Monologue: Rossmore Drama May24

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Monologue: Rossmore Drama

Two picturesque girls are standing three feet apart with their backs to the red-curtained stage: the first with a thick mane of blonde hair and full lips; the second very different but no less intriguing, more like a greengrocer’s daughter.

We’re on the hill at the back and people are filing in and going up and down the aisle trying to find a coveted perch from where they’ll get an advantageous perspective on proceedings. My father and our guest are looking through the €3 programme, wondering where Moyne is. There is a troupe from there performing tonight. A man in the row in front turns through 30 degrees stiffly to tell us it’s near Thurles, Tipperary.

There are a lot of bespectacled drama fans and bald- headed men. A girl walks along with a clear Tupperware box selling raffle tickets. The two girls at the door are offering the programmes; the prettier one has a badge saying “Usher”. I was disappointed that it didn’t reveal her name.

On the way here the conversation began with warfarin, a heart disease drug discovered in Wisconsin when farmers found their cattle were bleeding from the stomach. They managed to extract the vital ingredient from the cattle feed and test it on rats and make rat poison. Our guest takes it for his arrhythmia. It thins the blood and in the right concentration will kill rats or treat your heart disease.

He remembers the dying mice in the floor when he lived in Tomes, a small village near Macroom. Whatever it was they were using to kill them made them writhe in agony, shriek and cry. Then the car stops and my father points to a farmhouse about two hundred yards away in the middle of a green field. We’re told about the people who lived there, two young boys who’d had a hard old life, one of whom was sent to a neighbour’s while his mother was in hospital and never returned. He was raised by childless neighbours who wanted him in a different way to how his parents did. My grandfather told me that he’d heard the boys were once discovered eating dried horse dung because the big jam jar was empty. I couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to. I meet him now and again, this boy, now an old man but always seeming to me like a boy. He likes a couple of pints and talks about the weather. He’s due for some heart surgery soon. He has a brother who walks a dog and wears cheap jeans and sneakers. They didn’t grow up in the same house though they are brothers – an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

There’s more talk of teaching and the duties of being a headmaster. Our guest was principal between 1967 and 1993 and had no secretary or photocopier; there was some ridiculous thing comprised of stencils and a metal barrel with a  handle. There was a system of carbon copying six exams by writing very heavily on the top one –  each successive copy was fainter than the one before: “You’d give the last copy to the strongest lad in the class…or the weakest.”

There was a story about a young fella, a farming boy, whose teacher poked him, provoked him him into telling him to fuck off; turned out his mother was dying of cancer. Nevertheless, he was suspended but never returned to school, went to Australia and became a champion weightlifter.

Names of teachers and stories of their families, football games, and Michael Collins, and how the people of Newcestown boycotted the memorials at Beal an Blath for years, it being a Republican village.

The road is narrow and winding, punctuated by foxes and rabbits unsure of which side of the road they preferred. A young man stands outside a pub in Newcestown; a girl, more a young woman, smokes a cigarette outside another pub, reading a text. There’s a chipper and a “Chinese” and I remember telling someone that an Irish Chinese is just Irish food with lots of sauce.

We arrive in Rossmore. We park and I show our guest my phone, take pleasure in it and he walks into a bollard someone placed on the footpath. All 81 years of him recoil and we both look at it like it together, feigning offence. At the kiosk three ladies look at us in turn and I imagine them trying to place us: one thirty-something; one middle-aged man; and an elderly one with big hands with rhythmical movements, like an obscure jazz musician, a pianist probably.

We go in. But, in a way, the drama’s over.

R.H.