Monday 23 April 2018

A longing for home

Writer Jack Harte tells Jessica Farry about his love for his home town, his inspirations, and his new play 'The Language of the Mute' that comes to the Hawk's Well Theatre

Jack Harte returns to Sligo this summer with his play ‘Language of The Mute’. Pic: Donal Hackett
Jack Harte returns to Sligo this summer with his play ‘Language of The Mute’. Pic: Donal Hackett

When Jack Harte's family home in Easkey came on the market ten years ago, he snapped it up without a second thought.

Having left Sligo at the age of eight, the playwright, novelist and retired teacher always had a longing to return.

The cottage was built by Jack's father in the 1940s, and when the family left to live in the Midlands, Jack was always dreaming and thinking about his home.

"Everyday (I had a longing for home). From the time I left as a kid, one of things that really haunted my imagination was the longing to come back, I was thinking of it all the time. I used to come back every summer and stay with friends, relations and that. I still have this pull back.

"This is where I go to try to do my writing. I have that now. It's lovely. My father was the local blacksmith so the corner was always called the Forge Corner. I have a lot of people who come to it and they find it extremely peaceful," said Jack.

'The Forge Corner' has drawn interest from people as far away as America and India.

It's the peace, the serenity and the landscape that make Jack yearn for his scenic home from his Dublin abode.

A poet from an early age, a secondary school teacher later, and now a novelist and playwright among other things, there are many strings to this man's bow.

Much of Jack's work takes inspiration from Sligo's landscape, people and even urban legends.

"Sligo is a huge influence on my writing. I left when I was a kid. I never stopped dreaming about it. I'd be dreaming about the landscape, the people and all that. When I started to write, it was mostly about Sligo.

"I was writing stories, I was picking up on little legends and things from the Sligo countryside. Using the landscape as an inspiration. There's a lot of stories that are set in different locations in Sligo."

It all started when he was a secondary school student. Jack attended a school in Lanesborough run by a priest. Every so often, the priest would read poems to students that he wrote himself.

In 'The Angelus' magazine, a young Jack was a regular feature in the 'Poet's Corner page'. He went on to pursue other jobs, and was eventually a teacher himself in Clondalkin in Dublin, and Prinicpal of a school in Lucan for 17 years.

Between the late 1970s and early 1990s, Jack published 24 English textbooks for Irish schools. A love of writing was something that Jack felt deep down, but just where that interest came from, he is unsure.

"I always had a sense of wanting to write. There were no artists in my family. My very close friend who grew up with me, Fred Conlon (sculptor), had this thing that he wanted to do art.

"He just followed it up. I had the same sense that I wanted to be a writer, but there was certainly no influence in the early days.

"My natural state is inertia. I would be very happy to sit and do nothing all day every day forever. I only write when something keeps nagging me to the extent that it's easier to sit down and write it than be listening to this voice.

"I have things thought out very well before I sit down to write. Some idea, I'd have it pretty well written out. I'd take inspiration from Sligo, or folklore, or even taking some part of the countryside and taking a story from it."

Upon his early retirement some years ago, he decided it was time to start a new chapter in his life.

"When I was 55 I was able to say 'I've done my time. I can go.' It was time to start a new phase in my life. I always feel like I'm not doing enough.

"I'm very happy that I took a chance to go off and do something different with my life."

Bringing his work back to Sligo is "more important than anything else". It is his priority. And that's why he is brining his play 'Language of The Mute' to The Hawk's Well Theatre in May.

The story behind the play is derived from a real life experience.

"It's about a real case of child abuse. I worked alongside a guy, who was a teacher. He was a pioneer of the Irish language and everything to do with it. He was a Republican, and a devout catholic.

"When he died a couple of years ago, revelations came out that he had been a serial rapist on an industrial scale. So much so that the tabloids were calling him the Irish Jimmy Saville. Most of these interviews came out on TG4 because it was such a story in the Irish circle.

"People I saw being interviewed were former students of mine from the 70s and 80s. It infuriated me so much, I started thinking about different aspects of it.

"I was on really good terms with these people and they couldn't talk to me. I would have had a fantastic relationship with them. That aspect bugged me.

"Written out of pure spleen and anger at what happened. These people's lives were destroyed and some of them ended up in psychiatric hospitals, and broken relationships.

"I wanted to do something. The first night in the New Theatre, a lot of the victims came along. There was enormous energy and tension and all the rest. They felt like they had been given a voice," he said.

That 'nagging voice' Jack speaks about is one which has coerced him into producing a huge amount of work.

His next project is another play, which will be getting a run of two weeks in a theatre in Clontarf.

The next item on the agenda is another novel.

As with all of his writing projects, the idea is fully formed in his head before he actually sits down to compile it.

'Language of The Mute' comes to The Hawk's Well Theatre on May 11th.

Tickets cost €15 and are available from the Hawk's Well Ticket office on 071-91-61518.

Since his retirement Jack has made sure he's kept busy, with plenty of projects.

And he's not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Sligo Champion