‘By The Bog Of Cats’ at the Abbey, Dublin


The Irish bog is a cultural as well as a natural landscape; it covers about 15% of the surface area and for many it has been an inescapable force throughout their lives. Joyce ends   ‘The Dead ‘ with images of the bog suggesting immortality and Heaney frequently turned to its presence in our lives  from ‘Digging’ to ‘Bogland’ . Two bodies of the ‘disappeared’ from the troubles in the North were recovered from a bog in County Meath in the last month.

The Bog of Cats is bleak, frosty, forbidding terrain for the action of Marina Carr’s drama for modern Ireland; it is a gleaming amphitheatre, evoking Euripedes Medea, the inspiration for the play. A dead black swan and a blind seer are early portents of the tragedy to unfold.  Besieged by omens and visions, Hester ( a wickedly magnificent Susan Lynch) is tortured by the mother who abandoned her as a child. She now faces betrayal by Carthage (Barry John O’Connor), the father of her child and bridegroom to the spindly Caroline Cassidy (Rachel O’Byrne). The Bog of Cats is iced over, devoid of warmth, with Hester on the verge of being sucked into the earth; it’s a barren wasteland not quite of this earth.

Ireland has long had a male dominated social order, led by De Valera with his obsequious deference to a brutishly repressive, Catholic Church. Tinker woman, Hester, rails against all this and reflects the female values of her life from her dead mother, the Cat Woman and her little daughter, Josie. Some of the most moving scenes are those involving the women. Susan Lynch superbly exploits every millisecond of drama from this very well written part. The rest of the cast are cameos and onlookers as she self destructs.

More accustomed to genteel, Edinburgh audiences, I was taken aback but  not totally surprised by the six curtain calls and standing ovation from the Abbey audience.

This towering performance was entirely deserving of it.


  1. Such an evocative title. The bodies of the disappeared would in the main be expected to be male. The church power was exclusively male, while the Magdalen laundries and the more recently uncovered children’s homes pits of horrors surely reflect so very badly on a particular bitter, cold, vicious face of repressed womanhood precisely BECAUSE of the expectations and demands of the discredited patriarchy. The title, then…out of sight, out of mind, like so many sacks of drowned kits. It’s true what they say about the Abbey: its courage is well matched by its audience’s critical faculties.

  2. You’re right, Maggie. The play was a metaphor for many evils and bogs, of course, preserve them.

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