“sliogo made me and sligo undid me…”

from sebastian barry’s costa-winning the secret scripture:

 

“My father was calling, calling, in enormous excitement in the towwer, “what do you see, what do you see?’

 What did I see, what did I know? It is sometimes I think the strain of ridiculousness in a person, a ridiculousness born maybe of desperation, such as also Eneas McNulty – you do not know who that is yet – exhibited so many years later, that pierces you through with love for that person. It is all love, that not knowing, that not seeing. I am standing there, eternally, straining to see, a crick in the back of my neck, peering and straining, if for no other reason than for love of him. The feathers are drifting away, drifting, swirling away. My father is calling and calling. My heart is beating back to him. The hammers are falling still.”

 

Roseanne McNulty, a one-hundred year old woman residing in Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital begins to write her autobiography, entitling it “Roseanne’s testimony of herself.” It details her life and that of her parents, in turn-of-the-century Sligo. She keeps her story hidden under the loose floorboard in her room, unsure as yet if she wants it to be found. The second narrative is the “commonplace book” of the current chief Psychiatrist of the hospital, Dr Grene. The hospital now faces imminent demolition. He must decide who of his patients are to be transferred, and who must be released into the community. He is particularly concerned about Rose, and begins tentatively to attempt to discover her history. It soon becomes apparent that both Roseanne and Dr Grene have differing stories as to her incarceration and her early life, but what it consistent in both narratives is that Roseanne fell victim to the religious and political upheavals in Ireland in the 1920s – 1930s (cribbed from wikipedia).

 


 Roseanne’s Testimony of Herself

chapter one

 

(Patient, Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, 1957–)

The world begins anew with every birth, my father used to say. He forgot to say, with every death it ends. Or did not think he needed to. Because for a goodly part of his life he worked in a graveyard.

That place where I was born was a cold town. Even the mountains stood away. They were not sure, no more than me, of that dark spot, those same mountains.

There was a black river that flowed through the town, and if it had no grace for mortal beings, it did for swans, and manyswans resorted there, and even rode the river like some kind of plunging animals, in floods.

The river also took the rubbish down to the sea, and bits of things that were once owned by people and pulled from the banks, and bodies too, if rarely, oh and poor babies, that were embarrassments, the odd time. The speed and depth of the river would have been a great friend to secrecy.

That is Sligo town I mean.

Sligo made me and Sligo undid me, but then I should have given up much sooner than I did being made or undone by human towns, and looked to myself alone. The terror and hurt in my story happened because when I was young I thought others were the authors of my fortune or misfortune; I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves.

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