Ireland has united without me noticing

There’s no sign of a Border any more. Just a few signs saying ‘Welcome to Fermanagh’, or ‘Welcome to Cavan’


As a theatre director Judy Hegarty Lovett has brought Beckett’s voice to stages all over the world. She once gave me a pot plant, which over the years grew into a large tree. In springtime the branches would be drenched with white flowers. But this year the late snow and frost almost destroyed it. It stood alone and unhappy, hardly putting out any leaves at all as the branches withered.

I was explaining this to Judy as we drove towards Enniskillen for the Happy Days Beckett Festival recently.

The town was jammed with cars, and Blake’s bar was jammed with famous people. Blue Raincoat Theatre delivered their masterful rendition of Endgame, and a Portuguese company presented a strange visual piece at the Ardhowen based on Beckett texts. Anthony Cronin gave a lecture and I saw John Montague smiling on the street. So Enniskillen was certainly buzzing.

I love Beckett. I don’t think much about what the plays mean; for me they are meditations. They draw me into a timeless zone of consciousness where figures float up out of the dark, speaking words that feel like echoes from my own unconscious. His plays are spaces where the heart grieves, and the characters ache between their lines, though the cause of their suffering is never quite explicit. To me Beckett is neither abstract nor obscure. He’s crystal clear in his darkness, in the claustrophobic tightness of his depression, in the spiritual no-mans-land he creates, where faith is asphyxiated, and his characters try to balance themselves between hope and despair.

Swampland of his soul
Beckett is a secularist who opens up a hole where God used to be. He awakens in me a disturbance, that sits in my guts like silt at the bottom of a lake. And he weaves little comedies from the swampland of his soul, which I recognise in myself.

And when we had seen a few good performances we headed back to Leitrim by way of Cavan. A 40-minute drive in silence, along the Sligo Road, with Marble Arch and Florencecourt and the Cuilcagh Mountains on our left. “There’s no sign of a Border any more,” I explained. “Just a few signs saying – Welcome to Fermanagh, or Welcome to Cavan.”

Truth tribunal
I used to dread the idea of a united Ireland, imagining it as a brutal solution, a final shaking of the flag in triumph, and a terrible defeat for the other side.

I never thought of unity as something that grows as slowly as an oak tree with gangly roots and contrary branches. But as we passed through Belcoo where another enormous military barracks has been dismantled, it dawned on me that the country has been united without me noticing.

No one talks about bombs anymore, or where someone was killed on a dark laneway. People are less interested in the various locations of old atrocities, though I suppose all those dramas may yet be replayed in some truth tribunal of the future when the wounds are less raw.

And for the moment we have Beckett, and his masterful plays full of silence.
A silence as fragile as the silk a spider might weave around a rusting gun lying
in the corner or some disused shed along the Border.

Judy told me that she will be directing Waiting for Godot at the Dublin Theatre Festival in a few weeks. When we got back to Arigna later in the evening, I mentioned once again the tree that nearly died.

“Nothing unusual in a dead tree,” she said. And I agreed. But the extraordinary thing is that at the end of June the dead tree began to put out leaf again. As if it thought that the spring had just arrived. It had gotten over the trauma.

“And you cannot imagine what it looks like now,” I concluded, as we stepped out into the garden. There it was, all drenched with white flower, all dressed up in the light of a full moon, as if it had known that Judy was coming.

“Look,” I said, “we can see Fermanagh from here,” and I pointed at a brush stroke of black ink among the distant grey shadows, like an upside-down currach.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

There used to be a Border out there, I thought: But not any more.

“You know,” Judy said, “They say that Waiting for Godot, is a play in which nothing happens twice. But that’s not correct. There is an enormous amount happening in subtle ways. Even the tree flowers in the second act.”

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