Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kathleen Ni Houlihan at the Rose of Tralee

First published in the Western People on Monday.

Thank you, thank you, no, you’re too kind, thank you. A chairde go léir, tá fáilte is fiche romhaibh back to the Dome in Tralee where, after that break for the news, it’s time to meet the next Rose. And here she is now – it’s Kathleen Ni Houlihan, ladies and gentlemen!

Oh, thank you Daithí, it’s really great to be here in the Dome in Tralee.

Well, you’re very welcome of course Kathleen, as are all our lovely, lovely girls. Now Kathleen, where are you from? What’s your story?

From? Well. I’m from Ireland of course. You could say I am Ireland, if you want to get metaphysical about it.

Now Kathleen, there’ll be nobody getting physical here tonight before the watershed, we’ll have none of that carry-on. Sure where are you from, woman?

Oh God. Look – let’s say I’m from Sligo if it’s that big a deal. WB Yeats was from Sligo, and he wrote a play about me. It’s as good a place as any.

Oh, it is of course. Beautiful place, Sligo. Lovely fiddlers. And Kathleen, what is it that you do?

What do I do? What don’t I do?

Now look Kathleen, there’ll be time enough for the tongue-twisters later, when we’re backstage. What do you do for a living?

A living. Well. God. I’m a slave I suppose.

A slave! Well by God, we haven’t had one of those, I don’t think, ever, not even back in Gay’s time, and that isn’t today or yesterday. And tell us, what sort of life is it being a slave? Could you call it glamorous?

Glamorous isn’t the first word I’d use, no. It’s not a very glamorous life.

Isn’t it, isn’t it? Well sure, we can’t have everything? And Kathleen, where do you do this slaving?

Oh right here Daithí. Right here in Ireland.

In Ireland! Well, I never heard of that. And how did you get into it?

Oh, I’ve been a slave for years, on and off. I suppose you could say it started eight hundred years ago –

Eight hundred years! Go away out of that!

I’m sorry. I’m speaking now. Eight hundred years, yes, when the Normans came. They weren’t so bad, the poor old eejits. Then the English came. That wasn’t so great.

Indeed it can’t have been. Sure amn’t I often enough in the Aviva myself for games against “The Auld Enemy,” or that never-to-be-forgotten day at Croke Park when –

I’m sorry. Who’s telling this story? You, or me?


Thank you. So yeah, the English owned me for years and years. It seemed awful at the time, and there was one of them – what was his name? Ozzy? Odell? No, Oliver; yes, Oliver. He was a pig of a man, there’s no other way to describe him. And it’s true that the Famine wouldn’t have happened in Kensington. Or even Scotland. Besides, if they had a famine in Scotland, how would anybody be able to tell? That’s a hungry country if ever I saw one.

Now Kathleen, don’t get political. We’re live on television, there’s a big referendum coming up –

Are you still here?

Right. I’ll shut up now.

Good. It won’t be before time. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the English. Yes, they seemed a real pain when they were here and we blamed everything on them, a little like the way Dónal Óg Cusack blames everything on on the Cork County Board. He’s funny. But then, when the English left, things were still bad. So it can’t have been all their fault, can it? And then, as if we hadn’t enough of fighting, we started fighting amongst ourselves, because there weren’t enough of us dead. It was bad down here, I remember.

Yes. Yes, it was.

There may be hope for you yet Daithí. Just don’t push your luck. Now, where was I? Oh yes – so, there I was, the English gone, and me still somehow dressed in rags, chained up and scrubbing from rosy-fingered dawn until the black dead of night. So I began to wonder just how it was I could be free and still a slave. There could be one or two in those fancy boxes I see at the back of the theatre here who might know the answer to that.

Oh God. I’ll never get this gig again. They’ll have that little ceolán from Kildare back next year, sure as anything.

I’m sorry, what?

Oh, never mind me. Go on, go on.

You do fairly go on, you know. Anyway, where was I – oh, that’s right. I was down on my knees, scrubbing, every day the good God sent me. And then what do you think?

You entered the Rose of Tralee?

No, you ape. No, I got rich! I met this high roller and he swept me off my feet. We had good times, baby, I’m telling you. That man had pots of money – every summer at the Galway Races, drinking champagne out of my shoe, getting a new car because the old one ran out of petrol, all that. Sure we were all at it.

Not me. I was a butcher, back then. Before all the bling and wasted dreams.

Butcher? I wouldn’t have thought it and how Eleanor Tiernan confused you about the sausages that time. Anyway, there I was, having a fine old time and thinking hard times come again no more, when one day the guards paid us a visit in the Princess Grace room in the Shelbourne. Turns out every check the buck wrote bounced higher than an O’Neill’s size 5. They cuffed him and took him away, and next thing I know I’m finding out that those red-soled shoes might look good in magazines but they’re not so hot for legging it cross-country from Dublin to the Dome in Tralee with the police in hot pursuit.

And tell me Kathleen, do you think you’ll ever learn?

Do you know Daithí, that could be the first intelligent question ever asked at the Rose of Tralee? I hope I do learn, yeah. It’s long past time for me. Robert Emmet said he’d keep a seat for me among the nations of the Earth and maybe, after two hundred years, it’s time I took him up on that.