The Parting Glass

Ray Yeates in Dermot Bolger's 'The Parting Glass' at Axis, Ballymun.

Ray Yeates in Dermot Bolger's 'The Parting Glass' at Axis, Ballymun.

With the play In High Germany, first staged in 1990, Dermot Bolger dramatised the decision of a group of three young Irish men to emigrate from Ireland. The three men – Eoin, Shane and Mick – went in different directions: Mick to America, Shane to Holland, while Eoin settled in Hamburg. Now, twenty years later, Bolger’s new play The Parting Glass brings to life the counter decision, when Eoin gives in to his yearning to return to Ireland. The Parting Glass, a one-man show, is a record both of the need to come home, and the consequences of return and Ray Yeates gives a warm, funny and extremely moving performance of a man who has to grapple with the meaning of the term ‘home’.

Ray Yeates in Dermot Bolger's 'The Parting Glass' at Axis, Ballymun.Eoin’s return is sparked by the need for a connection between the ideas of family and home. Eoin’s mother is ailing, provoking his guilt about living abroad. Likewise, Eoin feels there is something wrong in the fact that his son Dieter hardly knows Ireland at all, having only visited four times (“though that’s three times more than some Irish international players”). His German wife Frieda helps him to make the decision to return and to see what life in Ireland will bring them.

The play is themed around significant football matches and opens to the strains of the RTÉ coverage of the play-off in Paris in November 2009, during which the hand of Thierry Henry batted away Ireland’s hopes of playing in the World Cup. Eoin goes to the match with Dieter, his old friend Shane and an urn filled with the ashes of Mick. This last detail allows Bolger’s irreverent humour to play around jokes about Mick looking “a bit dry” and needing a drink, jokes which flow as Yeates moves smoothly between different characters. Shane’s voice rings out most strongly, while Eoin’s son Dieter’s precise, clipped tones are a very gentle satire on the perceived German need for exactness and order.

The play is a reflection of Ireland seen through fresh eyes. As Eoin comments, the country has changed so much since he left that he feels more of a foreigner at home in Ireland than in Hamburg. He is bemused by the suburban spread of Dublin, the insistence to get on the property ladder or to invest in shares, directions which seem alien to him. Indeed, producing this play in the bleak light of the post-boom period, with ghost estates and bank bailouts all too familiar territory, gives an audience the chance to knowingly laugh and groan any time that Anglo-Irish is mentioned. And that is a deliberate strategy from Bolger and director Mark O’Brien – to use the play as a way of cataloguing the new Ireland. While this is done in large brush strokes and might seem a little state-of-the-nation at times, it is balanced by the humanity and emotion of Yeates’s performance. Yeates really manages to connect with the audience, due partly to his charisma and openness as a performer, but also to the finely nuanced characters that he calls up, in particular his son and Shane. Though perhaps Bolger’s female characters are somewhat less well-drawn, one can only envy Eoin his closeness to his wife Frieda, an intimacy which has clearly deepened over the two decades of their relationship.

Ray Yeates in Dermot Bolger's 'The Parting Glass' at Axis, Ballymun.This play is a polemic; it calls for recognition of how the boom did not benefit many, including those who emigrated during the 1980s, and now how the downturn has affected those who have been laid-off, a term which is, as Eoin puts it, “a stone-age concept” in an Ireland which thought itself so successful it wanted to “franchise the license to be Irish”. Yet the reason the play succeeds is because of its emotional weight – emigration is understood not simply as a concept, but as a force which separates families, and the play does not shy away from the pain of farewell. Robert Ballagh's set suggests an airport, three rows of waiting-room seats gives Yeates room to move, while also indicating the limbo of this stage of Eoin’s life; Conleth White's lighting successfully indicates changes in mood or time-frame, and the soundtrack to Eoin’s life is made up of football commentary, 80s rock music and occasional strains of sentimental flute music.

Despite living in negative equity, and despite Ireland’s failure to qualify (again), Eoin is a survivor and the end of the play suggests a new journey for him. Perhaps this is not the parting glass for this character, but only marks half time.

Emilie Pine is a lecturer in Modern Drama at University College Dublin.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Parting Glass by Dermot Bolger

1 - 17 July, 2010, then transferring to New York

Produced by Axis Ballymun
In Axis Ballymun

Directed by Mark O’Brien

Set Design: Robert Ballagh

Lighting Design: Conleth White

Sound Design: Mark O’Brien

With: Ray Yeates


Touring dates/venues:

Axis Ballymun, 1-11 June (; Eigse Carlow, G.B. Shaw Theatre, 12 June ( /; The Mill Theatre, Dundrum, 24 June (; Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, 2 July (; Junction Festival at Chadwick’s Theatre, Clonmel, 9/10 July (; Civic Theatre, Tallaght, 13-17 July (; Underground Zero Festival, PS 122, New York, 21-25 July (