishermen looking like ‘blight-ridden potatoes’ and Padre Pio morphing into Peadair.
Christy’s sex scene with Penny (his long-time friend, a woman, now pregnant with his child and in his mind heart-achingly classified as ‘just Penny’) was both graphic and beautiful and so quickly recounted that sensibilities didn’t have time to be offended. The drowning scene had me gasping for air as I watched enthralled, mesmerised at how one man could so vividly portray something so terrible. Rex Ryan is a man I’d travel to see on stage again. Philip Doherty’s manipulation of the English language has as me green with envy. Directed by Aoife Spillane-Hinks, The Pilgrim was at the 2014 Dublin Fringe and is heading to Edinburgh Fringe this month. If you’re going that way, be sure to put it on your must-see list. I wonder if there’s any way to get it to Budapest or whether it would travel?
I love birthday weeks. This one has started well and is shaping up to be a good one. As it trundles forward, I’m grateful for the many friends who have already shared it, and those who have yet to share it, and for the likes of Ryan and Doherty and Spillane-Hinks whose talent traverses boundaries and provides us lesser mortals with so much entertainment.