Deirdre Kinahan was walking in the bog near her home in Meath one morning when a flash of colour caught her eye.
The bog is a vast expanse of dark browns and purples and blues, and the bright colours seemed incongruous. She approached, and saw that they were flowers.
Attached to the flowers was a photo, and from it the face of a young man looked up at her. He had a 1970s style hooded coat on him, and there was a wisp of moustache on his lip, and a smile on his face.
It was 2000, and the gardaí were in the midst of an extensive search for the remains of the “disappeared”, those murdered by the IRA and subsequently buried at secret locations.
There had been talk on the news of one of the disappeared possibly having been buried in a bog in Meath. The flowers, Kinahan realised, had likely been left on the bog by a family member hoping his body would be found.
Over the next few days, Kinahan watched as a Garda exhumation team moved in and searched for the body.
Some days later, once peace had returned to the bog, Kinahan returned. The body had not been found, and the flowers were still there. But it had rained since, and the young man’s face had faded away.
“He’s disappeared all over again,” she thought.
Over the coming months, and then years, the image stayed with Kinahan. She wondered about the man and his death: had he been torn from his bed in the middle of the night; had his mother been screaming at the top of the stairs as they took him?
Kinahan was an actress who had turned to playwriting with the birth of her children. From 1999 on, she had growing success with a series of small-scale plays for her own company, Tall Tales. (Melody, which I saw at Bewley’s in 2007, was a quiet gem.)
And so, gradually, the questions she was left with by the encounter in the bog resolved themselves into a play, Bogboy (currently in preview at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, and running till July 10. See www.projectartscentre.ie or call 01 8819613.)
But it’s a play in which Kinahan determinedly refuses to provide answers.
The man in the photograph was Brendan Megraw, taken from his home in Belfast by the IRA, shot, and buried at Oristown, the bog near Kinahan’s house, in 1978. He was 23, and his wife was pregnant with their first child.
In 1999, the IRA released a statement accusing him of having been an “agent provocateur” (Megraw’s family said he had no interest or involvement in politics). The statement identified where he had been buried, but his body was never found.
Bogboy is not Brendan Megraw’s story, however much that might deserve to be told.
Instead of going searching for the facts of Megraw’s death, for a docu-drama, Kinahan determined to draw artistic inspiration from the lonely image of the young man’s photo.
Eventually, the image collided in her head with a character from one of her earlier plays, a young Dublin junkie trying to get clean, named Brigit.
The play finds Brigit on a residential drug rehabilitation course in Meath, where she meets a local older man, a gentle recluse named Hughie. Hughie has his own demons, even as Brigit has hers, and through their unlikely friendship, she is gradually drawn into the story of the boy buried in the nearby bog.
On the face of it, the play is about bleak themes: the distant complicity of the South in the Northern Troubles, and the violence of drug abuse and how it too can cause young lives to “disappear”.
This bleakness is a bit like that of the bog, though: there is beauty and comfort there too. For Kinahan, the story is about “how ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances deal with that trauma and how they still strive to lead ordinary lives.”
In the odd couple pairing of Brigit and Hughie, there is a gentle comedy, and there is a quiet optimism underlying Kinahan’s tale, though it avoids sentimentality.
Bogboy premiered at the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan last weekend, where Kinahan’s company, Tall Tales, is in residence, and she hopes it will tour, eventually.
“It’s heartbreaking to see a show that you’ve put so much work and money into just get a two-week run in Dublin. It makes no sense when it doesn’t tour.”
The odds of that happening will have increased substantially with a recent invitation from the Bush Theatre in London to stage her play from last year, Moment, next February.
Meanwhile, her 2007 play Hue and Cry is to play at the 1st Irish festival in New York in September (thanks to Culture Ireland funding).
With a commission also from the Abbey Theatre, it is clearly Kinahan’s moment. But she’s unlikely to be seduced by the bright lights of Broadway any time soon.
It’s the dark colours of the bog, where she walks almost daily, that has her seduced, despite its lonely mysteries.