PECKER DUNNE -LAST OF THE TRAVELLERS

Picture of Pecker Dunne

PECKER DUNNE- LAST OF THE TRAVELLERS

A play with music about the travelling musicians of Ireland, mostly concentrating on Pecker Dunne and Margaret Barry. They were both from travelling families, Tinkers, and were marginalised by Irish society. Looked down on, indeed persecuted for their way of life. Both were great singers and musicians, and along with the great Johnny Doran, did more to promote Irish traditional music than almost any other person of our times.  Both are dead now and the play is set in a kind of imaginary ‘halting site’, where departed souls are temporarily resident while awaiting transport to somewhere permanent.

 ‘I never met Bob Dylan but I sang with Pecker Dunne’  Christy Moore

extract from the play:

Scene one

A darkened stage, then a spotlight. PECKER DUNNE appears, carrying a banjo case. The case has Pecker Dunne stencilled across the body. Bearded, he wears a wide black leather belt with silver buckle on his trousers, and could be anywhere between 40/60 years of age. He sings I’M THE LAST OF THE TRAVELLIN PEOPLE (c) Pecker Dunne)             

PD:     Me name it is Paddy, I’m called Pecker Dunne

I walk the road but I never run,

I’m the last of the travellin’ people

With me banjo and fiddle I yarn and song,

and sing to people who do me no wrong

But if others despise me I just move along,

and know I’ll find friends in the morning

Arah money is money and friends they are friends,

And drinking with them is where all money ends

But it isn’t on money it’s on them I depend

When friends and the guards are against me.

From Belfast to Wexford from Clare to Tralee,

a town with a pub is a living for me

I haven’t a home but thank God I am free,

I’m the last of the travellin’ people

The road isn’t aisy but it’s what I choose,

I’m not always a winner but I’ll never lose

I’m the pride of me race, I’m the last of the few,

and I live like my father taught me

Now I’m on the road again travellin’ still,

Summer and winter keep travelling I will

But the road it is long and I know it will kill

The last of the travelling people.

As Pecker finishes the stage lights come up. There is a blank screen as backdrop.  Towards the front we see what looks to be a travellers halting site; campfire, cooking utensils etc – the impression being given is that the wagons etc are just out of sight. It should be a hazy, sort of unreal-looking place, with a few people seated at various points. Some of these can be musicians.

            PD:     Where the bloody hell is this place?

  On screen we can now read HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY PECKER.

 

            PD:     Birthday? Eighty?  What’s goin’ on here?

 MARGARET BARRY appears from the mist with her banjo. She sings THE GALWAY SHAWL (traditional)

MB:                At Oranmore in the County Galway,
One pleasant evening in the month of May,
I spied a damsel, she was young and handsome
Her beauty fairly took my breath away.

Chorus:
She wore no jewels, nor costly diamonds,
No paint or powder, no, none at all.
But she wore a bonnet with a ribbon on it
And round her shoulder was a Galway Shawl.

We kept on walking, she kept on talking,
‘Till her father’s cottage came into view.
Says she, “Come in, sir, and meet my father,
And play to please him The Foggy Dew.”

She sat me down beside the fire
I could see her father, he was six feet tall.
And soon her mother had the kettle singing
All I could think of was the Galway shawl.

I played The Blackbird and The Stack of Barley
Rodney’s Glory and The Foggy Dew
She sang each note like an Irish linnet.
Whilst the tears stood in her eyes of blue.

‘Twas early, early, all in the morning,
When I hit the road for old Donegal.
She said goodbye, sir, she cried and kissed me,
And my heart remained with that Galway shawl.

PD:     God bless all here tonight. Isn’t Margaret great to turn up

for my birthday? Ladies and gentlemen, Margaret Barry.

MB:    That’s the first I heard about any birthday, Pecker.  I was told

there was a few shillings in it for me.

PD:     Ah, g’wan now girl.

MB:    Well, seein’ as it’s yourself Pecker. And it’s not as if we’re strangers. Shure, we sung together before.

PD:     Aye, we did, a long time ago. A chanter supreme, that’s what you are. It’s me birthday today – apparently. What age do you think I am?

MB:    I can still read, boy.  (indicates the screen and laughs)

Not as ould as me, anyway.

PD:     Sure you’re no age. If you were six months younger I’d run away

with you!

MB:    I was born in 1917, boy.

PD:     That would make you…ah…

MB:    Dead, boy. T’would make me dead. (she looks around) ‘Tis a funny auld place, isn’t it?

PD:     Where is it at all?

MB:    There’s never anyone around to ask. People just seem to come and go.

PD:     It’s not a guard station, is it? There’s never anyone in them places anymore.

MB:    No, they’re always too busy hidin’ behind hedges and the like to give you a ticket for something or other. Don’t talk to me about the guards.

 

A Garda Sergeant walks into view.

PD:     Well, Lord save us, if it isn’t auld Baldy Tyres himself!

MB:    I know that fella! He stopped me wance in Limerick for havin – how did he put it? – a ‘defective rear light on a moving vehicle’. On t’oul caravan, if you don’t mind! The lousy fecker.

GS:     Well now, what have we here?  The Pecker Dunne and Margaret Barry. When did you pair hitch up together? Or is that too delicate a question?

PD:     Since when did the matter of delicacy ever bother you? Or any Guard for that matter.

GS:     I was only doin’ me job.

MB:    That’s what Cromwell said at Drogheda.

PD:     And a lot more places besides. I wonder now if Guards are descendants of Roundheads?

MB:    (aside)  He have the head of one, anyhow

GS:     What was that? (he is walking about, looking at things) You know, you can’t park here anymore.

PD:     A bit of auld waste ground, on the side of the road – where’s the harm?

PS:      Ah now, it’s not as simple as that. Not like it used to be in the old days. There’s the health and safety issue to be considered for a start…

MB:    Health and safety, boy?  What’s that when it’s at home?  We parked here in 1930, when I was thirteen years old, and we’ve been parking here on and off ever since.

PS:      Not for the past twenty years you haven’t.  There’s new laws these days, official halting sites, proper…

PD:     He’s talkin’ about all these new EU laws, girl. Ah, shure it’s all changed since you…since you…(pause)  It’s the new United States of Europe. We’re all only satellites now, being told what to do be some mush in Brussels.

MB:    Is that a fact? I’m well out of it then.

PS:      Be that as it may. I know you Pecker, and I know what will happen if I give you permission to stay here. There’ll be a swarm of you here before you can say ‘Ballybunion’.

PD:     It’s me birthday. I’m entitled to ask a few friends round for me birthday.

PS:      Have ye any horses? I don’t want any horses roamin’ the road – or the farmer’s fields for that matter.

PD:     Prags? What would a traveller want with a prag these days? The only thing I travel with these days – apart from me four be four – is this. (he waves his banjo case)

PS:      I’ll be keeping a close eye on all of you. I don’t want any trouble now. ( he heads off)

MB:    He won’t go far, boy. He’ll be peeping from behind some hedge.

 

Pecker and Margaret sing DANNY FARRELL (by Pete St John)

 

I knew Danny Farrell when his football was a can
With his hand-me-downs and Welliers and his sandwiches of bran
But now that pavement peasant is a full grown bitter man
With all the trials and troubles of his travelling people’s clan

He’s a loser, a boozer, a me and you user
A raider, a trader, a people police hater
So lonely and only, what you’d call a gurrier
Still now, Danny Farrell, he’s a man

I knew Danny Farrell when he joined the National School
He was lousy at the Gaelic, they’d call him amadán – a fool
He was brilliant in the toss school by trading objects in the pawn
By the time he was an adult all his charming ways had gone

I knew Danny Farrell when we queued up for the dole
And he tried to hide the loss of pride that eats away the soul
But mending pots and kettles is a trade lost in the past
“There’s no hand-out here for tinkers” was the answer when he asked

He’s a loser, a boozer, a me and you user
A raider, a trader, a people police hater
So lonely and only, what you’d call a gurrier
Still now, Danny Farrell, he’s a man

I still know Danny Farrell, saw him just there yesterday
Taking methylated spirits with some wino’s on the quay
Oh, he’s forty going on eighty, with his eyes of hope bereft
And he told me this for certain, there’s not many of us left

He’s a loser, a boozer, a me and you user
A raider, a trader, a people police hater
So lonely and only, what you’d call a gurrier
Still now, Danny Farrell, he’s a man

Lights fade, then Spotlight on Margaret Barry

MB:    I was born on the first of January 1917 in the city of Cork. Peter Street. Me mother was seventeen years married to me father when she died. I was about twelve then. She was a beautiful woman; I don’t think there was a lovelier woman to be got in Cork. Lovely black hair, you know. She used to wear it in a plait right around her head, and all got up in a big bun at the back, with a big hairpin stuck in it. She got double pneumonia and it killed her. I remember her calling me to her bedside in the hospital and saying ‘Margaret, my Margaret’. I never got over her dying. Never. Me father re-married, but I couldn’t get on with them, so I set off on me own when I was sixteen and settled in the North of the country.                                                        I sang through the fairs. And the markets. And I had very enjoyable times. And more times it wasn’t so nice because there was wind and rain, and I’d get wet coming back on me bicycle from somewhere. But I enjoyed every minute of it. Me heart was delighted when I went through the fairs and could keep on singing all the time. But as soon as ever I’d finish up at some fair or a market I’d actually go to some house. I used to always be hired. They knew me that well. Around Castleblaney,  Monaghan, Crossmaglen, Armagh, and all these places. And they used always come along for me and say ‘we’d like for you to come up to the house some night, and play a few tunes and sing a few songs’. And there I was, I used to go to the house at eight o clock in the evening and from then until maybe seven in the morning I’d keep on playing for them and singing. I’d get a rest about twelve o clock and get something to ate. And then off I’d go again. I’d play some half sets, and if there was room enough in the place they’d take away the furniture, and  they’d dance away the night. It would just be a sociable thing; it wouldn’t be a wedding or a wake or anything like that, it was the way they were around them parts, the way they enjoyed themselves. They loved that kind of life you see, the dancing and the craic. It was what they called a house ceili. And naturally enough, it was never without drink.  (shakes her head)  All gone now, boy.

Margaret sings THE FLOWER OF SWEET STRABANE  (traditional)

MB:                If I were King of Ireland and all things at my will
I’d roam through all creations new fortunes to find still
And the fortune I would seek the most you all must understand
Is to win the heart of Martha, the flower of sweet Strabane

Her cheeks they are a rosy red, her hair golden brown
And o’er her lily white shoulders it carelessly falls down
She’s one of the loveliest creatures of the whole creation planned
And my heart is captivated by the flower of sweet Strabane

If I had you lovely Martha away in Innisowen
Or in some lonesome valley in the wild woods of Tyrone
I would use my whole endeavour and I’d try to work my plan
For to gain my prize and feast my eyes on the flower of sweet Strabane

Oh, I’ll go o’er the Lagan down by the steam ships tall
I’m sailing for Amerikay across the briny foam
My boat is bound for Liverpool down by the Isle of Man
So I’ll say farewell, God bless you, my flower of sweet Strabane

End of scene.

Pecker and Margaret round the campfire. Others in the background.

MB:    Were you ever around Camden in Town the fifties?

PD:     I wasn’t, Margaret. More’s the pity. I was stuck in Manchester. In a factory makin’ plastic thing-a-me- jigs. Can you imagine the Pecker in a factory?

MB:    I can’t. How did you breathe at all? Were you there long?

PD:     A few year. I nearly forgot how to play me banjo. It took me months to get back into me stride after I finally escaped. The money was good, but sure that’s no consolation for not bein’ able to go where you want to.

MB:    Freedom, boy, that’s all that matters. You would have loved Camden Town then. The Bedford Arms and the Favourite were our meeting places. The finest musicians and singers in Ireland were to be found there at the time. Willie Clancy, Seamus Ennis, Dominic Behan, Luke Kelly to name a few. And of course that’s where I met Michael.  Michael Gorman. The finest fiddle player of them all…

We hear the fiddle being played; the tune is a jig, THE STRAYAWAY CHILD, which was composed by Margaret. A couple can be seen dancing in the background. The music fades after a while.

PD:     The strayaway child. ( he hums a bit of it)

MB:    You know it then?

PD:     Yerra, indeed I played it many’s the time on the fiddle. One of Michael’s isn’t it?

MB:    Everyone thinks Michael composed it. But he didn’t, it was meself. It was the bane of me life, boy. I spent years trying finish it. I wrote it shortly after I ran away from home, but could never get it right. Michael helped me to put it all together. People were always talking about my relationship with Michael; I mean, they wanted to know was it just musical, or was it personal as well. Well now, I used to say to them, that’s between me and the gatepost,

PD:     Yarrah, who cares anymore, girl! Sure I was a divil after the women meself. And then after many years I found the one that mattered. Madeline. She gave me a wonderful family. (laughs) She was nearly young enough to be me daughter. But that didn’t matter. Shure love bates Bannaher.

MB:    And Bannaher bates the devil! – so they say. The thing is, I was never really in love. Would you believe that? Well, I had a husband, but I was only in love with one thing – and that was singing and music.

PD:     Ah now…I don’t believe that…

 MB:   I’m telling you. You never met anyone like me, boy – that could say I never loved a man. Only the one thing I’m in love with and that’s music.

We hear a woman’s voice off

OFF:   You’re a fraud Maggie Barry.

MB:    Who the divil is that?

A woman appears.

MB:    Oh Lord save us, it’s me step-mother.

WOMAN:      Queen of the gypsies me backside! You’re not a Tinker – nor a Traveller no more than I am. It’s not even your right name. Your father was Charles Power.

MB:    It’s me stage name. Anyway, my grandmother came from Spain and she was a Romany gypsy. She was a singer too, and played the guitar, and her ancestors was gypsies from Italy.

WOMAN:      Don’t listen to her, mister. Her father played the music for the silent pictures in Cork for most of his life. He never left the city till the day he died. You can’t just decide to become a traveller – you have to be born one.

           MB:     My people were all travellers. Just because me father choose to stay in Cork for most of his life doesn’t change that one bit. What do you know about it anyway?

           PD:      She’s been Margaret Barry all my life. And she has done more for Travelling people and their music than almost anyone else I know. That’s good enough for me.

  WOMAN:    She has you bamboozled, like she bamboozled men all her life. She could always twist men around her finger. Like that Gorman fella, the fiddler, she took up with in London. He left behind a wife and family, broken-hearted and starvin’, back home in Sligo.

           MB:     Why you….! That was nothing to do with me. I didn’t even know Michael then. You’re spreading malicious gossip.  You should be locked up you spiteful auld strap.

WOMAN:      Shaa!  Anyway, you broke your father’s heart when you ran away. And left me to pick up the pieces.

           MB:     That’s your real gripe, isn’t it? He didn’t want me. And you certainly didn’t. You made that clear. It was the happiest day of my life when I got on my bicycle and headed for the North. I was content there for nearly twenty years, living in me caravan, and singing and playing to me heart’s content at the fairs and the matches.

WOMAN:      Until you ran away with the fiddler Gorman

            MB:    I never ran away with him. I was invited to London by Alan Lomax to do some recording. That’s how I met Michael.

WOMAN:      Maybe, maybe not. But you were never a Tinker Margaret Barry. Never a Tinker…(she exits)

MB:    And you were always one. By nature anyway.  You don’t suppose people will think I was a fraud, Pecker?

PD:     That’s the least of your worries, girl. Sure you’re more popular these last  years than you ever were when you were…when you …

MB:    When I was alive, boy.  Don’t be afraid to say it. Well, that’s nice to know anyway. (she looks around) You know, I often think this place is a bit like the Wells Fargo Depot. Stagecoaches come in, people get off and get on; they bring a bit of news, and then they go away again. Off to God knows where. And you’re left waiting for the next coach to come in…

PD:     You’re here a long time yourself, girl. Without movin’ on, I mean.

MB:    Am I, boy? I wonder why that is?  Ah shure ours is not to reason why. Ours is just to….well you know what I mean.

Pecker and Margaret both sing a few verses of IT’S NEARLY OVER NOW, AND NOW I’M EASY ( (c) Eric Bogle)

 

BOTH:           For nearly sixty years, I’ve been a Cockie
Of droughts and fires and floods I’ve lived through plenty
This country’s dust and mud have seen my tears and blood
But it’s nearly over now, and now I’m easy

 

 

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