Beckett fact no. 68.
‘Water, said Mr Conaire (the name without delay)’ (Mercier and Camier).
When Gabriel Conroy arrives at his aunts’ house for their Epiphany party in ‘The Dead’, he is struck by how the Galway maid pronounces his name in three syllables under the influence of the name’s Gaelic form, Conaire. Paul Muldoon latches onto this in his extended reading of ‘The Dead’ in To Ireland, I, and suggests Samuel Ferguson’s poem ‘Conary’ as an intertext. The poem is a version of the Old Irish tale Togail Bruidne Da Derga, in which King Conaire Mor breaks a series of taboos, or geasa, only to have his hostel overrun by marauders: ‘The hostel is set on fire and the water source runs out. Conaire dies of thirst, and is then decapitated.’ Ferguson puts in an appearance at the end of Beckett’s ‘Recent Irish Poetry’ as the co-deviser, with Standish O’Grady, of the patent Celtic Twilight Gossoons Wunderhorn, and when Beckett’s Mr Conaire turns up he too is in a hostel. Still standing at the bar, Mr Conaire asks for ‘Water first… then floods of liquor.’ The Irish dimension is heightened by the presence of a barman called Patrick (who suddenly dies) and a barmaid called Teresa, subject of Mr Conaire’s bawdy approbation. Though not decapitated, he does suffer the reverse of failing to hook up with Camier, whose private detective’s business card he displays, and curses the pseudocouple as ‘hogs’ (castrated male swine, raised for slaughter, as Willie clarifies in Happy Days) when George, sent upstairs to their room, finds them ‘snoring hand in hand’ beside an empty bottle of malt (more specifically, ‘JJ’ in the French text).
None of which has anything to do with another Galway Conaire, short story writer Pádraic O Conaire, whose statue sat until recently in Eyre Square, Galway, but now that they’ve finished revamping the square has disappeared. A crime against the geasa of hospitality if ever there was one.