Sunday, October 07, 2018


Bare set.
Waiting for Godot.
And by Godot does he come with a vengeance.

Is it a play?
A horror story?
A protest march?
Or what?

It is very difficult to categorise this performance. If you're here you're probably a protagonist. You probably know what it's all about.

For some, this will be their silent scream - a gut wrenching encounter with their, hopefully already conquered, demons. But we know they are never fully conquered, just held at bay, and that's why they must be treated with the respect and resolve they deserve.

So maybe this is a good place to encounter them. You can feel the support all around you, and the fear, and the anger.

Thirty public beds for a whole nation.

You want help to get clean?
But NOW !
Join the queue.
Your call will be answered in rotation.

Eva Jane Gaffney
reading from Rachael's book onstage

The thread that holds it together is Rachael's story - her horror story. Rock bottom isn't in it. She slid down the slippery slope, into the black hole, and bounced along the bottom for fourteen years of deteriorating physical and moral health. She abused her fragile and depleted physique to the point where her arms were almost about to be amputated.

That's what effectively catapulted her into recovery via the limelight. She got clean, again, but this time for real. Recovery was years longer. But now she's back and determined to stay there. She is bringing her experience to bear on the next generation coming up. First through the schools. Then the organisations helping addicts. And now with a new version of this performance, first conceived in the early days of recovery and now resurrected with added punch and point.

Grace Dyas

Rachael's story accounts for a significant part of the performance, but there is a wider context of widespread poverty and a disgraceful lack of response by the State. There is the accompanying drug problem, initially tolerated by the authorities as long as it remained confined to the inner city. But it took hold there and spread and by that stage it was effectively a major criminal project. The State's belated answer was to transfer the addicts to permanent authorised addiction and rely on the criminal "justice" system to stamp out the rest. Some hope.

Grace Dyas was brought up in Rialto with people shooting up virtually on her doorstep and needles everywhere. This is the land of Dolphin House and Fatima Mansions. She was outraged by what was going on around her and decided to write a play. As you will have gathered it turned into much more and she teamed up with Rachael. But that was nearly ten years ago and, if anything, the problem has got worse.

Clearly the response to the drug problem is not working and that has sparked off the current performance which is accompanied by a campaign to decriminalise addiction and treat it as a health problem, a disease and not a crime. The campaign, including an ongoing petition, is aiming to achieve this by 2020. Why 2020? Grace, rightly, says that you need a target to aim at.

The play itself is rough stuff and literally no punches are pulled. If you can sit it out unaffected then there is something wrong with you.

Lloyd Cooney's commentary on the world around him is vicious in its intensity. A no holds barred revelation of the devastation of the drug scene and anger at what is not being done about it.

Thirty public beds for the nation at large.

Eva Jane Gaffney's performance is electric as she evokes the most lurid passages from Rachael's book.

And don't think this is just people standing around bellyaching. Much of the commentary is acted out on stage.

One of the more affecting sequences is a simulated sex scene. The girl has no money and needs a fix. Her supplier will settle for sex. This is acted out onstage and repeated again and again, and again, speeding up until it becomes completely mechanical and devoid of emotion, except for the shame. A very disturbing sequence.

As an aside, I can't help, at this remove, feeling a wave of pity for Alan Simpson with his Rose Tattoo and the frenchie that wasn't - way back then in 1957. Then it led to Simpson's ruin. Today's action would have blown John Charles's head off.


For much of the play, Tony May Junior was sort of the stooge, the less intelligent and slowest member of the three onstage. He was the guy who simulated the shooting up. It was him who carried the props (walls, a mattress, a fridge, etc. - and Eva) on and off stage as the set changed or things were nicked and disposed of and nicked again.

But his was a subtly balanced performance as he had to maintain his credibility with the audience for his final reflective monologue which carried the only real glimmer of hope out of all this mess.

This was a magnificent cast assembled by Grace and Rachael and the total impact was greater than the sum of the parts.

When the play finished there was an invitation to stay on for a discussion. Despite the lateness of the hour I figure about 10% stayed on for an interesting, and sometimes emotional, session. It was a bit difficult to come down to earth from the impact of the performance but it worked.

There was a sort of a panel, who made introductory remarks:

Anthony Flynn
CEO Innercity Helping Homelessness

Seán Dyas (Grace's Dad)
Supporting the Campaign

Anna Quigley
Working Group for Decriminalisation

Anna made the point that Portugal halved its rate of addiction through decriminalising it. But she emphasised that this had been combined with other supportive policies including measures to alleviate poverty. However it was not all plain sailing. Former dealers are now replaced by Silicon Valley suits.

As Anthony reminded us, nobody sets out to get addicted. Their first time taking drugs may be a choice, whether to kill the pain or from peer pressure. And maybe even the second or third time, but then the choice is over and you're in the trap. The rest is not about choice, it's about survival. I'm reminded of the old adage about drink.
The man takes a drink,
the drink takes a drink,
the drink takes the man.
A young lady in the audience shared her distress over an alcoholic parent, something she clearly found difficult to speak about. She then stunned us all by revealing she was homeless.

It was things like this which made you realise that you were not just at a play. You were participating in real life drama.

Some further reflections

This is a performance that doesn't die with the final curtain. Funny enough there's no curtain anyway. It lives on in your head and bursts out in flashbacks for weeks afterwards. And sometimes you ask yourself, what was THAT about?

For example, just after the performance started, Lloyd asked/told us to stand and sing the national anthem, preferably as Gaeilge, which we all did with gusto. Then we all sat down and the performance continued and we got caught up with whatever was going on onstage.

But what was THAT about. It only strikes you later. Did I do that? What did it mean?

I think it was meant to plant that question. And the rest of the performance counterpointed those brave words and brought you to the realisation, even weeks later, that they were only words, against which actions spoke louder.

Next time I end up singing the national anthem the imagery in my head will be a bit different. It will recap on what I saw and heard during the performance, and this, I'm sure, was the intention. Powerful stuff.

This is Rachael's gut wrenching book which I have referred to elsewhere. I thought the title was neatly ambiguous, a bit like the Players Please slogan of old.

And just in case you didn't fully get the message from the cover, this is Rachael in her kitchen with the amputation threatened arms.

Monument to the Innercity Drug Dead Youth
Buckingham St

I vividly remember a tour of Monto during heritage week many years ago when, after the tour, Terry Fagan took us to the intersection at Buckingham Street and showed us the monument you see above.

It is to those young people who died from drugs in the north inner city. The metal flame is cast from a collection of their communion and confirmation medals. Gut wrenching.

He then told us how one day he came home to find his son had hanged himself. He immediately cut him down and managed to revive him. The young man subsequently became a social worker. So there is hope somewhere out there.

You can check out the monument yourself on Google Street View.

Rachael Keogh
Now dying for others to survive

Thirty public beds for the nation at large.

Unless, as Rachael tweeted recently, you have €17k to nab one of those private beds.

I vividly remember my shock when I discovered, in the course of my work, how the State's anti-drug programme worked. I had assumed that phase one was to substitute methadone for heroin, in order to get the addict out of the criminal domain, and that phase two was to gradually reduce the methadone until the addict was clean. And all the while offering such support as was needed for the addict to get behind their addiction and sort out their head or heart or whatever.

What I discovered was that, for most addicts, there was no phase two. They were just parked permanently on methadone and the underlying cause of their addiction was left untouched.

I just couldn't believe it. But, on reflection, and as I remarked at the post-performance discussion, this was the State just buying its way out of a problem which it hadn't the political will to solve.

Which brings me back to class.

Rachael has described the State's policy, or rather the lack of it, and the resultant plague as class genocide.
"This is class genocide
An economic massacre
We are the ones with the targets on our backs"
Now I know some of my readers will have instantly turned off at the word genocide. The word itself is capable of starting wars at the international level, and yes, it does have a precise meaning when used precisely. Its use in this context is an attempt to draw attention to the scale of the ravages caused by drugs particularly among the young "working class".

Go stand in front of Terry's monument and think of the virtual wipe-out of a young inner city generation and come up with a better word.

Rachael with the seat reserved for a Politician
Photo: Grace Dyas

I really love this. Politicians were invited to come and see HEROIN. In fact, the "management" even reserved them a seat. And, particularly if they didn't avail of the invitation, their named empty seat was already photographed for the record.

Let's have a go at the Northside/Southside thing while we're at it. I once met a man who took offence at my asking if he was Northside. Turned out he was Southside, but just barely. Almost on the bank of the Liffey he was.

Well we're having none of that here. Rachael is Northside, Ballymun, and spent much of her bad times in the towers. Grace is from Rialto/Dolphins Barn and I've already mentioned Dolphin House and Fatima Mansions, both estates known for dealing and rampant drug use.

Dolphin House is in the middle of a makeover but I assume it will keep the name. Fatima Mansions was demolished and it's replacement christened Herberton from up the posher end of Rialto. But they reckoned without the LUAS where the stop remains as FATIMA. I love it.

Some pics I got from Rachael around the Ballymun performance

Community Policing

The Truth on the Wall

And the good news is that there are more murals to come in 2019, this time with the support of Dublin City Council. The age of enlightenment.

A Happy & Determined Crew

Dean Scurry - a great support

Kitty Holland's piece in the Irish Times on the play is worth a read. You can also listen to Grace and Rachael on the Irish Times Women's Podcast.

Photo: Anna Quigley

Finally, I just couldn't leave without getting a photo with these two remarkable women.

9 July 2019

Happily, Rachael's book has now been reissued with a new introduction. So it will be a doddle to get hold of a copy.

This recent radio interview with Rachael and Ryan Tubridy on the occasion of the publication of the new edition of her book is a gem and well worth a listen, if only to realise that there is a life after addiction and to share this woman's joy in her recovery.

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