There is a recollection in Brian Friel’s “Philadelphia, Here I Come” that rings a loud bell in my head: Gar Private recounts a May afternoon out in a boat, fishing with his father. He remembers the fine detail: peeling paint, an empty cigarette packet floating in the water, a rowlock kept slipping. He recounts....”between us at that moment there was this great great happiness, this great joy………………an active bubbling joy”. I admire Friel for so much in his writing, but his accuracy in his encapsulation of the Irish character, and particularly that of the young man,Gareth O'Donnell, in this play is breath-taking.
I was particularly struck by this recollection, because one of my most treasured memories from childhood is very similar. My father had to visit a property on an island on Lough Ree. There is a special atmosphere around a becalmed lake in Summer warmth; it induces a sense of complete ease and, dare I say it, spiritual fulfillment. I never had Friel’s difficulties in my relations with my father, but on that lake, on that morning, my ease and pleasure in his company were complete, and I feel very grateful to have had the experience.
Revisiting Lough Ree
Morning comes colourless;
trees stoop to the lake like pilgrims
witnessing images that are riddles in the water.
A sudden shriek: “Over here, no here, over here.”
I see nothing; the lake keeps its children chilled
in ice buckets among the reeds.
Once I trailed a ripple from a boat
that beveled this water. I’ll remember the oars’
loud soft thud, slap, lick till I die.
It was June. Insects teemed on the surface.
The sun, that tanned our backs, lulled the countryside
into sleep before the fields were even cranked.
My father was there.
Now December.The lake drags its cutlery
through this cress-green landscape
with an indifference that leaves memories shivering.