It’s Saturday night and Mr Private wants to go to see the play, ‘The Chastitute’. ‘Seriously?’ I say, in the same high pitched voice that my daughter sometimes uses. He is serious. It’s part of his one-man-mission to convert me to all things Kerry – GAA, coastlines and now, John B. Keane. Friday night was ‘my choice’ (the rather excellent feature film ‘In View’ in the IFI), so I don’t protest. It’s all about compromise after all.
The play starts with the lead actor on stage with a thick Kerry accent and a pair of wellies. I sigh and resign myself to two hours of stage-Irish. It’s centred on bachelor farmer John Bosco McLaine and his endeavours to get a woman in 1960's Kerry. McLaine is a ‘chastitute’, which is described in the play as a person without holy orders who has never lain down with a woman… a rustic celibate by force of circumstance’. Whatever chance McLaine has of meeting his match is further hindered by Catholic guilt delivered with gusto from the pulpit. In fairness, the script is hilarious, with a wonderful turn-of-phrase. It’s hard not to look at it with my work hat on, wondering what the budget for a fine cast of 13 actors is, no half measures with the costume or set design. There is no shortage of guna deas's here either to lure McLaine.
There are poignant moments throughout the play when I got a real sense of the loneliness of men, just a few short decades ago in rural Ireland and I’m reminded of my father’s males acquaintances. The Protestant, who I would watch in wonder as he sat across our kitchen table, drunk as a skunk, balancing peas on a fork and somehow making it to his mouth without spilling them. In his posh accent, thanking my mother for dinner, always addressing her as ‘Mrs Russell’, despite her insistence that he call her Kay. I didn’t know that the Church of Ireland faith existed until he walked through our back door. The drink made him brave enough to talk, with a glint in his eye, of ‘senoritas’. For years, I took these creatures he spoke of as girls of another religion.
Shy Boy, who couldn’t look me in the eye, head down with his hands in his pockets, watching as his brothers and sisters married off and left, one by one. His father telling my father that I was a ‘grand lassie’ and wondered if Shy Boy would wait for me. My twelve-year-old cheeks burning as my father said it to me, half joking, but deadly serious. Shy Boy would later be the main carer for his dying father, the love between them a sight to behold, but a tenderness that he never shared with a life partner.
I remember too, talk, with lament, of fine men with good farms of land and overbearing mothers. No girlfriend good enough for her darling son, who in turn went wild with The Drink from loneliness after her death, the farm gone to ruin.
It’s easy to dismiss ‘The Chastitute’, or my childhood memories as a thing of the past, but my recent experiences of and stories exchanged through online dating would suggest otherwise. Loneliness is not peculiar to a time and place. The isolated rural farmer may be a rare breed today, but the modern day chastitute is there too. There’s many time-poor adults balancing busy work and complicated personal situations. The Catholic guilt, replaced now with the culpability of a failed relationship and the upheaval caused to children caught in the middle of a bad situation. The guilt associated with wanting to feel happy again. The anxious 40-something, her biological clock ticking like a time bomb, trying not to appear too desperate, not realising that her date is so grief stricken by his own situation that he can’t even hear what she is saying. Ironically maybe - all of this at a time when options for dating, civil marriages and gay marriage have never been so plentiful.
The end of the play is surprisingly dark. No happy ever after for McLaine.
Mr Private holds me tight as we walk to The Westbury for a drink and I feel like a senorita