In the week that Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain was published, four of us – me, Joan, Deirdre and Mary – wound our way along the blue waymarked path around Mullaghmore in the Burren. The heat of the day was blunted by a lively breeze and Mary asked us, Did you hear Seamus Heaney on the radio this morning talking about how he searched his father’s suit pocket for cigarette butts? He had a way of describing the look and smell of that suit but for the life of me I can’t remember the words he used. I said I could tell them about it after Sunday since I was going to hear Seamus read from his new collection at the Abbey Theatre two days later.
Then we followed the red-arrowed path that took us between Mullaghmore and its sister hill Sliabh Rua for a spot of lunch and chat and then down the west side with a fine view of Craggy Island Parochial Hall – Father Ted’s House – and back to Corofin and a drink in Bofey Quinn’s where a girl paraded in a blood-red bridesmaid dress.
The sun had deserted Dublin by late Sunday afternoon and drenched hurling supporters waited at the Luas stop beside the Abbey – the Tipperary fans the happier after dethroning the Cats – and I met up with my friend, Heather, and soon I had a signed copy of Human Chain in my hands. There it was, the description of the blue serge suit in the poem, ‘The Butts’, and that smell: stale smoke and oxter-sweat/came at you in a stirred-up brew/when you reached in.
The poet ranged over and back between old poems and new ones ‘written in sudden swoops’ and in a nice symmetry ended with an earlier piece ‘Postcript’ that is set in The Burren: And some time make the time to drive out west/Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore/In September or October, when the wind/And the light are working off each other …
We headed back in a grey night drizzle, caught up in the Kilkenny and Premier County traffic after the hurling heroics. I knew the summer days were over.
Sean O’Casey was in the air for me at the week-end. I had tickets for The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey on Saturday evening and woke to find the Irish Times magazine had a reproduction of poster by American artist Owen Smith for the new production of The Silver Tassie by Druid Theatre. It had two interlinked images of a footballer and a soldier and made me think of the murals on Belfast walls at the height of the troubles.
I meandered in Sean O’Casey’s Dublin. For the rest of the sunny Saturday I kept noticing advertisement hoardings on Dublin’s streets with sports themes that had a sinister edge: a hurler astride a gigantic heap of sports helmets with the caption ‘One conquers all’ that conjures up the movie image of soldiers planting a victorious flag on a hill-top; a News of the World ad, ‘Nothing gets past our Team’; Eric Cantona’s bearded stare alongside the words, ‘Compromise is not an Option’. Heroic images within sight of Croke Park where the hurlers of Tipperary and Waterford would battle it out next day.
It’s 130 years since he was born at 85 Upper Dorset Street. There’s another house there now, owned by the Mater Hospital, with a sign that says the dramatist was born ‘on March 30th 1880 in the house which stood on this site’. There was no ‘Bedroom Elegance Furniture Shop’ or ‘New Asian Cuisine’ restaurant in O’Casey’s times but there was the same view of the distant mountains when he came out the front door and looked to his right into the afternoon sun.
I strolled to Mountjoy Square where O’Casey lived during the 1916 Rising and absorbed the ‘deragoratory’ and ‘vice versa’ talk of the north city tenements that is sprinkled through The Plough and the Stars and provides the play’s Georgian house setting: ‘struggling for life against the assault of time, and the more savage assaults of the tenants’. Black teenagers played basket ball in the park, a bus filled with Waterford hurling supporters pulled up beside me and a tourist returned a bike to the depot at the park railings.
I left the Abbey after The Plough & the Stars performance that night with a thought for the week from the mouth of The Covey: ‘Look here, comrade, there’s no such thing as an Irishman, or an Englishman, or a German or a Turk; we’re all only human bein’s. Scientifically speaking, it’s all a question of the accidental gatherin’ together of mollycewels an’ atoms.’ Makes one feel humble, it does.