Tuesday 17 September 2019

Reliving the myth of Deirdre with a nod to the present day

drama Deirdre Unforgiven: A Journal of Sorrows Eamon Carr Doire Press, €12, pbk

Brian Lynch

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350


Eamon Carr was, and is, the drummer with Horslips. That this historic band of Celtic rockers has a poet in their midst might seem surprising – but only if you've never listened to the lyrics of Horslips songs.

To Carr and the other members of the band, poetry and pop go together like guitars and electricity. It's in their gene pool – isn't Barry Devlin, the bass player, the late Seamus Heaney's brother-in-law?

Even before Horslips was formed in 1970, Carr was known as the founder of Tara Telephone, a music and poetry group. And he was one of the editors of Capella, a little magazine that published Heaney, Michael Longley, Allen Ginsberg and other now world-famous poets.

If you'd like to own a copy of Capella, look up Abebooks.com and you can buy one – for €295.

On the other hand, Carr is less well-known as a poet than he is as part of the revived Horslips and, more recently, as a journalist, a widely read commentator on current affairs, cultural matters and sports.

This verse play springs out of his journalistic experience of reporting the Northern Ireland tragedy.

It does so partly in matter-of-fact language: "Blunt force trauma./ Depressed skull fractures. Acute intracranial haemorrhage./ Irreversible cessation of all brain function."

But its main thrust is a retelling of the myth of Conor, the king of Ulster, and Deirdre who 'encountered the warrior hero Naoise/ in springtime playing music beneath an ash tree./ She desired him instantly.'

Conor is Deirdre's half-brother and, though he is already king when she is born, he has her reared in seclusion so that she can become his sex-slave when she grows up. There are echoes of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian monster who imprisoned his daughter Elizabeth and had seven children by her.

There are also echoes of Irish horror stories in the fate of Naoise. Conor lures him and Deirdre back to Ulster with assurances that they will be safe, but as happened with more than one so-called informer during the Troubles, Naoise is "isolated and butchered".

This is an extremely short play – just 36 pages of text – and the quality of the verse technique is variable. The shortness has drawbacks: the echoes this reader hears are faint, and other readers may not hear them at all.

There are also explicit references to news stories that seem to have little to do with the myth of Deirdre. For instance, the murder of three children, named here only as Richard, Mark and Jason, figures prominently – very few readers will remember that they were victims of a loyalist petrol-bombing in 1998.

However, the brevity has advantages, too. The text is packed tight, the voice is urgent, the feelings are intense, as fast as they are furious. This is a play, according to the playwright Frank McGuinness, "carved deeply on finest granite, wasting not a word". Could there be a Horslips opera in it?

Brian Lynch's new novel The Woman Not The Name is published next week by the Duras Press.

Irish Independent

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