On Wednesday last we said goodbye to a dear friend, Hugh Carr as he was buried in Clonaslee graveyard beside his beloved wife Máire Eibhlín, who predeceased him in 1982. We joined Hugh’s family and friends as mummers – travelling actors who traditionally visited houses in disguise, singing and rhyming. We did not go in disguise but went in memory of and tribute to, Hugh’s great play The Mummers of Reilig. In 1979 Hugh and Máire Eibhlín gathered a large cast and we started rehearsals for what was to become an 18 month journey together – culminating in winning best play at Listowel Writers’ Week in 1980.
There were so many memories shared on Wednesday last. It was wonderful to meet the Carr ‘children’ again. The family left Offaly many years ago so it must have been entertaining for Hugh’s grandchildren to hear us exclaiming how their parents had grown since we had seen them last !!! Hugh, Marina, Deirdre, John, Neil and Frank came to many rehearsals in St Mary’s Hall and the Bridge House. They took part as village children in the play and were great prompters when we forgot our lines! They were gorgeous children and it was emotional – and wonderful, to see them now as lovely adults with families of their own.
Some rehearsals took place in the Carr home at Pallas Lake. It was poignant to hear that when the family visited the lake on Wednesday morning that two swans glided out of the reeds to greet them. We all had memories of the swans on the lake – and the many birds that appeared when Máire Eibhlín died.
Happier days were recalled of the warmth of the greeting when we descended on the house en masse for rehearsals! There was always lots of music, poetry, chat, opinions given by everyone loudly and clearly and lots and lots of laughter. Three characters in the play- Mick and Dick and Jimmy, were ‘connected at the tail’ so one can just imagine the hilarity of that scene! Hugh not alone wrote the script but also the music. He would regularly add a song here and there and was also capable of adding a new voice or a scene at the last moment. It was all absorbed and because of such a strong bond between actors and producer there was never a hitch on the night!
Many stories were told of our trip to Listowel. We had practised so much we felt we did live in a breac- Gaeltacht in Reilig, in Donegal but as Kerry approached there were lots of nerves. We travelled by bus and stayed overnight in Listowel. Great excitement when we won. The family told us that Hugh spoke of that night shortly before he died. We piled onto the bus late the following evening only to find that a problem had arisen with the bus which prevented the return journey. There was then a scramble to get back to lodgings around the town –which of course, led to more hilarity and could have been material for another play! Mary Dunne, photographer and playwright was also acting in the play and has a scrapbook of all the reports, critiques, photos and ephemera connected to the win in Listowel. We were all so pleased when she produced it from her archives this week. There is a plan to track down a video of the play and there was a mention of a reunion!
Fr Tony King, a cousin of Máire Eibhlín’s, celebrated the Mass of Thanksgiving for Hugh with Fr Thomas O’Reilly as concelebrant. He gave a very moving sermon touching on all aspects of Hugh’s life and work in earlier times and up to very recently. The entire family played a central role in the readings and offering of gifts, in the music, the eulogy and the Communion reflection. There were many mentions of their beloved mother who died when they were all very young but whose love obviously still supports them. At the graveside following the prayers of commendation a small group from the cast of The Mummers of Reilig sang and read a short extract from the beginning and end of the play which seemed a fitting way to say thanks to Hugh and Máire Eibhlín for the many rich, joyous and happy hours we spent in their company.
Reilig is a fine wee town,
Let no one try to run it down;
‘Twill hold its own with any place,
Not excluding outer space.
But now our mumming has to end;
We hope we did not you offend,
Or any of our neighbours wrong,
Whose stories we have touched upon.
For most, their mortal course is run,
May Heaven bless them every one,
And also you. Our play is done.