“It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely there never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like a morning star full of life and splendour and joy.
Brian Friel’s character, Gar O’Donnell quotes lines from Edmund Burke’s description of Marie-Antoinette as a defence against the onslaught of negative thoughts. The dullness of small village life in the rural Ireland of the early 1960s is transcended by thoughts of beauty and elegance and of a world beyond the imagination of those amongst whom Gar lived.
Time and again through the pages of Philadelphia, Here I come!, Gar shouts out the words of Burke as if they were a mantra to lift his mind above the things that oppress him as if they were the words of an incantation, a magic spell that will drive away the demons of mediocrity and repression.
Gar O’Donnell could make a mint in teaching incantations; lines that will exclude the grim and focus upon the bright and cheerful.
Gar has cause for complaint. His life seems almost uniformly bleak; a monotonous job that goes nowhere; friends who live in a fantasy world of things they might have done; a house shared with his father, who hardly speaks, and his aunt, who carries the emotional burden of them all. Gar’s battles are with his inner self, not with his environment, but, if he had to face random destruction and anti-social behaviour, what lines might he quote?
Gar, what would help one not see that the local youths have kicked out even more of the glass panels from the railway bridge? What would you recommend to blank out the graffiti that now covers almost ever yard of the railway journey into town? What would you suggest to cover the noise of teenagers who seem to know only one word, and they would hardly needed to have gone to school to learn that?
Something to make you miss the bad and see the good would be excellent.
Standing in George’s Arcade flicking through old vinyl in Spin Dizzy Records or going through 7″ singles at Mac’s stall. Wandering up Grafton Street to the Green and looking up at the memorial at the College of Surgeons that marks it out as headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army in that tragic-heroic-absurd episode at Easter 1916. Smiling at stories of Con Markievicz being offered a lift after the rebels had surrendered. Looking at the Fusiliers’ Arch in the brilliant winter sunshine; a monument to Dubs going off again to fight other people’s wars. Walking down Dawson Street to Hodges Figgis and enough books to last a lifetime. Why should the day be spoilt?
A Gar-like charm to ensure the invisibility of particular members of our community and the disappearance of their contributions to our physical environment would transform the experience of this city.
Edmund Burke would probably not be of much use in blocking out the bad bits of Dublin, but maybe there is stuff that would. Lines from Yeats? Passages from Joyce’s Ulysses? Quotes from bleak Beckett characters? Any suggestions for a magic spell?