It’s a complex play with many a twist and turn. The drama eventually unfolds and we realise that drunken ‘Sharky’ Harkin had been jailed years before for the killing of Lawrence Joyce.
Harkin played a poker game in prison for his freedom with a ‘stranger’, Mr Lockhart. Sharky won the game and was released but the deal was that after 25 years Lockhart could again challenge him and then the ‘prize’ was Sharky’s soul for eternity. The play comes to a climax with that final deadly serious ‘winner gets soul’ prize.
Coming home from Ballyduff that night, I thought back to a book in Irish that I’d read in school, Seadna, by An t-Athair Peadar O Laoghaire. The opening lines still remain with me:
“Bhí fear ann fadó agus an ainm a bhi air na Seadna. Gréasaí ab ea é. Bhi tigh beag deas cluthar aige ag bun an cnoic.”
“There was a man there long ago and his name was Seadna. He was a shoemaker. He had a lovely small cosy house in the shelter of the hill.”
McPherson’s play is about Mr Lockhart coming to claim Sharky’s soul. In Fr O Leary’s book Seadna is in financial trouble. ‘An Fear Dubh’ (the Devil) calls to the shoemaker and again makes a deal — an apple tree that never fails to produce fruit, a meal bin that never empties and no shortage of leather for his trade.
In the end, the day of reckoning comes and An Fear Dubh returns for his ‘reward’.
Apparently, the theme of selling one’s soul to the Devil is to be found in the literature of many countries over many centuries. An t-Athair Peadar published the first chapter of Seadna in the Eoin MacNéill edited Gaelic Journal in the autumn of 1894. The book was published as a novel ten years later in 1904.
Just last week I was back in Ballyduff again and saw M.J. Molloy’s play Daughter From Across The Water. In this production, Tul Higgins pretends to be gravely ill and dying before being saved by ‘Miraculous Water’ from Italy. Well, lads, back in 1900, didn’t an tAthair Peadar write what is regarded widely as the first ever play in the Irish Language, Tadhg Saor, and lo and behold, the same theme, as Tadhg stages his own death!
When the Folklore Commission collected stories from national Schools all around the country in the 1930s, the story of Tadhg was recorded by a pupil of Moanflugh School.
Concerning Tadhg O Riordáin, farmer and draper, the following was written: “Tadhg fell heavily in debt. At that time there were soldiers stationed in Macroom. Tadhg knew that he was liable to be arrested for debt, so he decided on an extraordinary plan. His death was announced to the surrounding countryside. A coffin was taken to the house at Cackanode. It was filled with stones. It was taken to Clondrohid churchyard and buried there. When a number of years had passed and the debt could no longer be claimed, Tadhg again appeared in public.”
After his real death, the farm passed to his brother Cal (Ceallachán) who had been a soldier on foreign service. To everybody who brought Cal a porcupine he paid a shilling. Cal cooked and ate the porcupines!
Peter O’Leary was born on April 30, 1839, at Liscarrigane in the parish of Clondrohid not far from Macroom. His parents were both of the O’Leary clan — Diarmaid, son of Peter, and his wife, MaireToohey, and Siobhán, daughter of Conor and his wife Nell Hickey. His mother had been a teacher and she taught her son at home until he went to the new school in Carriganimma in 1852.
After spending four years in Latin schools in Macroom and Kanturk, young Peter O’Leary took lodgings in Fermoy where he attended St Colman’s College as a day pupil in order to sit the Entrance Exam for Maynooth. He was ordained a priest in Maynooth in 1867, the year of the Fenian Rising. Thus began the religious career of Peter O’Leary.
He loved the Irish language from his childhood days. As well as a diligent and able pastor of his flock in many parishes in the diocese of Cloyne, An t- Athair Peadar O Laoghaire would go on to be a writer, Gaelic scholar, teacher, dramatist, Land Leaguer and up-lifter of people.
There’s a saying in Irish, ‘Ni mar a shiltear a bhitear’, which I suppose in English equates to ‘The best laid plans of mice and men’.
It will be exactly 100 years next Saturday since the Sagart Aroon from Clondrohid died. On Sunday, March 21, 1920, an t-Athair Peadar died in the Parochial House in Castlelyons.
Having ministered in Kilshannig, Kilworth — twice, Rathcormac, Macroom, Charleville and Doneraile, he had been appointed Parish Priest in Castlelyons in February 1891 a few weeks after the death there of Fr Thomas Ferris PP, known as the ‘Land League Priest — he was evicted from his house and spent years living in a hut in the Chapel Yard. The Land War between tenant farmers and rack-renting landlords was raging in Castlelyons and elsewhere.
Just before an t- Athair Peadar arrived in Castlelyons, my great- grandfather was evicted from his farm. Along with his wife and two small children they had to leave their home in Kilcor. They initially got shelter in a house in the nearby townland of Killawilling and it was here on November 28, 1890, their third child, a daughter, Nora, was born. For over a decade the Twomeys were gone from the land they’d farmed since 1826. An t-Athair Peadar was supportive in every way to those who found themselves on the side of the road.
While in Castlelyons, his literary output in Irish was huge and he was regarded as the champion of ‘the Irish of the people’, in contrast to some Gaelic Scholars who placed too much emphasis on grammar and syntax and other niceties.
Young Nora Twomey and her sisters received the Sacrament of Holy Communion from the Gaelic- minded PP. Their brother John, my grandfather, was reared by relatives in Carrigtwohill and went to school there initially.
The year 1916 was an eventful one for Ireland and for Castlelyons, with the gallant stance made by the Kent family at Bawnard. Richard was shot dead in an attack on the family home and Thomas was later executed.
By 1916, my grand-aunt, Nora, was training to be a nurse in London. Once qualified she got employment full time in a London hospital. In the spring of 1918 she wrote home to say she wouldn’t be back on holidays because she was having surgery to resolve a long-standing respiratory problem.
Then, in March of that year, the infamous pandemic of Spanish Flu arrived. In a few weeks Nora Twomey was dead, a victim of the disease she was trying to save patients from.
Those awful times have come to the fore again in these last few weeks. Saturday morning in Castlelyons, bhi me chun caint mar gheal ar an t-am a caith an t-Athair Peadar san paroiste seo — Rath Chormaic agus Tobar Phartalain. Bhi se anseo o 1872 go 1878.
My plan to say a cúpla focail at his graveside in Castlelyons Churchyard about his time in our parish was cancelled, as is the seminar in UCC on Friday and a Commemorative Mass in Carriganimma the next evening.
Le Cunamh De, we will remember this great Irishman in a fitting way at some time in the future.
Great credit must go to Eilis Ui Bhriain — a native of Durrus but long-time resident of Castlelyons — and her son Pat, for the magnificent research they have done in recent years on the life and times of an t-athair Peadar O Laoghaire.