Tom MacIntyre: A genius with words in an era of men's power

The writer was a man of his time, who leaves an enduring legacy of daring work, writes Carol Hunt

Apostle of the unconscious: Poet, playwright and author Tom MacIntyre reads from his work. Picture: Lorraine Teevan

Carol Hunt

In so many ways, Tom MacIntyre was ahead of his time. Child abuse, the domination of the Catholic Church, sexual repression, loneliness and mental illness, the fear of women that so often lies at the root of misogyny - all these topics and more were covered by him during a career that encompassed poetry, literature and theatre.

Time and time again, he dared to go where no-one in Ireland had ever gone before. In other ways, however, he was very much a man of his era, especially where the power of men in Irish theatre was concerned.

I met him for the first time in a dark, dank theatre in Galway City, July 1992. I had been acting in the play Eclipsed, a new Irish play about women held in the local Magdalene laundry, which was due to return to Galway stages as part of that summer's theatre festival.

It would be lunchtime performances only, however. The evening show would be a new play by celebrated writer Tom MacIntyre. A play that Punchbag, the theatre company, had previously worked on as a one-act. It was now to be opened as a full show, and had already garnered much controversy - as much work by MacIntyre was apt to do.

The play was called Fine Day for a Hunt, a romp involving much of MacIntyre's diversity of communication, his magnificent control of his craft. The show had it all - art, music, mime and dance - as well as some of the most beautiful language ever heard on that stage.

MacIntyre could write stunning pieces for ensemble groups - although sometimes we struggled to uncover what it was he was saying through his characters. It also had a naked young woman - scented and then hunted throughout the play by men and dogs.

Six days before opening night, an actress dropped out and the role of the French sexual predator Monique was up for grabs. Standing nervously on the stage with a script I had not read before and a whole troupe of actors who had been working collectively for weeks, I walked through a scene where I had to aggressively ''come on'' to Dicky Paget, played by Tommy Tiernan. I received a tepid, ''we'll work on it'' from a distracted director.

Tom called me over. "Don't mind them," he said. "You're going to be fantastic." From that moment on he helped me with the part and often I found myself blushing, or wondering if I should challenge him on what, to put it gently, were less than PC observations in relation to women - in particular women and sex.

"What I was thinking there is that what he wants to do [with you] is drink the c**t's juices", was one of his many stage directions to me. But as he was a man of his time, I was a young woman of mine also. I said nothing, in awe of his status as a famed writer. This was two decades before #MeToo or #WakingTheFeminists.

Last night I spoke to Nicole Rourke, who played the young, naked, hunted girl who was stripped on stage every night. She was 21 at the time and she recalled MacIntyre wanting special rehearsals, with just her naked, no other actors present, and himself and another man looking on.

"I said no," she told me. "Straight off. There was no need for it and I felt quite bullied to be asked." It was a different time, I say to her and she agrees.

"They told me I 'didn't understand theatre' and also that 'many young actresses would kill for my part and would do as they were told'."

She was punished. For saying ''no''. And she was told that she was "difficult and wouldn't get work with that attitude".

I suspect she wasn't the only actress to be told she was "difficult" for going against the grain and standing up for herself. She was far braver than most of us working in the 1990s though. Definitely braver than I was.

Yes, MacIntyre was a genius, but like all of us, he had his flaws. But that does not make his enormous contribution to language, art or Irish theatre any the lesser for it.

He had a rare way with words. He will be missed.