Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Antoine O Flatharta's Elviad: From Grasta I Meiricea to Grace in America

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Antoine O Flatharta's Elviad: From Grasta I Meiricea to Grace in America

Article excerpt

Abstract. Antoine O Flatharta bilingually charts media-saturated global impacts upon Galway's Gaelic-speakers. His play in Irish, Grasta i Meiricea (1990) features two young Irishmen who journey by bus on a pilgrimage to Elvis' Graceland. In its 1993 English adaptation, Grace in America, the pair meets relatives who emigrated to 1940s Buffalo. Reading these plays by applying Seamus Deane's "primordial nomination," Edward Said's "cartographical impulse," Declan Kiberd's "spiritual tourism," and sociolinguistics, their relevance sharpens. In transforming Grasta into Grace, O Flatharta foreshadows his own shift into publishing in English. The fate of the play's mutating Irish vernacular, as shown in O Flatharta's drama, becomes less lamented than might be supposed. America, and English, represent liberation for his characters, in his work not only in English but-unexpectedly--in his other native language of Irish.

Keywords: Antoine O Flatharta, Irish-language drama, Elvis Presley: drama, Linguistic codeswitching, English-language versions of Irish-language drama, Tourism, Emigration, Globalization/ Mass Media.

This Conamara-born writer bilingually charts media-saturated global impacts. His 1990 play in Irish, Grasta i Meiricea, features two young men who journey by bus on a pilgrimage to Elvis' Graceland. In its English adaptation, Grace in America, the pair meets an aunt and uncle who emigrated to 1940s Buffalo. Disenchanted on their secular trek to Presley's shrine, the Conamara tourists realize how their Irish identity mixes indigenous with imported, through Native American legacies vs. mass-produced song, film, and stereotypes:

"America of the imagination" vs. St. Elvis' "holy well."

This play, published only in Irish, remains the sole O Flatharta drama reworked into English. He based it upon his own 1984 visit by Greyhound to Memphis. In Irish, Grasta appeared in theatre and on television. In English, Grace has been performed and revised between 1993 and 2001 in America,

London, and Scotland. I will introduce the macaronic Bearla agus Gaeilge delivery of Grasta -apparently unknown to the later play's English-language critics- as a multicultural context within which to explore Grace's innovations as O Flatharta revamped his play for international, theatrical, and linguistic reception.

Grasta i Meiricea graphs the odyssey of Sean and Finbarr, two emigrants in their twenties. Recently arrived in New York, working in the building trade, they speak for an Americanised generation prepared from birth to leave Ireland. Unnerved as illegals, they risk a road trip in part to evade arrest. Grasta being untranslated, my summation follows.

Finbarr, eager and ambitious, contrasts with Sean, cautious and skeptical. As they travel to the South by bus, both characters soon forget Conamara.. Finbarr's enthusiasm erupts, but Sean sours as Graceland nears. This shift occurs after a cryptic scene midway through Grasta. Secondary figures of Cop and Waitress had been glimpsed early in the play, on television in Sean and Finbarr's New York City flat. Now, Sean witnesses what may or may not be a deadly shooting of the woman by the policeman. She, sobbing, had begun chanting a litany of Indian place names, and he, fed up, pulls out a pistol and murders her. Finbarr counters that Sean has viewed only aistil (play-acting). Sean contends that he has witnessed an actual homicide; Finbarr insists that the conflict was enacted for -or broadcast live on- television.

Stopping at Nashville, slang-spouting Finbarr dons a cowboy hat. Sean doffs his hat. He rejects charade. Meditating upon Native American place names, Sean pits truth against Finbarr's pretense. Here, O Flatharta hints at the loss of an indigenous people's tongue. In this Irish-language play, substantial use of English -perhaps a fifth of the content- derives not only from the pair's American residence, but from macaronic patterns of their bilingual speech. …

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