Farewell to a chronicler of our social history

When I started working in Tuam more than three decades ago, I came to the place like someone informed; It was as if I was watching a TV series having already seen the pilot episode. For me, very nook and cranny, every corner boy, every solicitor’s clerk, every waistcoated business owner, every side street had a side story about which there was a yarn or a saga. And for the best part of my many years there, I was enthralled and charmed and indeed shaped by the hundreds of characters who were citizens of the town, but who just as easily might have been characters in any one of Tom Murphy’s plays.

As I became more at one with the place, you would get to see and feel the formative breezes that led Murphy’s writing decades earlier; the decreasingly oppressive role of Church and State, the desire to flee into the hands of emigration, the talking from the side of the mouth, the beautiful juxtaposition of snobbery and poverty that created the tensions that you find in all of his wonderful work.

What a loss he is to the cultural cache of the region. It is hard to believe that he no longer walks among us. He had this almost European ability to take a single incident and build a drama around it, finding the magic and the macabre in the everyday incidents that may go unnoticed by others. The laughing contest, the shape-throwing of On The Outside, the repeated memories.

He was a man who was able to write with amazing tenderness and then place the most shocking violence next to that. In doing so, he created a great tension in his work that grabbed people from the get-go.

His writing is a cultural history of a time in Ireland when such an analysis was not welcome. He wrote of people shattered by life itself, living traumatised existences, compromising in the way that everyone did in that time.

How fortunate we were to have him here in Galway for so many of his greatest years. His work with Druid gave them the confidence and the material with which to go forth and become the force they are.

Though limited by illness for some time, he was still someone who brought an energy to a room when he entered, as if we were all in the presence of someone special. And we were.

Garry Hynes spoke from New York last evening of the huge storm that passed over Druid’s rehearsal room on Tuesday afternoon, an almost surreal end of the world natural phenomenon, followed not long afterwards with the shocking news of Tom’s passing.

Maybe it was his power, his rage, his energy, his tenderness, his encouragement, his Tuamness, all rolled up in a cloud of magnetic force, making its way from one world to the next, and just dropping by to remind Garry and Druid to keep fighting the fight, to ensure that the honesty and force of the written and nuanced word continues to move us.

To his family Jane, Mary, Bennan, Johnny, Nell, we want to thank them for sharing him with us all these years and for enabling him to be what he was. Let us hope that his words and what he inspired go on to motivate and encourage the next generation of Irish writers, so that they too can find the words to throw light on the shocking injustices that still blight this fledgeling state.



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