Cripple of Inishmaan

The Cripple of Inishmaan

I’m secretly in love with Martin McDonagh. I’ve never met the man but I did live in his neck of the woods in London for a while and I like to think that we might have reached for the same carton of milk in a corner shop at some stage. Or perhaps we sat sipping coffee at our respective tables, scribbling away. I like the way his mind works – the quirkiness of his plots and pieces. He got me playwise at the Beauty Queen of Leenane and won me over heart and soul with his movie In Bruges. I saw his play, The Lonesome West in Hungarian (Vaknyugat), with English surtitles, and was blown away at how well it translated and how much the Hungarian actors got him. They could have been Irish. I only recently saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, a movie that set me on the trail of the talented Sam Rockwell – but I digress.

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Passing through Dublin last Thursday night, I scored a single ticket for the Gaiety production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, another McDonagh oldie, and joined some friends who’d had tickets for ages. With no one beside me to chat to, I paid more attention than usual to those around me. A night at the Gaiety oozes civility. You can order your interval drinks before the show and then sit during the intermission at your assigned table, avoiding the crowds bellying up to the bar. The theatre itself, while nowhere near the grandeur of the Urania in Budapest, is steeped in history.

The curtain first rose on 27th November 1871 and since then, the Grand Old Lady of South King Street has been entertaining the masses. I wish the management would ban the sale of sweets, though. Or only sell ones that come in boxes. There’s always someone who needs to rustle in a crinkly bag just when something important is going on, on stage. On the night that was in it, a man behind me lost the run of his maltesers, each one falling to the ground and rolling forward … and forward… and forward. But that wasn’t the only noise of the night.

McDonagh has a way with words. His characters in The Cripple of Inishmaan have a turn of phrase that would make sensitive women blush and I’d a few of them sitting behind me. The nervous titters and the strangled gasps evoked by the crude bantering between parent and child, brother and sister, aunts and nephews, and lines such as this amused me no end.

She was as ugly as a brick of baked shite. Excuse my language but I’m only being descriptive.

First written in 1997 and set in 1930s Ireland, The Cripple of Inishmaan has some topical running themes. References to what priests might get up to in the sacristy other than pouring the wine gave pause for thought and a regular refrain of

Ireland mustn’t be such a bad place if the Yanks (the French, the Germans, the dentists…) want to come to Ireland

had me thinking about immigration. The bits of news traded by the local newsman (gossip) Johnnypateenmike and the efforts he goes to, to get his news, called to mind the tenacity of the gutter press. He delighted in bad news and feuds because, as he said:

What news is there in putting things behind you?

The play opened last week in Dublin and is currently playing, too, in LA. One review says of the US production said that The Cripple of Inishmaan is…

arguably one of McDonagh’s most sentimentalized and obvious works — a blatant misrepresentation of Irish peasantry so reductive that it requires special handling to prevent it from crashing into caricature.

But we had Irish actors with Irish accents, even if they did move around the country on occasion. Funnily enough, had not the great Rosaleen Linehan (she who has seen 81 summers) played the part of Mammy, the rest of the cast would have carried it off. But good as they were, they paled a little in comparison. They played their parts but Linehan played it real.

That said, there’s a new band of actors coming on line. Ian O’Reilly (Padraic in Moone Boy) and Jamie Lee O’Donnell (Michelle in Derry Girls) are worth watching out for. As they come into their own, we’ll be in for a few treats.

For me though, the star of the show was the set designer Owen MacCarthaigh. He nailed it. I swear I could smell the turf fire, the seaweed, and the porter, as we moved seamlessly from the cottage shop, to the beach, to mammy’s bedroom. Magical.

For a country of some 4 million people, Ireland does incredibly well to sustain such a wealth of literature, art, and theatre. I miss it. If you’re in Dublin between now and March, it’s worth checking out.

Cripple of Inishmaan


Not just any old field

When you learn something new every day, life takes on new meaning. It doesn’t have to be rocket science. It doesn’t have to be life-changing. It just has be new. Mind you, my ‘I never knew that’ is usually followed quickly by ‘why didn’t I know that’, especially when it’s about someone I know or somewhere I’ve been.

IMG_9579 (800x600)I’ve just discovered that we have three fjords in Ireland. I’m surprised because I didn’t think we had any. I’m a fan of fjords and when I heard this little snippet, I was immediately back in Oslo. But Oslofjord (which technically, apparently, isn’t a fjord at all) is nothing like the one in Killary Harbour in the west of Ireland [and, if you’re curious, the other two are Carlingford Lough and Lough Swilly].

I’d heard of Killary Harbour because of the dolphins. It’s here in late spring and early summer that they follow the migration path of the salmon and I believe it’s a sight to behold [seeing a dolphin in Ireland is on my bucket list]. The fjord runs for about 16 km and came into being about 20 000 years ago.

IMG_9582 (800x600)IMG_9577 (800x600)On the side of the road as you travel in from Westport stands a monument, which was erected by AFRI and unveiled by Karen Gearon, one of the Dunnes Stores Strikers, back in 1994 . Ten years earlier, in 1984, Karen along with 10 other members of the Irish Distributive & Administrative Union, followed an instruction from their union not to handle goods from South Africa in protest of the apartheid regime. The strike lasted three months shy of three years and resulted in Ireland being the first country to ban goods from South Africa in 1987.

It seemed like an odd place to put such a monument, but that was before I realised I was standing on the old famine road that runs along the southern shore. It was here, in 1849, that tens of thousands of hungry farmers slaved to earn just a penny a day. We wondered aloud why, with our abundance of fish, did so many people starve when the potatoes failed: apparently, in this area anyway, it was not because there was no fish; it was because the people had no nets.

The fjord forms a natural boundary between the counties of Galway and Mayo and perched on its side is the village of Leenane or Leenaun. It’s a place that many pass through and stop for a pint in the very pub where the Bull McCabe would come for his pint of porter. The Field, starring Richard Harris as the Bull, is a legend in its own right. I saw Neil Tóibín play the Bull on stage at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin a few lifetimes ago and I can still hear him bellow: Are these the same outsiders….

IMG_9589 (800x600)There was something a tad surreal about sitting in the corner by the fire, looking down the length of the bar all the while expecting the Bull McCabe to barge in through the door. The walls are covered in black and white stills from the movies and, 24 years later, it’s still as real as ever.

But Leenane has a second fame hanging from its name. One of my favourite playwrights, Martin McDonagh, used it as the setting for his trilogy, the most famous of which is no doubt  The Beauty Queen of Leenanethe other two being A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West. I saw a Hungarian production of the latter here in Budapest last year, Vaknyugat – in Hungarian with English surtitles- and any fears I might have had about it not surviving a translation were put to bed. McDonagh is gifted and Alföldi Róbert as the priest was mesmerizing.

So, far from being a place so blighted by rancor, ignorance, and spite that, as the local priest complains, God Himself seems to have no jurisdiction, this village and the 1850 or so acres that surround it, is populated by no more than 200 people. And yet, through the ministries of playwrights JB Keane and Martin McDonagh, it will be on the map for years to come. If you’re in the neighbourhood, drop by.

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