Na Báid : An Opera
It is 1992 and Ireland has just joined the European Union. As part of that agreement, the fisheries of much of the west coast are shut down to protect stocks of species which are now under threat of imminent extinction. In many small communities, the government has established buyout programs for captains to sell their boats and leave the profession. Many of these families have been fishing these waters for hundreds of years. There are few other opportunities for these men, their families or their communities.
Ciarán awaits his turn at the auction block. He is accompanied by his three sons who have just been meeting with a counselor to discuss re-education and re-location options. The father cannot stop thinking about what the loss of their boat means to the family. But each son can’t help but ponder what it means to them and their wives. […]
One by one, we watch. Bids are made, the gavel falls, lives are changed forever. Next up. Repeat.
At the end of the day everyone heads off to the bar to commiserate except for eldest son Pól who stays behind. Although outwardly he appears committed to staying put, he can’t help thinking about what a new life might be like in Australia.
At the bar, the villagers razz the boatyard owner who is serving as auctioneer. They call him a ‘turncoat’ for helping the banks to take their boats. The auctioneer points out that the captains themselves previously approved of him as auctioneer, thinking it would help ensure fairness–he never actually wanted the job. But now that the day has come, they’re taking out their anger on him. He goes further, claiming they are all acting like whiny children. He bemoans the fact that everyone is taking their ‘sentence’ so eagerly. He goads them, reminding them of a ‘rising’ in 1791 at the nearby river–implying that the people here are weak by comparison.
The usually quiet Ciarán, can’t take it any more. He gets up and mocks him. How can he dare to say such things having been supported by all the hard working fishermen for so many years? He calls him a hypocrite and makes a bad pun that if they fought back at the town bank it would end about as well as the fight at the river bank 200 years ago. A heated argument ensues with everyone angrily exiting the bar. It looks like there’s going to be a fight.
Tomás remains in his chair after everyone else has left. The reality of the situation is only now sinking in for him. He thinks about where he will go if there really is no more fishing in the area.
The next morning, Móirín makes breakfast for Ciarán at their home. It looks like he’s been in a scuffle. He tells her that he feels like he’s let his family down–especially her. But instead of responding tenderly, she replies that he never really considered her feelings–always making decisions for the both of them. Did she ever have a choice in the life they had together? No one bothered to ask her then, so why bellyache about it now? The situation is what it is. Ciarán is stunned. How could he have missed this side of his wife after so many decades of marriage?
Suddenly there is a pounding on the door. The villagers tell Ciarán they are all going to the bank to stop the auction. He argues that it’s pointless, but reluctantly gives in and agrees to join them in a march on the auctioneers. The crowd all march away off stage towards the town.
Cian lags behind, wondering what his life might be like in a new home in the United States where his cousin (our Chorus) already lives. Cian is not only the youngest of the three boys, he is also the most enthusiastic to leave. Unlike his brothers, he thinks of this situation as a unique opportunity to escape, although he can’t say so openly. Móirín asks him why he’s not marching with the rest of the people. For the first time, he shares his internal conflict with her. To his surprise she mocks him for whining–just like the auctioneer with the villagers. He complains: how can his own mother make fun of him? She lives with Ciarán, so more than anyone she should understand how hard it is to speak up. Móirín tells him gently but firmly that how she has conducted her marriage is none of his business. The real issue is this: he has to learn to stand up to his father; sooner or later. If he uses the auction as a convenient excuse to get away? He cannot say he is a real man.
At that moment, one of the townspeople rushes back to tell Móirín that her husband has collapsed and is being rushed to the hospital.
The next day, we see Ciarán in a hospital bed watching a television news report of the march to the bank–which has led to a stand-off between the captains and the government. He sees himself in one of the reports inter-cut with shots of ‘very concerned’ members of the The Dáil who make undefined promises. Móirín comes in to visit. She tells him to stop the fight and accept their fate. In her view, the protest no longer brings the town together–instead it is tearing apart all the families. She insists that everyone will listen to him.
That night, outside the bar, the three brothers discuss what has happened to their father. Ciarán has withdrawn his support for the protest, but the villagers are still resisting. Pól is told there is a phone call for him–his girlfriend–and he goes inside to speak with her. We hear his side of the conversation. And as he speaks, he is making the decision to leave. Pól sits back down in a daze. It’s as if someone else just said those words.
The other two immediately guess what has just happened. Tomás still can’t understand. He starts to accuse Pól of giving up and briefly insists they can somehow continue to fight and regain their livelihood. But Cian jumps in and with surprising courage says that they are all leaving; end of discussion. Tomás starts to reply, but instantly loses momentum and slumps back in his chair. He knows that Cian and Pól are right and that they are all leaving. The only question remains: will they do so openly or continue to hide behind this feckless protest? Their future is not in this town. It never was. They’re leaving on their own terms; not because of the auction, but because the time of fishing in small boats on a dangerous sea is over.
The boys realise that if they back their father and openly support the buyout scheme, the rest of the town will also join in and the unrest will end. Their mood gradually changes from one of anger and depression to muted optimism–each trying to buck up the others’ spirits. They head outside, look at the stars and enthusiastically describe the places they’ve each decided to go to.
Na Báid/The Boats is in one act with an approximate running time of seventy five minutes.
Coming in 2018.
If you purchase the CD, you will also have the opportunity to download the Digital Album and get some instant gratification while yer waiting for the postman.
Either way, if you're getting a download, it will be served up as a 'zip' file with all those juicy MP3s stuffed inside.
Do not attempt to download via smartphone. Please use a computer!