We had a novel St Patrick's weekend here in Bantry,when we reverted to the past and a time much simpler and more innocent than the modern day,some might say.
There were a series of events,aimed at stirring the nostalgia glands, held in the pubs and on the streets,which those of a certain age in the town may still hanker after,as the light of other days tend to make us feel more comfortable.And why not?
As I gingerly felt my way along an electric light-free Wolfe Tone Square in keeping with the theme of our 'Fado Festival' I felt I was about to be accosted by the agrarian"White Boys" who might demand land off me,or something,so bathed was I in this new illuminating darkness.
Took me right back it did,and I was all caught up in a time when it was normal to believe babies were found under a cabbage plant and the bible story had only one mistake in it - which was of Jesus being middle eastern and not Irish.
The Dublin Theatre Company presented in JJ Crowley's function room,the poignant play The Tailor and Ansty, by Eric Cross,adapted by P.J.O'Connor.The tailor was played by Ronan Wilmot,and Ansty by Ena May.
The tailor and his wife lived not twenty miles from Bantry in Gougane Barra,and were regular visitors to the town fair and to do shopping.
Eric Cross wrote a book about the tailor(Tim Buckley and wife Ansty),in which he recounted thehilarious and free-thinking philosophical tales of Tim,whose earthy humour and bawdy yarns of ducks and sheep mating and his general lack of what we call today,political correctness,cried out to be written.
In 1942,after the book was published,it was promptly banned by the Irish Censorship Board,who had spies in every nook and cranny in Ireland,ready to ink out the naughty words in library books,and to report to government any publication they felt was damaging to the innocence of the reader.
The fact that Mr.Cross was English and probably considered a heathen,did not help.The cheek of him to write about us,warts and all,was too much,and he personally was put under extreme pressure by the powers of the time,led by mother church and her political minions.
The book was deemed "indecent" and after a little time had passed three priests arrived at the Buckley house and forced Tim to burn his copy of the book in his own fireplace.It's been years since I read the story,yet I was incensed anew at the cruelty of those men who broached no disobedience from Catholic,Protestant or Dissenter.One was named by Ronan Wilmot as a Fr.Cashman and I,in my indignation at this passage in the play,missed the names of the other two boyos.How brave they were.There was a great deal of book-burning going on in Hitler's Europe at the same time,so there is a connection in the thinking.
The Buckleys were popular and always had friends and neighbours call at night to swap stories and goodwill,yet after the visit of the god squad,this simple delight was taken from them and there were fewer and fewer visitors calling.There lovely way of living
was effectively destroyed by the men dressed in black.
In the closing scene of the play,Tim goes tearfully on his knees to say the Rosary with Ansty,and so moving was this that I almost responded to the Irish prayers being led by him,and me an atheist.I like to think that Tim would have felt the bitter irony of the ritual.They did not last long after their ordeal by holiness,with Tim dying in 1945 and Ansty in 1947.
The day after the play I was talking with an old schoolfriend who said that his uncle was the Bantry Home Assistance Officer at the time of the Buckleys plight and when he was alerted, went to see them.They were hungry and neglected,their cows had stopped giving milk and the hens had stopped laying due to lack of feed.Not enough help.When we were children growing up in this area,the facts of the Buckleys tragic story were never referred to in its rotten truth.
The best that could be said of them was that they were 'a bit mad'.The fear of there being a prieslistening for any sacrilege uttered was always heavy in the air on this and any other tmatter of clerical mischief one cares to mention.
Mo léan,mo léan,gan mé arís óg, san gleann nár togaidh mé.
Perhaps;but it is better,in my opinion,to know such things will never again happen,and to say,not with rancor,that the best thing about the good old days is that they are gone.There are certain freedoms(human rights)now, that we never knew in the old Ireland.
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