Three short plays about IRA internal security

Seamus Scanlon - The McGowan Trilogy (Arlen House)

Seamus Scanlon.

Seamus Scanlon.

THE INTERNAL security procedures of the now defunct Provisional IRA (1969-2005 RIP ) have lately been subjected to a certain amount of criticism. Even Gerry Adams has admitted “mistakes” were made.

They are the mistakes which any organisation, which invests in itself functions, which can only be properly carried out by the police and the courts, will inevitably make. The IRA was not special in this regard. This type of ‘justice’ is always arbitrary, and politically motivated. Galway born, New York based, writer Seamus Scanlon is lucky  in that, though he is not concerned with being topical, he picked this autumn to release The McGowan Trilogy - published by Galway publishing company Arlen House - a collection of three short plays in which the central character is Victor, whose full time occupation is head of IRA internal security.  

Victor’s main job is to weed out informers. As with many of the characters in Scanlon’s short stories, Victor probably slipped from the womb a fully formed sociopath. The first play, Dancing At Lunacy, is set in a drinking club in Belfast in the aftermath of the Brighton bomb. Victor has emerged from the H-Blocks in his late twenties/early thirties, with a master of fine arts, to tell us: “The place is full of poets and writers. It’s worse than the GPO on Easter Monday.”

Having recently done a reading at a literary festival in Liverpool alongside two writers who are former residents of the H-Blocks – Danny Morrison and Tim Brannigan – I can confirm that there is some truth in what Victor says here.

In this play Victor delights in using the power vested in him by the army council to lord it over his IRA colleagues, Ahern and Pender, both of whom are older than he. Scanlon’s clipped, slightly insane sounding, dialogue is perfect for his characters. The influence of Tarantino is obvious on the happy occasion when Victor begins singing to the air of ‘Grease’ “Dead is the word/Is the word/It’s got groove/It’s got meaning/Dead is the time/Is the place/Is the motion/Dead is the way you’ll be feeling.” In another world, Victor could have been a writer of advertising jingles.  

In the second play, The Long Wet Grass, Victor executes a woman - a childhood friend - for giving a drink of water to a British soldier who was on the ground dying, having been shot by the IRA. Her speech appealing to Victor is both realistic and extremely moving: “He said ‘I am so afraid.’ Blood droplets were coming out of his mouth…” Viktor shoots her twice in the head while they slow dance to Everything But The Girl’s ‘I Miss You’ which is playing on the car radio.

In the final part of the trilogy, Boys Swam Before Me, Victor climbs in the window of a nursing home in County Galway, where his mother, May, is dying. She dies while he is there though, in her final confusion, she doesn’t know it is him. It is an incredible story credibly told.

These three plays had their debut in New York; it would be great to see them staged in Galway.


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