Sunday, 29 May 2016

Michael Rogers, Seanachai: Monologue Part I.

By Kathleen Handrick

My fictional piece is a monologue spoken by Michael Rogers, who was a prisoner amongst the hundreds detained in Frongoch Internment Camp, Bala, North Wales after the 1916 Easter Rising. He was a contemporary of my grandfather, the two families living beside each other in North Mayo, a place steeped in Irish history, being the site of the French Landings in 1798.

Michael was described as one of the greatest Seanachai (storyteller) of his time by Eoin MacNeill.
Douglas Hyde published Michael’s work in his collections of traditional Irish stories. He was an employee and close friend of Patrick Pearse and his friendship with Eamon De Valera continued until Michael’s death in 1936 in Rathfarnham.

In this first part of the monologue, Michael talks to new arrivals in Frongoch.


Cén chaio a bhfuil sibh? Suígí sois anois. Ah, maith go leor!

Now, that's no problem. I can use the English language if I need to but ... it’s not a thing I’d be given to boasting about!

So, how’re ye doing anyway, lads, and welcome to Frongoch! Were ye in the gang brought in from Stafford yesterday? 

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Captured Irish soldiers in Stafford Gaol after the failed 1916 Easter Uprising.
Michael Collins marked with an 'x.’

Well the air and the scenery here’s better than in those English gaols, I'd say.

Some of the lads, now, say it puts them in mind of Wicklow or Galway even but that’s a bit o’ wishful thinking. It’s certainly not home anyways - you’ll be finding that out soon enough.

I wonder now, is that what they call English wit, do you think- to detain hundreds of Irishmen in a dry distillery! Huh, you'll see quite a few of 'em taking in a few good breaths down there ... but I fear they be disappointed. It's only the smell of the rats, they'd be getting. 

The guards? Well now, I suppose, they could be worse. Some are getting on a bit now – the fights gone out of them... but...just watch your man over there, though. He'll be after you to volunteer for France, especially if he knows you only have the English.

In fact lads - it's best if you just lay low for now. Don't get yourself noticed for the wrong things. There's plenty here to be filling your time - Irish, history, politics – even a bit o’ Latin –though I’d be thinking now, you’ll be well able at that already ! Of course, then there's football, running and plenty o' marching. 

I tell you now, you'll be amongst the finest specimens around Dublin when you leave here –fit and educated – what could be better!

Ah, were you down below earlier? Well, most evenings now I lead the rosary. Just listen out for the bell and come along.

Take it from me lads; it’s a great comfort – all those voices raised in prayer...

“Sé do bheatha, a Mhuire, atá lán de ghrásta ...”

and now, I'd say- it's a good sign to them - that we all stand together- we won't be broken. And some of them join in you know.

In fact, Sergeant Matthews even asked us to pray for his son - killed in France. That was no problem. He's a decent enough ould fella.

Me? Well, indeed, I am an old man. Old, I suppose, to be in here anyway amongst all you young fellas!

Now then, listen here and I'll tell ye. 

I was born and raised in Foghill, in the parish of Lacken, Mayo... 1860, by my reckoning. 

And – that’s right - you are correct – I am known as a story teller -Seanachai.

I didn’t learn that kind o’ thing at school though. Well, now, that place wasn’t for me at all.

No, I much preferred the company of the old folk around and ... I'd be thinking now, I learnt more that way. I would listen to their stories, their music – their way of talking and ... I would gather it all together and store it away – not only in my head but in my heart.

Oh, I heard all the ancient legends from them –of Crom Dubh and the blessed saint himself, and I've recited them often enough. I just love to be telling them and to be sure

I was winning many a medal for my efforts but I’m telling you now, my people taught me much more than those tales.

I tell ye, there were many stories of great sadness and hardship and you know, you don’t forget those kinds of things when you hear them, even though you're but a child.

They stay with you and form your thinking- they grow in you and you need to do something. You must!

But ... first, I had to earn my living. I became a gardener so – and, after a few jobs round about, I was offered work up in Dublin in the gardens in one of the big houses. That was ... more than twenty years ago.

I was in demand for my language - to give lessons you know and my love of stories and music introduced me to others who thought like me. Then I met Pádhraic - Patrick, may God be merciful to him.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Pádraig Pearse
He was no more than a boy then ... and he too loved the ancient stories and our native tongue.

He is –oh, I can't yet think of his cruel death, you know - he was, I mean – so passionate! He believed so much in educating our young– in Irish for Ireland - and I am so proud to be part of that school. I'm the only native speaker there you know! Fair play to them- Pádhraic and the others – they all learned it and they cherished it like me!

My job? Well, I’ve been the gardener and lodge keeper now since the school opened ... keeping a keen eye over the comings and goings. I teach a bit of horticulture- gardening - and I converse with the boys.

The lads from Connemara, now, ah they’re grand -they relish the lessons and the chat ... but the ones with only the English – hmm- they think I'm a hard task master. 

They need to learn though - like yourselves. It's the future – and - pay heed to my words, we will be free one day to speak and live our own ways. That's my prayer anyway and it will happen, I do believe.

Well, you know Pádhraic and me, we liked each other, right from the beginning and that’s why we got on so.

I suppose you could say, I've been like a father to him since his own father died. We have a certain – ‘trust’ of each other– did have a trust- there I go again – that was different to that of him and his brother, Willie.

Let me put it this way – there is more to me than a gardener and Pádhraic and the rest thought so too.

Ah yes, I was... I was there beside him at the Post Office. I wanted to stay but he sent me back to the school - to tidy things up and look after the women folk. It was a most distressing time and the... well ... they rounded me up too... and ... here I am!

Sin é.

That's enough for now of the ramblings of an old man.

Now my boys! Can you hear that fiddle? Are you singers? The lads have a few songs most nights. It passes the time before lights out. There's still time for you to go and join in.

Me? No I won't be bothering this evening. I'll just stay here and think about Pádhraic for a while. You know ... when he was in Kilmainham, he sent a farewell message to me and I pray it every night since.

Slán leat, a Mhicheál, Slán leat go deo.

Slán leat a Mhicheál, as Contae Mhaigh Eo!

Slán agus beannacht leat, a Phádhraic.

Part II of Michael's monologue, where he recites a story given to him as a child from an old neighbour who witnessed the arrival of the French soldiers in 1798 at Kilcummin, in the parish, wwas published on the MIW Blog on Sunday 5th June 2016. You can read it here

Image credits:
Prisoners at Stafford and Patrick Pearse are in the Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Map of Mayo is in the Public Domain, via The British Library
Michael Rogers plaque & text of this post are © Kathleen Handrick.

Kathleen Handrick is retired and lives in Oldham with her husband and family.  She joined MIW in 2013 as a novice writer and enjoys participating in the writers’ events. Her Irish roots are in County Mayo.

Kathleen wrote ‘Michael Rogers’ for MIW's commemorative event, '1916: The Risen Word', which was performed at the Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester on March 10 2016. MIW received the generous support of the Embassy of Ireland for this event.

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