Terry from Derry: A Night at the Opera, The Magi
by Terry Boyle
The other night, at the pub, was good craic. I overheard Yeats, the poet, on a rant to O’Casey, the playwright, about the changing times. The celebrated statesman eulogized the death of feudalism and bemoaned excesses of democracy, a point that didn’t sit well with his listener.
O’Casey, who was fidgeting (playing with a cardboard coaster) bided his time. Yeats, well accustomed to being in the spotlight, had perfected the art of speaking loud enough to be heard by everyone else. But no one but me paid him much attention.
Ignoring the condescending tone of the public figure, the other barflies carried on watching the match. Their periodic cheering and shouting sidelined the poet’s sophisticated oration. Not impressed by their lack of interest, Yeats tried channeling his frustration into a more erudite discussion on the sad state of Irish art.
O’Casey, putting his cap to the side, adjusted his glasses, and coughed. His companion’s elitist manner was proving too much for the ardent socialist to stomach. Flipping the bar coaster up in the air, O’Casey caught it first time. ‘Not bad for a blind man’, he interjected.
The poet, thrown off his stride, watched as O’Casey completed the trick for the second time. ‘Now, you try it.’
If looks could damn you to obscurity, O’Casey would have found himself shoveling snow in Siberia. An indignant Yeats placed a finger on the coaster and it was obvious he was not happy with the frivolous diversion.
‘Just go for it. No one’s watching you. What difference would it make, anyways? A man of letters like yourself isn’t above a bit of fun. Is he?’
The poet was rattled. It was written all over his studious face.
As he considered his options, to stay or go, the door of the pub swung open with a dramatic flair. Behan, the notable dramatist, brutishly staggered into the premises. Singing at the top of his voice, where he was quickly admonished by those engaged in watching the beautiful game.
Not one to be silenced, he was about to cause a great ruckus when he caught sight of Yeats and O’Casey. Taking his leave from those he had annoyed, Behan planked himself beside the poet.
Without a second thought, he shamelessly threw his arms around his fellow writers. Reeking of smoke and booze, he kissed both men on the cheek. ‘Ah sure, look at us. We’re some of the best fecking writers this country has known.’
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a host of smile wrinkles on O’Casey’s face. Yeats’ fate was well and truly sealed. The boisterous drunk held them captive with his uninhibited display of self-congratulation.
Yeats, who had begun to fidget with the bar coaster, was suddenly taken hold of by the lapels of his jacket. Behan’s spit got dangerously close, as he pulled the poet towards him.
‘You’re the father of us all. You know that don’t you. Where we would be without you? Sure, it doesn’t matter that you’re an Anglo-Irish Prod.’
Turning to O’Casey, who by this time looked as if he was undergoing some religious ecstasy, Behan continued, ‘Sure, it doesn’t Sean. Oh, sorry, you’re one too, aren’t you? But you’re one of the good ones. Working-class.’
Desperately trying to free himself of Behan’s huge hands, the poet’s humiliation was soon eased by O’Casey intervention. Sean, gently pulling Behan back into his seat, began to soothe the inebriated writer.
‘Brendan, sit down will you. There’s a good man. You need to take better care of yourself.’ Temporarily appeased, Behan began to lavish praise on both men. Stating unequivocally, that while Yeats will be remembered at the ‘father of us all, no one could understand all of that Irish mythology shite.’ O’Casey’s smiles, which turned to laughter, was greeted by the poet’s scorn. He might be shovelling snow in Siberia for eternity but from the look on Sean’s face, it was worth it.
As the supporters’ cheers faded into a postmortem of their team’s loss, the TV screens lit up with a news report. When the former American’s fake tan and weird hair showed up, Behan leapt up from his chair and pointed to the image of Trump.
‘I can’t wait until someone takes him as their prison bitch. Look at him. The waster! They should lock up the whole fecking family. Ivanka can design and model the new orange. Trump junior can write his new book Fingered. Melania, oh she’s a hooker…. Jesus, sorry, I meant looker!’
O’Casey’s uncontrollable laughter had the poet rise to his feet. ‘As I was saying to Sean before you came in Brendan, this is a bad state of affairs we’re in. You might not like that man….’
Behan, unfamiliar with the deference paid to the elderly poet, would not be quiet. ‘Like him? If he was the only one in the nick with me, you couldn’t pay me to shag him. He’s a tosser!
Caught between enjoying Behan’s mad antics and Yeats discomfort, Sean tried to reinstate some civility. ‘Gentlemen, sit down. Let’s not make fools of ourselves.’
As the soccer fans began to leave, the pub grew quiet, and the lack of ambient noise had a good effect on the writers. Brendan, still mawkish in his praise, was less ebullient. The entertainment over, I was thinking of heading home when Greta Thunberg’s image appeared on the TV screen.
On seeing the young, spirited environmentalist, Brendan’s waning enthusiasm fired up again. ‘There’s your new Maude Gonne for you. Forget all that Mise Eire shite! It’s the planet we need to be thinking about now, not this speck in the universe. Look at us, some of the best Irish writers. Don’t you think we could do something more?’
Sobering up, Behan’s mood darkened. I half expected Yeats to make a speedy exit, and O’Casey to offer to escort maudlin Brendan home, but none of that happened. The poet said something about needing to preserve the soul of the planet. Immortalizing zeitgeist in words that will galvanize the hearts of humankind.
O’Casey, lost in his own thoughts, began talking about how the impending universal calamity transcended the limits of nationalism and would call us all to fight against the forces that were dragging us towards the abyss. For me, I was dumbfounded. What I was seeing was hard to believe. Under a Swedish star, three wise men were following its light, in their own meandering ways, hoping for universal salvation.