WALKING THE ROAD
Ninety years after his death, the poet and roadworker Francis Ledwidge still haunts Irish literature. A determined Nationalist; he was killed by a stray shell while building a road behind the front line in Flanders, just a few weeks shy of his thirtieth birthday. Like other Great War poets he looks from old photographs, condemned to the limbo of being forever young. But like thousands of fellow Irishmen who died in that war he was condemned to another limbo, the limbo of never having their stories publicly told.
Walking the Road is one poet’s re-imagining of another poet’s life. Hovering in the half-light of memories, it vividly and imaginatively tries to follow Ledwidge on one final journey after his death as he finds himself once again walking the road that he once walked as a shop boy from Rathfarnham in South County Dublin to his native Slane in County Meath on the night on which he wrote his first poem. Now, enduring the same walk again after his death, alongside him walk the ghosts of those who touched his life and the ghosts of other young Irishmen – from villages in South Dublin County that he passed by, from Dermot Bolger’s own village of Finglas and from all the foreign lands from which young men died amid the mud of Flanders. Unseen, they walk alongside him, but where are they walking to and will any of them ever reach home?
Walking the Road was commissioned by South Dublin County Council through the In Context 3 Public Art Scheme funded under the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s Per Cent for Art Scheme.
To mark the 90th anniversary of the 3rd Battle of Ypres in 1917, Walking the Road by Dermot Bolger was produced by axis,
Ballymun, in association with the In Flanders Fields museum in Ieper, Belgium. It receive its world premiere in Axis Arts Centre, Main Street, Ballymun, Dublin 9 on June 5th 2007 before transferring to the Ieper Town Theatre in Flanders and then returning to tour to various other venues around Ireland including the Civic Theatre, Tallaght, where it was part of Fused - the South Dublin County Arts Festival. The text was published by New Island in association with South Dublin County Council and can be purchased from www.newisland.ie. Applications for any performance, whether by amateur or professional companies, must be made before rehearsals begin to New Island at www.newisland.ie. Absolutely no performance may be given unless a license has been obtained.
Dermot Bolger is also the editor of a selected poems by Francis Ledwidge, The Ledwidge Treasury, which has an introduction by Seamis Heaney and an afterword by Bolger and is published by New Island. It can be ordered from www.newisland.ie
ISBN NO: 1905494890
PUB DETAILS: Walking the Road was commissioned by South Dublin County Council through the In Context 3 Public Art Scheme funded under the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s Per Cent for Art Scheme.
FRANK: Hear the whispers of men whose bodies were never found. I was a blind mouse tussled up in a grain sack, scurrying about with no way in and no way out.
COMPANION: I wanted someone to hold me amid the bullets and screaming.
FRANK: I want someone to find my remains – a splintered skull and some buttons, two rows of teeth biting into a rusted identity tag.
COMPANION: (Rises) Feel them pass, Frank? Another shoal of souls from Ypres, another flock of swallows searching for Africa. Always at the end, one confused soul is struggling to keep up, clinging onto the past, unable to accept that it’s simply too cold to stay here. It’s time you took flight too, Frank, time to try and walk this road home again.
FRANK: I don’t know how. I’m still just not ready.
COMPANION: Think of one night, Frank. One night when you knew you were truly walking home.
FRANK: Creeping down the back stairs of Mr Daly’s shop, crossing the main street of Rathfarnham village, walking through the dark of South Dublin. (He rises and starts to walk around the extremities of the stage) I carry my first poem close to my breast and I’m walking home. Will I be there by daybreak?
COMPANION: We’ll all be there by daylight. There and back again, Sir.
FRANK: (Approaches COMPANION, as they are both facing each other, centre stage) For ninety years now I have been walking home. My name is Wolfgang and I am walking home. My name is Hans and Gunter and Gabriel…
COMPANION: (Overlapping with him) My name is Alasdair and Alexander and Dirk and Dieter.
FRANK: My name is Frederick and Flavio and Fritz and Felix.
COMPANION: My name is Jan and Jonas and Jasper and Jammet.
FRANK and the COMPANION turn to face the audience, side by side.
FRANK: My name is forgotten by every living being. I have lost my legs and arms.
COMPANION: The mustard gas in my lungs still burns even though my lungs were eaten by worms.
FRANK: I am the unremembered great uncle whose features you inherit.
COMPANION: I live on in my laugh that only you possess.
FRANK: (Moves forward) During lovemaking I am reincarnated inside your sharp intake of breath.
COMPANION: You are not walking home alone, Frank.
FRANK: No, I sense thousands walking, a great host in tattered uniforms. Who are you? Why are you following me?
COMPANION: (Almost a militaristic march forward to stop alongside FRANK) I am not following you, Frank, I’m Edmond Chomley Lambert Farran, my body missing in the Ypres Salient. I’m walking to Knocklyon House, Templeogue. This is Hastings Killingley beside me, aged twenty-one, of the Vicarage, Whitechurch, Rathfarnham. Remember the lime tree in his garden?
FRANK: And I’m Joseph Whelan of Whitechurch Road, Rathfarnham. With James O’Toole of Templeogue and James O’Neill of Rathfarnham, and John and Patrick Nolan of Saggart and Willie Nolan of Lucan and Willie Nolan of Clondalkin too.
They both begin to march on the spot.
COMPANION: Alexander McCann here, Frank, walking to Larkfield Cottages, Crumlin, with William McCormack walking to Early Cottage in Tandy’s Lane in Lucan and Simon Scully of Newtown Cottages in Tallaght. And Robert Kemp of Rathfarnham and Thomas Kearns of Rathcoole.
FRANK: And Patrick Emmett here, with my son and namesake, both keeping you company as far as Finglas Village, with John McDonagh whose mother’s house is on the Green.
COMPANION: A fellow poet here, Frank: Tom Kettle, walking with you beyond Finglas, turning for St Margarets out the Ashbourne road.
Both turn to march away from each other in a loop of the stage that will bring them back together.
FRANK: But I’ll be with you as far as Slane itself, Frank: Joseph Lynch here – we shared many a night’s drinking.
COMPANION: And we shared a name, Frank, though we never met. Francis Ledwidge, from Thomas Street in Dublin. I died, aged seventeen, in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
FRANK: And Michael Ledwidge here of Francis Street, Dublin. I died aged eighteen years.
COMPANION: Thomas Clarke, here, Frank, aged twenty-four, from Castleknock. Willie Pearse, aged twenty, of the Yorkshire Regiment, and Fr Willie Doyle, Jesuit, I died near you at Ypres.
They are back, facing the audience, side by side, silently marching a few paces forward and back..FRANK: And make room for the other Doyles: Joe Doyle of Tallaght, Joe Doyle of Wheatfield in Clondalkin, Patrick Doyle of Rathfarnham, Robert Doyle of Clondalkin, James Downes of Ballinsacorney above Rathfarnham – remember how the hills would break a camel’s heart, and my neighbour Joe Cullen, from Ballyboden.