An Irish Wedding
I wrote this play for an Irish History and Literature class in college. Reading the textbook, I came across a passage that really struck me; it said that during the Fenian movement of the 1850's, when Home Rule was a big issue, the largest population in Ireland, the tenant farmers, did not and could not care about Home Rule because just living was hard enough. I wrote this play to demonstrate this idea, using both John Synge's "Riders to the Sea" and James Joyce's Dubliners as inspiration for both style and language.
A Play in One Act
Persons in the Play
MATTHEW, an old man
RUTH, an old woman, MATTHEW’s wife
COLLEEN, their daughter
COLUM, a young man
BARRY, a young man
SCENE: A small cottage kitchen. Everything in it looks like it’s been used one time too many, yet clean and tidy nonetheless. A broom in the corner has only a handful of bristles left. A shelf to the right holds a small pot, a pan, four bowls, four plates, four cups, all severely chipped but stacked neatly and scrubbed to a shine. A small, worn table fills the middle of the room, empty of everything save a chipped vase with a small bunch of blue and yellow wildflowers, which look fresh. A small fire burns in the stove, a pot of something over it, ingredients chopped and in a bowl on the table, as if someone had just left for a moment. Enter COLLEEN, a woman in her late twenties. She hurries to the stove, adds the ingredients from the table, washes the bowl, sets it neatly on the shelf. RUTH’s voice can be heard from another room.
RUTH: Have you finished that soup yet, Colleen? Himself will be here any minute. You know he don’t like waiting.
COLLEEN: Almost done.
(Enter RUTH, limping a bit, carrying a bundle of laundry. She sits at the table, begins mending a shirt from the pile. After a moment she sets it down and observes COLLEEN as she cooks. )
RUTH: And when will Colum be proposing?
COLLEEN: (Blushes) You seem mighty sure he will. There are plenty of other girls in town waiting for him I’m sure.
RUTH: You know he pays them no mind. He ought to do it soon. Your father and I won’t be in this world much longer, God save us. And when he’s gone the farm will follow. You can’t keep it yourself.
COLLEEN: (Startled) Whisht! Don’t say such things!
RUTH: Say it or not, that’s truth. I mean to see you married to that boy before we go. You need someone to look after you.
COLLEEN: Well, I’ll not be putting my hopes on Colum Farrell. Mayhap he’ll propose, but not soon, I think. He’s his father’s store to look after, and little money of his own to wed any girl.
(COLLEEN turns away from RUTH, looking wistful. RUTH goes back to her sewing. Enter MATTHEW, looking tired. He sits at the table. RUTH puts away her sewing and sets three bowls in the table, followed by COLLEEN, with the soup. They begin to eat in silence. After a few minutes, there is a knock at the door.)
VOICE: Hello? Hello?
RUTH: (Excited) That must be Colum himself! (Yells) Come in! Colleen, get him some soup.
VOICE: Oh, I wouldn’t trouble you, don’t mind me.
RUTH: Nonsense, you’ll sit and eat with us.
(Enter COLUM. COLLEEN gets a bowl and fills it with soup, smiling until she turns to hand it to him, face neutral.)
COLUM: (smiling) God bless you, Colleen. Matthew, I brought that new spade you asked about last week. (Hands MATTHEW a bundle)
MATTHEW: Thank you kindly, Colum. I’ll bring a payment by and by, next week God-willing.
COLUM: No, no, it’s only we ordered an extra by mistake, I’ll take no payment for it.
(MATTHEW nods as if this were expected, and goes back to eating. The four eat in silence for a few minutes. COLUM and COLLEEN steal glances at each other while the other person is looking away, so neither knows of the other’s scrutiny. MATTHEW finishes first, says good night, exits. RUTH clears his space and hers, picks up her sewing again.)
COLUM: (after some hesitation) Colleen, I wonder if you’d like to walk with me a bit tonight?
COLLEEN: I haven’t always the time to be walking, Colum Farrell. There’s chores to be done here still.
RUTH: Nonsense, Colleen. You two get out of here, I don’t want to see you back before an hour’s past, hear?
COLLEEN: (smiles briefly) I hear.
(COLUM follows COLLEN outside. They walk for a minute in silence.)
COLLEEN: It’s been a long while since you last came to visit, Colum Farrell. I thought you’d maybe wed a girl in town and forgot about me.
COLUM: (blushes) You know there’s no girl I’d wed rather than you, Colleen. It’s that I’ve been busy.
COLLEEN: Aye, you must be the richest man in town now, that much time spent at your father’s shop.
COLUM: It’s not my father keeps me busy, Colleen.
COLLEEN: Ah, I was right then, another maid has taken your fancy.
COLUM: Whisht, your talk of maids! I want no one but you. It’s Home Rule keeps me busy, Colleen.
COLLEEN: Home Rule!
COLUM: Aye, independence.
COLLEEN: And what about your father’s shop? I thought all that time you were saving to wed me.
COLUM: Saving! It’s not the money is lacking. If that were all, I’d have wed you a year past.
COLLEEN: (angry) Then perhaps you’re not too keen to marry at all, Colum Farrell. Perhaps I’ll not wait another year for you.
COLUM: You don’t mean it.
COLLEEN: I surely do! First it’s the money, and then it’s Home Rule. What else will you have me wait for?
COLUM: Nothing, Colleen, nothing! But Home Rule is important. And it will come soon, I’m sure of it. The Fenians have assured me of it. They’re planning a revolution right now, and I plan to join them. I want to wed you in a free Ireland. I want my children to be born in a free Ireland.
COLLEEN: And what will I do with Home Rule? What will our children do with Home Rule? Will Home Rule make the potatoes grow? Will it improve my father’s health, keep our children healthy? Will Home Rule do the sewing, the washing? Will home Rule keep food on our table or clothes on our backs? Will it do the planting, the harvesting? Will it pay the rent? Will it keep the landlord from kicking us off the farm at a whim?
COLUM: And what of England? You worry about the landowners kicking you off the land, but that land doesn’t even belong to them, not really. Ireland belongs to England; everything that we do, everything we create, everything we grow, goes to them.
COLLEEN: And what business is that o’ mine? England has never harmed me. I’ve never seen or heard anything of England that affected me. What I need is a home, a bit of food. Ireland can’t give me those things, free or not. You can, but you won’t. I will not die alone, waiting for your Home Rule.
COLUM: (sadly) You don’t understand. Home Rule is beyond those things. What use is surviving if you do so at the cost of freedom? I’d rather die a free man from want of those things than live a slave to England.
COLLEEN: (sadly) Then you will do so without me, Colum Farrell.
(Exit COLLEEN. COLUM watches her walk away).
COLUM: (When she is gone) I will show you, Colleen. I will show you a free Ireland. I promise.
(The next day. COLLEEN is busy about the cottage, cleaning. Her eyes are red, but otherwise there is no sign of last night’s argument with COLUM, and RUTH, preparing lunch, does not mention it.)
RUTH: I’ve made a basket for your father, so he won’t have to come all the way back here for lunch. He seemed more tired than usual this morning. You’ll bring it to him?
COLLEEN: Of course. Hand it here now. I’ll be back shortly.
(COLLEEN heads to the door, stops. With a little cry, she drops the basket. RUTH hurries over, limping, to see what’s wrong. She too cries out, and runs out the door. COLLEEN backs up, falls into a chair. She weeps a bit, makes an effort to control herself, dries her eyes, and clears off the table, tossing the flowers aside. Soon a small procession of men enters, carrying MATTHEW between them. They lay his body on the table. )
COLLEEN: Thank you all for bringing him. Out with you now, and bring my mother.
(The men exit).
COLLEEN: (Bitterly) Oh, father! It’s too soon you’re leaving us, and me without a husband! How will I care for my mother? How will we keep the farm?
(Enter BARRY, a man in his early twenties, the landowner’s son. COLLEEN doesn’t seem to notice him.)
BARRY: I am sorry for your loss, Colleen.
COLLEEN: (Startled) Oh! And is it you, come to take the farm before my father is in the ground?
BARRY: It’s your grief making you talk so, Colleen. Sure I wouldn’t come so soon after your father’s death to take all you have left. Your father was a good tenant. We’ll give you a few weeks to find another situation.
COLLEEN: A few weeks!
BARRY: That’s more than fair. More than my father wanted to give you.
COLLEEN: And why would you be so generous? I’ve hardly met you save when rent was due.
BARRY: To give you time to consider marrying me.
COLLEEN: Marry you!
BARRY: Think of your mother. Where else would you go? You can’t work the farm alone, and you have no other family. As my wife you and your mother will be more than taken care of. You’ll have a better life than ever you did here.
COLLEEN: And what a choice it is! I begin to see what Colum meant. Well, I do have a place to go. He will wed me sooner, now my father is dead.
BARRY: Colum Farrell? Didn’t you hear? He was arrested last night. At one of those Fenian terrorist meetings. He’ll wed no one for a long while now.
(Enter men with RUTH. She can barely walk, and notices no one but her husband’s body on the table.)
COLLEEN: (Sadly) And so it’s back to eviction or marriage. I will marry you, to save my mother, though it breaks my heart to do so.
BARRY: You will not regret it. I will go get Father Michael, for your father’s funeral, and our wedding.
COLLEEN: And so I come to understand Colum’s Home Rule. What I sacrifice for mere survival he sacrificed for love. To what end? (Looks toward her mother, crying over her father’s body.) To what end?