Honor Molloy’s play “Crackskull Row,” which is directed by Kira Simring and stars Gina Costigan, John Charles McLaughlin, Terry Donnelly and Colin Lane, will be performed at the Irish Repertory Theatre from February 3 to March 19. Click here for ticket info and details.
By Honor Molloy
My Father. John Molloy was born in 1929 and came of age during a bleak time in Ireland’s history when a third of the nation’s children left school at the age of fourteen. He was one such child.
He left because he couldn’t read. He couldn’t read because he was taught in Irish, an impenetrable language to a dyslexic boy. He left because he was flogged. He was flogged because he was a joker who subverted the Christian Brothers’ extreme disciplinary practices. He stood up for the persecuted. He drew attention to himself because he couldn’t shut up, wouldn’t shut up about the injustice happening in his world.
Home was no better than school. His father was a man quick with the belt and the fist. Dick Molloy beat his wife when she was pregnant and killed an unborn baby. He did this several times. He beat my father.
He beat his rage into his family again and again. But his anger, his disappointment in life was never put to rest.
Dick Molloy was a dairy farmer with a bad case of tuberculosis. The family hid his disease from the customers, but he couldn’t keep it from his son. He gave my father TB.
From the age of 17 to 23, my father toured the chest hospitals of Dublin. Conditions in the sanatoria were dire. The shame of being poor was added to the shame of being sick. A starvation diet and death all around.
My father left the sanatorium with half a lung and a burning desire for all the sex and booze and theater he could grab. A rogue and a charmer, he married his exact opposite: my mam.
Together they made theater and children and life was marvelous for a time. But my father was sinking into a sea of mental illness, addiction, self-annihilation. He was drowning.
And he was punching.
Any Irish person knows the particular way personal and national history are intertwined; we are cursed with an especially vivid sense of ourselves as figures in an historical continuum. As an eighth-generation Dubliner and expatriate, such is my lot.
Just before I turned five, the IRA celebrated the semi-centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising by blowing up Nelson’s Pillar. As granite chunks thundered down upon O’Connell Street, my father happened to be passing by. He picked up Lord Nelson’s sword and hid it under our couch. I always thought he brought war home in that sword because, soon after, my family was shattered to bits. And we fled to America without him.
I can’t fix my father or repair our family, but I can try to understand why this happened. How. I took a long hard look at the illness and sadness. Hunger and bloodshed.
So, in my imagination, I walked down Dublin’s laneways to my childhood home – a carriage house behind the Georgians on Ely Place.
I went back into the black of Crackskull Row and dug up the stuff of the past – mine, and my homeland’s – the endless cycles and repetitions.
I mean. Can we not stop.
Crackskull Row is not a play, it’s an outcry.