In High Germany is a one act play by Dermot Bolger that was first
staged by the Gate Theatre, Dublin, as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, Oct, 1999.
The action takes place on platform 4 of the Altona Railway station, Hamburg. The time is just after midnight on June 19th, 1988.
The play is narrated by Eoin, a young Irishman who has just followed the Irish soccer team across German in the Euro 88 championships with his two best friends since childhood, Mick and Shane. They have followed the Irish team to every corner of Europe and have always dreamed of returning home from a major championship like this, like heroes with stories to tell. But while they now have the stories they have no one to tell them to. In a time of economic blight, Shane now lives in Holland, Mick is about to emigrate illegally to America in search of work and Eoin is returning to his German girlfriend who is part of his new life in Hamburg and who has just told him that she is carrying his child which will anchor him to a new future in Germany.The play uses the story of soccer to discuss identity and emigration. It has ben staged many times in different countries and there is a popular version of it published as a novella in the Open Door Literacy series. The text was published by Penguin as part of A Dublin Quartet and by Methuem as part of Plays 1. If it proves impossible to find then a reading script may be requested from this website. Applications for any performance, whether by amateur or professional companies, must be made before rehearsals begin. Absolutely no performance may be given unless a license has been obtained.
“Thoughtful, comic, sad and provocative, this monologue is of a lost and altered heritage… (a)… cogent manifestation of a changing Ireland.” - Irish Times
“Dermot Bolger’s new one-act play is a powerful and moving evocation of Ireland’s production of the “young Europeans.” - Irish Independent
ISBN NO: 1902602145
Would this game ever end? My throat was parched, my legs trembling, my heart frightened me. An old lad beside me tried to sit on the concrete, no longer able to bear it. All around us forty five thousand Dutch roared as Gullit and van Basten stormed forth, drowning our voices. How could we make ourselves heard. It was like throwing stones into the sea.
He clenches his fist and looks around as though encouraging others to join him as he sings
"Sing your heart out, sing your heart out,
Sing your heart out for the lads."
Ireland! Ireland! Ireland!
A lower voice.
Can the lads hear us, do they know? Half time came and still we lived in hope. We sat on the steps, faces white, trying to suck in deep breaths. What could be the slowest time imaginable? Forty-five more minutes in the heat of the Ruhr. The lads were knackered, you could see it in them. The Dutch passing it around, making them run for each ball.
He slowly hunches down on the seat and closes his eyes, drawing himself closer in as he speaks.
I closed my eyes, almost like a premonition, and sat down, suddenly unable to watch anymore. The seconds pounding in my skull until I opened my eyes as the roar went forth.
He opens his eyes and looks up.
Forty-five thousand voices like shrapnel, filling up my head, pounding off my skull. Oh Jesus, Jesus, (Slowly) Jesus! Shane's hand touched my shoulder.
"It's over", he said, "over".
He stands up.
I stood up among the silent men and women, their faces drained and I raised my hands.
He raises his fist and screams.
"Ireland!" I screamed. "Ireland! Ireland!" I had six minutes of my old life to go, six minutes to cheat time. The crowd joined in, every one of them, from Dublin and Cork, from London and Stockholm. And suddenly I knew this was the only country I still owned, those eleven figures in green shirts, that menagerie of accents pleading with God. Shane and Mick stood solid at my right and left shoulders. I knew they were thinking too of the long trains back to new homes. The tunnel was being pulled out for the end of the match, photographers gathering down on the touchline. We lifted our voices in that wall of noise, one last time to urge the lads on.
He raises the scarf once more and screams.
Ireland! Ireland! Ireland!
He lowers the scarf, suddenly weary.
And then the final whistle blew, I lowered my head feeling suddenly old. The players sank down, knees pressed into the turf as the Dutch celebrated. And after a few minutes when I looked around none of us were moving as the Dutch fans filed away, muted and relieved down that avenue of stones.
He turns to look behind him for a second.
And when they were gone, we turned, solid to a man and a woman, thirteen thousand of us, cheering, applauding, chanting out the players' names, letting them know how proud we felt. I thought of my father's battered travel-light bag, of Molloy drilling us behind that 1798 pike, the wasters who came after him hammering Peig into us, the masked men blowing limbs of passers-by off in my name. You know, all my life it seems that somebody somewhere has always been trying to tell me what Ireland I belong to. But I only belonged there. I raised my hands and applauded, having finally, in my last moments with Shane and Mick found the only Ireland whose name I can sing, given to me by eleven men dressed in green. And the only Ireland I can pass on to the son who will carry my name and features in a foreign land.
I thought of my uncles and my aunts scattered through England and the United States, of every generation culled and shipped off by beef by the hoof. And suddenly it seemed they had found a voice at last, that the Houghtons and McCarthys were playing for all those generations written out of history. And I knew they were playing for my children to come too, for Shane's and Mick's, who would grow up with foreign accents and Irish faces, bewildered by their fathers' lives.
All thirteen thousand of us stood on the terrace, for fifteen, twenty minutes after the last player had vanished, after Houghton had returned, forlornly waving a tricolour in salute, after Jack had come back out to stand and stare in wonder at us. Coffin ships, the decks of cattle boats, the departure lounges of airports. We were not a chosen generation, the realisation of a dream any longer. We were just a hiccup, a brief stutter in the system. Thirteen thousand of us stood as one on that German terrace, before scattering back towards Ireland and out like a river bursting its banks across a vast continent.
He steps down from the seat and puts the scarf around his neck.
I did not need to look at Shane or Mick. We knew that part of our lives was over for ever. We had always returned together to Dublin once, a decade spent in a limbo of youth, poker sessions and parties in bedsits, football in Fairview Park on Sunday mornings before the pubs opened, walking out the long roads to Phibsborough and Rathmines on Saturday nights with six packs and dope and a sense of belonging so ingrained we were never aware of it.
He lifts his bag up on his shoulder and turns, speaking in Shane's accent.
"Italy, 1990 lads," Shane said, "we'll be there."
His own voice.
But we knew we won’t be, even if Ireland qualify, knew we were fractured, drifting apart, with new lives and responsibilities taking hold. Jesus, we all felt so old suddenly.
"We did it", Shane said. "The first time ever. We were a part of it."
He walks towards the Ausgang sign and stops, fingering the scarf for a moment and speaks in his own voice.
I walked down to platform B17 at eight p.m. this evening, found a carriage by myself, and when the ticket inspector came in he saw this scarf and nodded with a new respect. I remembered my father in carriages like that, perpetually coming home to his son in Ireland. But when I closed my eyes the Ireland I saw wasn't the streets I'd known or the fields he'd grown in. I saw thirteen thousand pairs of hands moving as one, united by pride. I knew Feieda would still be waiting up, with my son, my future, a tiny pearl growing inside her.
"Come on train," I said, "faster, faster, take me home to her and to him". The lights of a dozen German towns spread out while the train sped on. And all the way here it wasn't the wheels that were chattering, but the very network of tracks, carrying us all away from Gelsenkirchen, scattering us like seed across the continent, those steel lines chanting...
He sings as he exits.
"Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ireland, Ireland!
Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ireland, Ireland!"