We first meet Gar O’Donnell as he is finishing his day’s work in the shop owned by his father, S.B. O’Donnell, who is also a local county councillor. The play is set in Donegal in a town name Ballybeg. (Baile Beag, which literally means small town)
Gar is singing happily, ‘Philadelphia Here I Come,’ as he tries to get the housekeeper Madge to dance with him. He is in good spirits and looks to be really happy.
We learn from his talk with Madge that he does not have a good relationship with his father and that on his last day he was asked to work for ten minutes extra rather than having the day off before he goes to America. It should be noted here that unlike in today’s era, people who went to America rarely saw their parents again.
As Gar moves into his bedroom on stage, it is clear that he is now joined by another character who he can clearly hear but is unable to see. This character (Gar Private) is Gar’s alter-ego and tells the audience how he really feels. Gar Private says exactly what he thinks and isn’t scared to offend as no one but Gar Public can actually hear him.
While in the room, Gar Public and Private take part in silly games where Gar pretends to be a pilot flying over the Atlantic, the star of the local GAA team and a military officer questioning him on the decision to leave for America. We see Gar can be quite childish and he is not as mature as most twenty-five year olds.
Madge enters carrying Gar’s suitcase and his vests, which she says need to be aired. The suitcase is so old it needs a rope to keep it closed, highlighting that money was not plentiful in the O’Donnell household.
“He’s said nothing since I suppose?” Madge asks Gar, enquiring whether or not S.B. has talked to him about leaving. Gar says that he hasn’t and that it doesn’t bother him if he says anything or not. Despite what Gar says, it is clear that it is something that does bother him.
Madge gives Gar some valuable advice when she says, “just because he doesn’t say much doesn’t mean that he hasn’t feelings like the rest of us.” Gar responds by telling Madge he didn’t say anything at all. Madge tells him that he didn’t say much when his mother died either but it didn’t mean he didn’t care. She also tells him that he was awake half the night, which shows that S.B. while not saying anything, may have a lot of thoughts about his only child emigrating to America.
When S.B. does enter the scene, he calls Gar to ask him how many coils of wire were dropped off earlier in the day. Gar can’t remember and S.B. gets annoyed and goes off into the shop.
Private and Public continue their games with Gar pretending to be interviewed by the owner of the biggest chain of hotels in New York. During the ‘interview’ we learn that Gar spent one year in UCD before dropping out.
In the suitcase, Gar finds a newspaper which is dated the day of his mother and father’s wedding and shows that the suitcase hadn’t been used since their honeymoon over twenty five years ago.
Gar talks about his mother but only the information he has gained from Madge, as he never knew his mother, as she died when he was a baby. We learn that she was a lot younger than S.B. and that she died three days after Gar was born.
Gar tries to keep his mind from wandering into the past by constantly repeating the line, “It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles.”
He puts on a record to stop himself from thinking but is reminded of Katie Doogan and her favourite song. Public and Private give different accounts of Katie Doogan. Private asks if he still loves her, if he’s going to take her photo to America. Public starts to think about her.
Public: Sweet Katie Doogan, my darling Kathy Doogan.
Private: Aul bitch. Rotten aul snobby bitch.
As he thinks of Katie, he is brought back to an earlier memory and the flashback is acted out on stage.
See next section for a summary of the flashback.
- What is your impression of Gar from what you have read so far?
- Do you think S.B. is sad despite the fact he has said nothing? Explain your answer.
- How are public and private different? Give examples.
- Do you think everyone has a ‘private’ voice that is different from their public voice?
- Describe the relationship that exists between the father and son from what you have read so far.