“Those who go feel not the pain of parting,
it’s those who stay behind that suffer.”
When I heard this Longfellow quotation on a recent episode of “Inspector Lewis,” and not from Sergeant Hathaway, either, I sat up and took notice as something stirred.
I had lived and worked in London in the sixties, although I’m nearly over it now. America beckoned and I transferred happily. Notice I said “transferred.”
I never actually emigrated and had it in the back of my mind that someday…….more than 40 years later, I’m still here, temporarily. Everyone else emigrated, but not me. As I said, I transferred.
Recently, I went to Lincoln Center to see two plays under the aegis of DruidMurphy. Much to my chagrin, I was singularly unprepared. These plays were about emigration, about leaving and staying behind. Imagine a knife being plunged repeatedly into tender flesh and then being twisted slowly. I know! Not nice. Imagine a theatre full of people squirming on the edges of their seats. And I’ve often wondered about this thing referred to as bated breath. Now I know.
The Druid Theatre Company from Galway, in the West of Ireland, is world famous in the theatre world for their interpretations of Irish playwrights. It is led by Garry Hynes, the only woman to win a Tony for Best Director (“The Beauty Queen of Leenane”). Now they have taken the plays of the often overlooked Irishman, Tom Murphy, and beaten me over the head with them.
Years ago, the unoccupied office next door to me had its door closed for a few days and while we knew there was someone in there, we never saw or heard the person. A mystery man? Maybe. Eventually, we were told it had been Mr. Murphy, working on changes to a play being produced in NYC. He needed peace and quiet. (Don’t we all?)
Mind you, I don’t think there will be much peace and quiet for me having seen these two plays, especially “Conversations on a Homecoming.” I’m in turmoil ever since. I thought emigration was about those who left. According to Longfellow and now Mr. Murphy, it seems it’s more about those who stayed behind. They’re the heroes, as they didn’t leave. Where does that leave the rest of us?
A couple of years ago I brought my two oldest grandchildren back to my hometown in Ireland. We walked up one side of the Main Street and down the other, stopping only for ice-cream. Much to my surprise and disappointment. I knew no one, and worse still, no one knew me. Colin, then 5, asked me if I was from here. The only answer I could think of was “I used to be.”
Both plays were greeted with rousing ovations, but after the curtain calls the audiences sat, unwilling or unable to get out of their seats. One night I turned to the stranger on my left, who was dabbing her eyes. She looked Irish, shrugged her shoulders, and tried to smile. She even offered me a tissue.
Another night I spoke to a couple on the train heading downtown, one Irish and the other Asian. We had the Playbill in common and we yakked all the way to Penn Station. I don’t recall what we said. We just needed to talk to someone. Anyone.
So, maybe I am an emigrant, after all. I must tell my family, but they probably suspected that all along.
Pat Hanrahan passed away Saturday. He was a gifted fiction writer, a voracious reader, a dedicated professor who cared deeply about his classes and his craft, a Manchester United fan (for nobody’s perfect), and a true friend. The piece above was one he wrote in 2012. To hear his mellifluous reading of his own work, click on the 20:00 mark of the video below.
Pat loved being Irish and loved telling stories, which is like saying someone loves the ocean and the sea. So who better to share Pat memories than Dave Hannigan, who knew Pat as a teacher and a fellow Irishman (though as he explains, there are all types of Irishmen from Ireland):
“In the summer of 2013, Gene Hammond suggested myself and Pat Hanrahan meet for lunch ahead of his first semester at Stony Brook. I’m guessing the thinking was our shared nationality and my own relative newness to the program might prove mutually beneficial. Gene is a knowledgeable man but his grasp of Irish geo-political reality was weak. Pat is from Tipperary. I am from Cork. Think the Hatfields and the McCoys with a bit more violence and a lot more bitterness.
“But here’s why we hit it off.
“There is a sign on the road as you drive over the border into Pat’s home county. It reads: ‘Tipperary – The Home of Hurling’. The great Irish stick-based game that dates back to ancient times, hurling is a sport with a history and a mythology and it is one of the last uniquely Irish things we have. Within minutes of our first meeting, Pat had blasphemed, declaring his primary sporting interest to be the Manchester United soccer team, not the Tipperary hurlers. This would be the equivalent of somebody growing up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium eschewing the Bronx Bombers and developing a passion for the Green Bay Packers.
“Once he told me that, we were friends. Of course, there was much more to him than that. He was wonderful, entertaining and gossipy company. He had a sense of mischief and, to use an Irish word he would surely approve of, a bit of divilment about him too. He threw himself into the teaching, the latest chapter in a diverse career into which he seemed to have packed several different lives. He took the failure of every portfolio personally. I often wonder if the students that passed through his classes appreciated just how much he cared about their fate.
“As I write this, I can see a couple of things on my shelves that he loaned me the last time we met. An anthology of new Irish short stories and an Irish art-house film from 15 years ago, a typically eclectic Pat parcel. In the all too brief time I knew him, he was my own personal library. No sooner had I read a review of a new Irish publication than he had it in my mail slot for me to borrow.
A while back, one of the books went missing. We denounced every colleague who had access to the office, traducing reputations and, even wondering, for a spell, whether it was a light-fingered student who made off with Joseph O’Connor’s ‘The Thrill of it All.’ Turned out the book had been taken in error by Gene Hammond and all our slandering had been in vain. The next time Pat texted me to say there was a new publication waiting for me in my slot, he added, ‘As long as The Book Thief doesn’t get there first.’
“Ar Dheis go raibh a hanam. Ni Bheith a leitheid ann aris.
(May he be sitting to the left of his God tonight. We won’t see his like again.)”