A Syngean Adventure
By Sheila Spear
Tom came bounding down the stairs, the paper in his hands – and a startling proposal. A review in the New York Times, of a performance at the Edinburgh Festival of the plays of John Millington Synge, by the Galway-based Druid Theatre, had set him on fire. “How would you like to got Ireland next week?” I was taken aback. This man of mine was not given to such unpredictable notions. “Have you forgotten I have travel plans of my own for the week after?” “We’ll work that in too” was the calm reply. Slow to get into the mood, but tempted by the thought of seeing ‘the sun go down o’er Galway Bay’, I acquiesced.
Tom had studied Synge’s plays as an undergraduate and had a lifelong fascination with them. Synge was an Irish nationalist and playwright, and a collector of folklore during the 1920s. He had lived on one of the Arran Isles – Innis Meain,in Ireland’s Galway Bay – while studying the life and the language of the islanders. The plays were based on their stories of life and death, their struggles to survive the elements, the harsh nature of island life, and the often brutal chaos of the families themselves. His plays were simply staged, using props from the islanders’ cottages, and their Gaelic inflected dialect of English. But despite his intense commitment to Irish nationalism, Synge did not hesitate to show the peasant life at its most raw, violent and hopeless. When “The Playboy of the Western World” opened at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, there were protests against this ‘demeaning the Irish peasants.’ Suffering from Hodgkin’s disease, Synge died soon after, at the age of 37.
The play cycle was to be performed one more time, on Innis Mean itself, in the settings which had led to their creation: the Village Hall, a field near the church, and the pre-Christian stone fort which dominated the hill above the village. There were to be two performances, on Friday and Sunday a little over a week hence. My involvement grew as we made plans. We soon discovered that the Sunday performance was booked out, but there were still tickets for Friday. Then everything – flights, bookings, even the pet-sitter – fell into place. Until the day of the performance. And therein lies the adventure.
We arrived on Thursday. As we drove along the coast from Shannon Airport, the reality of being in Ireland set in. The emerald green countryside of County Clare, the small shaggy cows and sheep, the shining sea and chalky white cliffs, were all I had imagined. I found myself getting more and more caught up in being here. Soon we were in Galway, where we were to spend the night.
Friday, September 9, 2005
We rose to discover that the weather had turned; it was pouring with rain and blowing hard. Nothing daunted, we set off along the coast to get to the ferry port of Rossaveal (or Ross-na-Veel, take your choice of spellings and pronunciations – we were in the Gaeltacht, the part of Ireland where Gaelic is the primary language). As we walked from the car park to the landing, the rain bucketed down and the wind blowing fiercely, yet we were surprised to learn of a possible hitch – the first – in our plans.
The winds were at gale force, the ferryman informed us, and the landing at Innis Meain was unsheltered. Earlier in the morning he had been unable to land, but he intended to try once more. If he was unsuccessful yet again, he would drop us on nearby Innis Oirr (Innisheer) and come back for us about 1 pm, on his next run, when the tide would be lower. We didn’t hesitate, got on board blithely hoping for the best…