The Holy Ground was first staged by the Gate Theatre on Nov 9th 1990 as part of double bill of one act plays, along with a revival of In High Germany. It was directed by David Byrne, designed by Robert Ballagh and the role of Monica was played by the late, great Pat Leavy. It received an Edinburgh Fringe First Award in 1992.
It is a one woman show in the voice of Monica, a woman made timed by decides of marriage to a man, who unable to cope with his inability to have children, becomes a right wing ultra conservative campaigner in 1980s Ireland, railing against divorce while being utterly unable to communicate with the wife whose spirit he has crushed but who finally begins to stand up for herself.The Holy Ground was published in A Dublin Quartet (Penguin) and Dermot Bolger: Plays 1 (Methuen). If it cannot be found a reading script is available vua 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.
“The Holy Ground is a tour de force. It’s stream of consciousness theatre at its best… (which) develops a pace until the listener is hanging onto every syllable.” - Sunday Press
“The best, saddest one-actor on offer this year. The Holy Ground is finely crafted in its language, admirable in intention, and in its closing moments is a work of elegiac poetry which should be seen by all.” - Sunday Tribune.
“There could hardly be a more appropriate theatrical presentation to mark a changing Ireland… than Dermot Bolger’s double bill which opened to an ecstatic reception. The Holy Ground is a deeply affecting cameo of the Widow O Muirthile… and Pat Leavy catches every nuance, affirming her personality and her warmth even in her desolation and deprivation.” - Irish Times
That time around the elections and the divorce referendum, TDs and Senators calling to the door, promising him anything for his seal of support. That photographer who snapped us for The Sunday World. I remember blinking in the light and looking back into the kitchen where Clarke and the others watched. Oh God, I felt so unclean and bewildered, wanting to hide away with the photo of Deirdre's girl in the shed.
She rises and walks towards the fireplace, resuming her packing.
Then the elections finished... it was like the news on the telly...the wars they stop showing so you forget they're going on. (Pause) That was you Myles, letters unprinted, phonecalls not returned.
She stops packing and looks up.
I've never harmed a hair of anyone. So what made that thought return?
She moves back to her chair, thinking and then sits.
That young mother in the supermarket with the freckled little girl, the image of Deirdre's. She'd pinned a little badge on the child. When she saw me reading it and I smiled she smiled a little defiant smile back, as if to say we'll beat them, we'll live our own lives yet. That arm (She raises her right arm) I would have cut off just to go for coffee with her like I've seen other women do, to play with the little girl, to talk to someone. (Pause) The badge on the little girl said Spuc Off.
She rises, suddenly overcome with laughter that is close to tears.
"Spuc off." I started laughing, the cashiers looking up with startled eyes. "Spuc Off! Spuc Off!" Oh God, I laughed, the tears down my face. A space cleared around me and the young woman touched my elbow.
A concerned female voice.
"Are you alright. Can I get anyone... your husband?"
Her own voice.
"My husband is dead," I said, "thirty years dead. Swifty Hurley, he was a good, simple man, a footballer." I left the shop and almost ran home. I felt the whole street was looking at me. I took the poison from the shed, put it above the cooker and made his favourite stew.
She cries out softly.
Oh Swifty, my only love! You were my husband, what would I be when you were gone?
She sits down in the chair.
All the things people kill for. Money and God and countries. I killed for companionship, can you not understand? Those rough women in prison, they didn't frighten me any longer. Four of us crammed in a cell, at least they would have to talk to me.
She rises again and picks up the now full black sack on the floor, speaking in mourner's voice.
"You'll be responsible for his papers, Mrs Ó Muirthile. When can we call for them?"
Her own voice as she carries the sack over to the door.
"Eleven o'clock on Tuesday Mr Clarke," I said. Remember Myles, the binmen are always gone by half ten.
She exits to dump the sack outside and then re-enters.
Even Clarke and his friends spuced off on you these last months Myles, new offices down town, computers and spokesmen in smart suits.
She lifts the second sack from the armchair and begins to cross to the door again.
They left you alone to struggle with your own Calvary. Wandering the streets with nobody heeding you, having rows with young people sniggering on the bus home. How long would it take the poison to work? I threw it out the next morning but it was there inside you. I wanted to tell you, to warn you, but... Myles, all these years we've barely spoken. You'd come home late and I'd hear you down here singing old hymns to yourself.
She pauses at the door and looks back in.
This was when you finally needed my help, an overwrought little boy blubbering away to yourself. But you had killed every feeling inside me until I just lay there numb.
She exits to dump the sack and comes back to stand in the doorframe.
I woke on Tuesday and knew something was wrong. The little sword of light under my door almost paled with dawn. And every step I took seemed a descent into nightmare. I stood outside this door, Myles, and realised... I wasn't afraid you were dead, I was afraid you might still be alive. You were slumped here in front of the Perpetual Lamp, (She looks down at the carpet) a grotesque, pitiable figure. All the years in the GPO, Myles, the second hatch on the right after the statue of Cuchulainn. It wasn't Rosie Henderson I saw now, but that statue of a warrior dying, tying himself to a rock. For half an hour I stood in this doorway like the men of Ireland, afraid to approach, not daring to call your name in case you'd look up. Then... I went walking through the streets in my slippers and dressing gown.
She crosses the stage to stand beside his armchair.
Outside the Mater Hospital two nurses appeared. They brought me inside and phoned an ambulance. "Was it the rat poison?" I kept asking, "the rat poison?" I wanted to be charged, to be taken away.
She pauses, trying to remember the word.
What was it the doctor called it? "Warfarin." I think that was the name.
A strong male voice.
"Your husband died from a clot to the brain. The man had a history of thrombosis, he'd take treatment from nobody. Rat poison contains Warfarin that prevents clotting and thins out the blood. If you did give it to him you probably lengthened his life. Go home now Mrs Ó Muirthile and keep your mouth shut."
She sits down in his armchair for the first time.
Sweet Jesus Myles, what sort of wife was I? I couldn't make you happy in life and I couldn't even send you to your death. They thought it was for you I was crying but it was for me. Because how can I cope thrust out into the world, how can I learn to watch that (She glances towards the television) without hunching up beside it, to walk out into the evening like an ordinary person? To learn to play bingo and sit in the park, to chance a conversation with a kind person on a bus?
She seems to sink further and further into the armchair.
The doctor sent in an old nun in white robes to comfort me. She pressed her hands in mine. "Pray," she said. Those kind eyes she had, she made me feel warm. "Our Father who art in heaven," she began. I closed my eyes and thought of God. I saw him there kindly... like my own father beckoning, but suddenly you were there beside him, Myles, righteous and stern.
The lights have gone down until there is just her lost in a dim spotlight.I tried to pray but nothing would come. You've stolen my youth and left me barren, you've stole my gaiety and gave me shame, and when I die I will die unmourned. But I could forgive you Swifty, everything except that... seated there at the right hand of God, you had stolen my Christ away from me.