We were intending to produce another play, called The Crusaders, but the idea was abandoned, because at the time my brother was older and was going to school to the Christian Brothers, Westland Row. He was studying very hard and winning extraordinarily high honours at his work. This play would have been really quite good, and certainly much better in every way than the last. I remember one verse which my father liked very much. It runs as follows:
To arms, to arms, each Christian knight,
And arm yourself for God’s own right;
The Saracen now holds the sway
Where in the tomb Our Saviour lay.
Let every knight, with sword in hand,
March forward to the Holy Land.
Raise the Lord’s standard up on high!
Win, Christians, win! Else, fighting—die!
But although my brother never finished this play, he found time during all his heavy school work to write two little plays, one for Willie and the other for me. They were to be performed by cardboard figures on the table. Pat drew all the scenes and figures himself, and Willie cut them out and made them to stand up. The theatre was a box lit up by a night-light.
Willie’s play was the story of Brian Boru. It was historically correct, even to the battle of Clontarf. One scene depicted the Hill of Howth with the Danish fleet around its base. As the youthful author wrote:
Around the foot of rugged old Ben Edair,
Their galleys throng.
The characters of Brian, Maelmorrough, Broder and ‘Silken-haired Sitric’ were all drawn with delicate insight and skill. A tender little love story ran, like a silver thread, through the play. Briefly it was to the following effect:
Maeve, a gentle Irish maid, and young Olaf, a Dane, loved each other well and truly; but the girl’s father would not permit them to marry. So they married without the old Chieftain’s consent, and Maeve went to the Danish camp with her husband. There were scenes describing the father’s rage and grief and bitter threats of vengeance, and also scenes representing the Irish and Danish camps on Holy Thursday night, the eve of the historic battle of Clontarf. Maeve was happy as the beloved and honoured wife of Olaf, but her heart still yearned for her father in his loneliness. I can still remember a few lines from a touching little dialogue between the young lovers:
Maeve: Oh, Olaf, Olaf, how I fear the morrow!
Olaf: Why dost thou fear the morrow, dearest Maeve?
Maeve told him how it hurt her to be in the camp of the ‘Strangers’ and how sad she felt when she thought about her father.
Maeve: My poor, poor father! He loved me well,
And I have left him childless! Oh!
The very thought is sadness, Olaf.
Olaf: Do not weep, dear Maeve, but pray unto
That God you worship
That all may be well with Brian
And with Olaf.
They left the stage, and Brodar with the renegade Maelmorrough came on.
Brodar: Tomorrow is the day when Christians tell us
A Man died long ago in Palestine;
And on that solemn day they call Good Friday
They will not care to fight! But we will attack them
On that solemn day, and, by great Thor and Odin,
They must fight!
Maelmorrough: I was a Christian long ago myself,
But have abstained the God whom Christians worship;
And now I hate Him, and I hate His name!
After more dialogue the scene changed to the Irish camp where the chieftains and clansmen were assembled. They were discussing the coming battle and the forces arrayed against them.
Silken-haired Sitric: and the vile Maelmorrough,
Traitor and villain, false to God and Erin!
One of the others took up the theme:
He’s brave; I’ve felt his arm in war myself,
And men do say he yields alone to Brian as a commander:
Still, the cursed Norsemen,
With treacherous Maelmorrough at their head,
Might make the Gaels tremble.
Brian entered presently and delivered a stirring speech to all the clans, and the scene closed in a highly dramatic manner. Then came the great decisive battle of Clontarf; but a short scene was first given to a touching little incident.
Maeve’s father and Brodar came on fighting, Brodar, however, getting the better of the old chieftain. Just in time Olaf rushed in and defended his prostrate foe.
Olaf: Hold, I command thee, Viking, stay thy blow!
(Brodar made another lunge.)
Nay, spare him, Brodar,
For he is weak and old!
Brodar: I care not! He’s Christian—and that’s enough!
But Olaf routed the fierce Norseman who ran off crying vengeance.
Then the old Chieftain stood up and spoke to his deliverer:
Go, take my daughter, Olaf,
For who so worthy of her
As he by whom her father’s life was saved.
The scene ended, to be replaced by Brian’s tent where the King had remained during the fateful conflict. Brodar entered and stabbed the aged monarch, and then rushed off crying that ‘Brodar had killed Brian!’ The Irish clans crowded on to the stage—too late; for their beloved King was dead!
The play finished with a beautiful Lament, in which the sorrowing clans extolled the glories of their fallen King and bewailed his death. Unfortunately, I remember very little of this Lament:
All: Weep, weep Dalcassians, Brian Boru is dead!
Ochone! Ochone! Ochone!
Weep, weep, men of Erin, your Monarch has been slain!
Ochone! Ochone! Ochone!
Even now, after the lapse of so many years, I can still see that small stage, so dimly lighted, and the tiny cardboard figures, and I can still hear the sad keening notes of the Lament. And even now I am convinced that the little play was quite good.
My brother wrote two little plays for me. One was a kind of scenic version—with words in verse combined—of my old favourite, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The other was a play based on love, and hate, and jealousy. I remember there were brigands in it, and I was to put music to the score and make it a sort of opera. I did put some music to some of it. One rollicking song sung by the Brigand Chief and his men was rather good. Here is one verse:
Chief: Ye are the men of the brigand band!
Men: Yo ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!
Chief: Ready to fight at your Chief’s command;
Men: Yo ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!
Chief: Ready to fight, by day or by night;
For fun or gain—ay, laugh again,
Ho! Laugh again, my brigand band!
All: Yo ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!
Yo ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!
I can remember Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the second play, vividly. The scenes which my brother depicted of Eliza’s escape; Little Eva, and Topsy; and the defence of the escaped slave, George Harris, were most affecting. The first verse of George’s defence ran as follows:
We stand upon the soil of God and tell you we are free;
We’ll die before we’ll wear again the chains of slavery!
My wife and child are by my side, my pistol in my hand,
We’ve sworn to gain our liberty, or perish where we stand!
It has struck me since that these words which my brother wrote for the heroic George Harris were strangely and prophetically characteristic of himself.
Like all youthful authors, Pat was fond of writing poetry. One pretty poem was called ‘Colm, the Fisherman’s Boy,’ and told how a little fisher lad had saved people from a wreck. Another little poem was written for, and dedicated to, that dear queen at whose feet he knelt in loving, faithful homage—his mother!
He came to me one evening and asked me in his eager way to compose an air for it, and sing it for our mother. I did so; and tears of pride and joy came into her eyes as she listened, gazing proudly and fondly upon her ‘boy.’
I am thinking of you, mother, of your fond and loving face,
To you my heart’s e’er turning, and my dear old native place.
(There are two lines here which I cannot bring to mind. They would finish the first verse.)
I’ve crossed the thundering ocean, and I’ve heard the billows roar;
I’ve seen the storm clouds gather, and the awful tempest lower;
I’ve seen the lightning flashing on the billows capped with foam!
Yet ’mid the fearful warfare, I’ve thought of you—and home!
Yes, mother, dearest mother, through danger’s stormy ire,
With you my heart still lingers, and the dear old cottage fire;
And in my dreams I’ve seen you, sweet and gentle as of yore!
Oh, may Heaven kindly grant you to see your boy once more!
In strong contrast to the early plays of my brother are the beautiful, dignified plays and pageants which he wrote especially for his boys at St Enda’s. An Rí, Íosagán, The Lost Saint, The Master, the delightful pageant of Cuchulain, and, finest of all, the exquisite Passion Play. We find in The Story of Success a very high appreciation of this Passion Play from the pen of Padraic Colum.
‘It was made convincing,’ he writes, ‘by the simple severity of the composition and the reverence of the performance. No one who witnessed it had any doubt as to the fitness of the production. This Passion Play takes us back naturally to the origin of the modern European drama. In a sense, it is the first serious theatre piece in Irish. It has root power … If its production be ever made an annual event it might create a tradition of acting and dramatic writing in Irish.’
The Play was acted in the Abbey Theatre in Passion Week, 1911. It was spoken in Irish, of course.
Desmond Ryan, who edited The Story of Success, waxes keen over the plays and pageants at St Enda’s. ‘The students of Sgoil Éanna, and Sgoil Íde,’ he says, ‘roused Dublin by their earnest, simple, and unelaborate enacting of the Passion Play.’ And further on he writes: ‘Sgoil Éanna did much towards creating the tradition of acting and dramatic writing of which Mr Colum speaks. In June, 1912, we produced An Rí, in the open air upon the banks of the river that runs through the Hermitage grounds. In Whitsuntide, 1915, we produced The Master, at the Irish Theatre, Hardwicke Street.’
Undoubtedly, my brother was tremendously interested in drama; and he was thoroughly convinced that the noble art of acting was a very real education for youth and also a very real help in developing high art in Ireland.
‘I think,’ he tells us, ‘that our performances of Irish and Anglo-Irish plays, and especially our Passion Play of last Easter twelvemonth—intended to be a triennial event and due again at the Easter of 1914—have meant something, not only in the development of our boys, but in the development of dramatic art in Ireland. As Padraic Colum has written of us, we have gone back to the beginning of drama instead of trying to transplant the full-grown art from an exotic soil.’
Certainly, as Padraic says himself, ‘Achievements such as these have made the first five years of St Enda’s College memorable.’