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3 - J. M. Synge, Authenticity, and the Regional

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2017

Patrick Lonergan
Affiliation:
National University of Ireland, Galway
Neal Alexander
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
James Moran
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
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Summary

At the end of the second book of The Aran Islands, John Millington Synge goes on a train journey from Galway to Dublin. His departure occurs on the eve of a celebration in Dublin of the life of Charles Stewart Parnell, the fallen Irish political leader. Synge's train is full of excursionists to Dublin, and many of them are in a festive mood. ‘A wild crowd was on the platform, surging round the train in every stage of intoxication’, writes Synge, who describes the scene as evidence of the ‘half-savage temperament of Connaught’. Synge is not altogether disapproving of the crowd's high spirits, stating that ‘the tension of human excitement seemed greater in this insignificant crowd than anything I have felt among enormous mobs in Rome or Paris’ (122).

As the train pulls away, Synge takes his seat in the third-class carriage amongst people he has come to know from the Aran Islands, and finds himself sitting beside a shy young girl. The journey proves raucous:

When the train started there were wild cheers and cries on the platform, and in the train itself the noise was intense, men and women shrieking and singing and beating their sticks on the partitions. At several stations there was a rush to the bar, so the excitement progressed as we proceeded. (122)

That excitement culminates in a brawl at Ballinasloe station (the easternmost station in County Galway), when a sailor on the train has a fight with a soldier who is trying to board. ‘Peace was made’, writes Synge, but as the soldiers leave the train:

a pack of their women followers thrust their bare heads and arms into the doorway, cursing and blaspheming with extraordinary rage […] I looked out and caught a glimpse of the wildest heads and figures I have ever seen, shrieking and screaming and waving their naked arms in the lights of the lanterns. (124)

As the journey progresses through the night, the mood calms – but Synge is unable to sleep, kept awake by the jokes of the sailor, and by the conversation in Irish of two old men sitting nearby.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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