Friday, 3 April 2009


Michael Harding the author of 'Moriarty'
A man sits dreaming by an open fire while behind him atop a celestial watchtower the female narrator reveals that he is John Moriarty the late poet and thinker from Kerry. Author and actor Michael Harding plays John in this dramatic production at the Siamsa Tire theatre in Tralee, simply called ‘Moriarty’. The first part of the story is depicted by the extraordinary display of the Siamsa dancers who enact aspects of the poet’s life with energy and subtlety to the haunting musical accompaniment of the Ceoltoiri. From his childhood carefree days at the foot of Mangerton to his eventual move to Dublin and later emigration to Canada , his life is sketched through the dance and music with occasional input from the narrator.
John's disdain for city life is effectively danced in a robotic, staccato style that visually hammers home the idea of the urban landscape as a soulless impersonal space where a man can easily lose his way. The dance displays the alienation and loneliness of the urban space where the rush and coldness of the city is dramatically portrayed. Later, Harding utters Moriarty’s damning indictment of this kind of life, “ I fell in love with a girl in Dublin, but what can you compare your love to in a city ? You can hardly say, ‘You are as beautiful as the GPO’ or, ‘You’re as lovely as the bus to Clontarf’. Whereas in Connemara when you fall in love , every single thing around you, the mountains, the lakes, the sky are all metaphors for love.”

John Moriarty in touch with the Muse
John also foresaw our economic hardships when he maintained that the most despicable area of a city is its financial sector where ‘muggers in suits’ prey upon the poor and the vulnerable. He himself left the rat-race quitting a teaching post at the university of Manitoba and returning to Ireland to live in the ‘wilds’ of Connemara and later to return home to his beloved Mangerton and the kingdom of Kerry. In these solitary rural places he found the time and the space to think and more importantly dream. There was a freedom in the natural world that allowed his philosopher head to swoon with ideas and dreaming , causing deep rumination on issues of life and death. It was in the stillness of the country that he learned not only to commune with himself and his God but with the creatures around him ,there in the silence he learned to talk to the curlew !
Harding’s portrayal of the philosopher/poet was exceptionally true to Moriarty’s voice and persona and it really fleshed out the words taken from Johns writings and delivered with uncanny faithfulness to his rich warm Kerry timbre. To the question can a Cavan man speak Kerry, the answer in this case is a definitive yes! It seemed to me that Moriarty was strangely present throughout this performance , as it was such an affectionate and sensitive homage to a wise and gentle soul.
Central to Moriarty’s thinking was Crossing over Kidron ( John 18:1) as Jesus did, entering the garden of Gethsemane and commencing the chain of events leading to His Passion and Crucifixion. In the redemptive narrative of the Gospels , John found his own salvation and identified closely with Christ’s abandonment on the cross causing Him to cry out ‘My God, oh my God, why have you forsaken me ?’ This aspect of John’s understanding was absent from the Siamsa drama and at least one theatre-goer was disappointed at what he considered this glaring omission. After the play the audience had the opportunity to interact with the writer and a gentleman who had travelled from Italy to see the production ,told of a meeting with John Moriarty several years ago that had a profound effect on his own life. Speaking with John and subsequently reading his works, this man had found his ‘salvation’ through the author's exposition of the profound implications of Jesus death and resurrection. He understandably felt that this bulwark of Moriarty’s ideology should have been referred to in the play. I think however, that Harding’s ‘Moriarty’ was not so much a potted digest of John’s ideas as the depiction of a man in a simple domestic setting, his head aflame with dreams and ideas which he sought to live out in a straightforward and ordinary manner in the community in which he lived. This ‘human’ element of the piece would draw in even those unfamiliar with the large and often difficult body of Moriarty’s writings.
Time to leave.
At the end ,John is still sitting in front of the flaming fire, the room filled with dancing shadows. When asked one time if he was ever lonely in such a setting he replied, “Lord save us, no. Sure don’t I always know that I’m there” After his cancer diagnosis and unsuccessful treatment his own mortality came sharply into focus as he wondered, “Do I have to go now. Could I have more time ?” During his chemotherapy John began loosing his once magnificent mane of hair, his solution was simple , he placed the displaced strands out in the garden so that the birds could use it to line their nests! Even in his extremity he was aware how inextricably we are connected to every living thing and how co-dependant we are. At the very last he knew that his departure was imminent, and agonised ,“I could screech with sorrow at the thought that we have to leave this world”. However his soul was stilled, his uneasiness calmed as he faced the ultimate inevitability, “Any minute now, the latch will sound and the Angel will come for me, and take me home.”‘Moriarty’ was a worthy homage to a great man and a gentle wise soul. In his life, writings and utterances John reminded us all that beautiful as this earth can be it is not our abiding home, and that even our most sublime thoughts are specks of dust in the face of an Almighty Father and an awaiting Eternity. This drama showed a man like each one of us in so many ways, yet unique in his gift and insight to see beyond what is seen and attempting to unravel the tangled sense of all our days as we quickly pass through this world.
Gerard O' Shea


Tony said...

A fitting tribute!

doonass said...

Great Stuff.

Ralph said...

I wonder what he'd have to say about the recession?

Anonymous said...

He would probably say that we deserve it, where ever you treasure is..... etc