Gaeltacht Minnesota

An Triail

During the winter "term", we'll be focusing most of our attention on the play An Triail, by Máiréad Ní Ghráda. This separate section of the site will allow you to quickly see what you have missed on any given night.




Triail Start | Ní Ghráda | Maude | Back to Will's Class

Synopsis: Act 1

This page has summaries of all the scenes in Act 1of An Triail. Go here for Act 2.

Sections available:

Act 1:    

Act 1

Scene 1

Major Characters: Maire is the only major character in this scene, although the Prosecutor does a lot to set up the entire situation.



Curtain still down
  • A bit of the song "Siúil, a Ghrá" is heard, then newspaper boys dash in, in front of the curtain, yelling "Evening Paper! Terrible Tragedy!"
  • We hear the voice of the protagonist, Máire, saying that she killed he own child before she was a girl. Girls grow up to be women, but her daughter is free, and will not grow up to be the "yielding silly girl" to any man.
  • The prosecutor steps out before the curtain, chases away the newspaper boys, and addresses the audience as if they were the jury. He asks people to ignore anything they have heard about the case, to think only about the testimony they hear. He characterizes the crime as "an ugly, barbarous act" that demands judgment and venegance from God and from the people. And he emphasize that even though she is a young girl, there is no room for pity in the jury's judgment of the prisoner
Curtain rises, we see the courtroom
  • Máire is called and comes to stand in the witness box. The clerk asks, "Guilty or Not Guilty?"
  • At that question, Máire comes forward and addresses the audience directly (so that we step out of the courtroom setting, so to speak).
  • Máire says that "they" think that they will find everything out, but there are things they will never know . . . a certain name that was never mentioned . . . the night that started it all, at the dance at the school house . . . the song that she sang . . .
  • We move to the next scene, which takes place in the school house, on that fateful night that started it all.

Scene 2

Major Characters: Máire and Pádraig are key players in this scene -- but Máire's mother, even though we don't meet her, can definitely be felt as a character in this scene. Liam is also important, given his testimony in the trial.



At the school house, where the dance is being held
  • Young boys and girls abound, with Colm as "dance master" for the evening. Máire sits by herself.
  • Colm asks Máire for a song, and she sings "Siúil, a Ghrá". As she is singing, Pádraig, a new schoolmaster, comes in and stops to listen.
  • Then Colm calls for a dance. Máire doesn't have a partner, so Colm introduces her to Pádraig -- whom she had noticed playing the harmonium at Mass.
  • Pádraig gets orange juice for both of them, and they chat, through which we learn that Máire is very shy and rarely goes to dances. Her mother wants her to be a nun, she is recently out of school, and she was only allowed to go to the dance because it was in the school house, the priest was there, and her older brother Liam brought her.
Same physical setting, but it becomes the courtroom
  • Pádraig and Máire go off to join the other dancers, and Liam's date, Beití, calls to Liam.
  • As Liam turns to join the dance, his name is called by the clerk of the court. The stage darkens and only Liam is in the spotlight, where he is questioned by the attorneys.
  • It is established that Liam is the oldest brother of "the prisoner", but he wastes no time at all in making it clear that he had no responsibility for his sister -- "I'm not her keeper!". He was with someone else, he has no idea how she got home or what might have happened, and he only took her because their mother hounded him to do it.
Back to the dance
  • Beití calls Liam again, and this time they go off, and we hear general goodbyes as people leave the dance.

Scene 3

Major Characters: Máire and Pádraig have the scene to themselves.



All the action takes place on a bridge, over a stream, as Pádraig walks Máire home.
  • They stop at the bridge, and Pádraig is somewhat winded from the walk. (Clues in the script suggest he is at least 10 years older than Máire, but he could be more).
  • Pádraig spouts poetry to describe the beauty of the evening, and Máire is much impressed by his talk.
  • Then Pádraig begins to sweet talk Máire. Among the things that come out:
    • Máire is to sweet and lovely a girl to be locked up in a convent.
    • Pádraig planned on becoming a priest, but was thrown out for smoking a cigarette where/when he shouldn't have been, so he went into teaching.
    • He is married, but his wife has always been ill, apparently has a terminal disease at this point, and "has never been able to be a true wife to me".
  • Máire quite suddenly decides she had best hurry home, as her mother will be waiting up and watching for her.
  • Pádraig's last words in the scene: Don't say anything about this to your mother.

Scene 4

"The Mother's Testimony", a very short scene. Major Characters: Máire's Mother is interviewed by Aturnae 2.



Similar to the scene-within-a-scene trick pulled with Liam earlier, we start with one setting but imply another.

The mother comes in, kneels, and starts praying. The spotlight shines on her, and her testimony begins.

  • Much as did Liam, the first thing Máire's mother does is to deny responsibility, using almost exactly the same words, in fact.
  • Her mother talks at length about how her husband died a few months before her youngest was born, and how she slaved with no one to help her.
  • What did she get in return? Shame, and the mockery of her neighbors.
  • The attorney probes about her concern for others' opinions, and whether she supported her daughter when she was in trouble.
  • The mother retorts that Máire brought it on herself.
  • The attorney then brings up the suggestion that the mother probably tried to induce a miscarriage.
  • She replies that it isn't a sin to put an end to "something unclean, cursed by God and Man".
  • She leaves weeping -- and perhaps feeling that she, herself, is the victim in this whole situation.

Scene 5

Major Characters: Máire and again have the scene to themselves, in the school house.



All action takes place in the school house, at night.

  • Pádraig is waiting impatiently, pacing, grumbling, looking at his watch.
  • Máire runs in, breathless. She had to wait until her mother went to sleep before she could slip away, coming the back way, as Pádraig told her to do. Pádraig is annoyed that she is late.
  • Pádraig bemoans his fate a good deal. His position forces him to love Máire in secrecy.
  • Máire asks about Pádraig's wife, and feels that they are doing her an injustice.
  • Pádraig is not very sympathetic about his wife, whom we describes as "grumbling, complaining". He clearly feels that he is the unfortunate one in this triangle.
  • Pádraig passionately declares that it is only his love for Máire that keeps him going, that the thanks God for her every morning. He also reveals that his wife could live for years, long years of "purgatory".
  • Pádraig asks Máire to declare her love for him. Then he strongly reminds her never to mention him to anyone, nor to write to him. She says that they wouldn't get his name even if they tore her heart out and crushed it into tiny pieces.
  • Máire is still feeling guilty, but Pádraig assures her that their love is no sin, is a blessed thing even. He takes a ring off his finger and puts it on hers, declaring that as far as he is concerned, she is his wife now.

Scene 6

A very short scene in which Máire goes to confession.



The confessional

  • Máire starts her confession with the usual formula.
  • As she is about to enumerate her sins, the priest interrupts her. He says that she must break with her lover, forever, never to speak to him again.
  • Máire says she can't do that.
  • The priest reminds her that of Our Savior's admonition "if your right hand offend you, cut if off." It is better to be without a hand than to commit a sin.
  • Máire won't break with her lover, so the priest says he cannot give her absolution.
  • We go to black, as Máire collapses to the ground

Scene 7

In one of the longer scenes we've had so far, we get to see the whole family interacting: Máire, her Mother, and her brothers Liam and Seán.



Máire's home

  • The family is saying the rosary together. When they get to "conceived without sin", Máire leaps up, crying, and runs from the room. Her mother pursues, but doesn't catch her. But by the time she has come back, Seán is studying his books, and Liam is intercepted trying to sneak out.
  • Mother and Liam have an argument about Liam's attentions to Beití de Búrca. This includes a speech about how the burden of being both father and mother to the family has been placed on her, and she would do her duty -- get Máire into the convent, Seán into the priesthood, and Liam running the farm and taking care of his mother in her old age.
  • When she leaves to find Máire again, Liam and Seán talk about Liam sneaking out the window to meet Beití, after Mother goes to sleep. Seán will unlock the door so he can get back in -- but Liam says it is pointless to pursue Beití as long as he is under his mother's control, and Seán agrees that she is unreasonable.
  • Mother returns, not finding Máire, and leaves again. Seán says that Mother is too hard on Máire, harder than she is on the brothers.
  • Liam mentions that Máire doesn't take Holy Communion anymore, and that he has heard her sneaking out of the window, as well. Seán adds that she is often sick in the morning, but that Máire made him promise not to tell.
  • Alas, Mother heard that last bit, and drags the information out of Seán just as Máire comes in.
  • She won't say where she has been, although she lets slip that there was not one there to meet her. Everyone leaves, except Seán, who is turning out the lights, etc.
Same physical setting, but it becomes the courtroom (as we have seen elsewhere in the play)
  • The clerk calls Seán's name, and he is questioned about ratting on his sister.
  • Attorney 2, in particular, suggests that the prospective priest -- who says that he was going to be a priest at that time -- showed little charity or love to his sister.
  • Seán's defense: his mother would hound him until he told what he knew, there was nothing he could do, because she would find out sooner or later.
Back in the home
  • Mother comes in with a bowl of something for Máire to drink and says that it will "fix" her, basically, and that she'll take it every day until things are right.
  • Máire throws the bowl away, and mother demands to know who has shamed them, and whether they are getting married. "You have to be married, you could go to live in England . . .". As the sons drag Mother off, she is hurling curses at the unknown lover, and at her daughter.
  • Left alone, Máire reveals that Pádraig was not at the meeting place, the school was dark. But she'll never throw away the little she has received from him, and never mention his name or write to him.
  • Máire realizes she faces her future alone. The scene closes with "Siúil, a ghrá" in the background.

Scene 8

Major Characters: A courtroom scene, where Attorneys 1 & 2 question Bean Uí Chinsealigh (abbreviated Bean C below)



As people are walking back and forth in the street, the light picks out Bean Uí Chinsealigh, and we are in court, once again.

  • Attorney 1 establishes that Bean C had advertised for an assistant or helper, to help in the household ("a domestic"), and one girl came and worked, staying in Bean C's house, until it was discovered that she was pregnant (the witness objects to such a vulgar subject even being discussed).
  • At that point, Bean C found the girl a "place of refuge".
  • Attorney 2 takes over, and determines that Bean C had five kids, and didn't mention it in the ad; Máire was the only one who responded to the ad, without any references; and that the ad promised frequent time off, and four pounds a week.
  • He asks what she paid Máire, and gets the answer that she said she would raise Máire's salary later if she proved satisfactory. The Attorney clearly establishes that Máire was quite satisfactory, and after repeated questioning, Bean C admits that she paid 2 pounds 10 shillings a week -- because she wasn't trained and didn't have references, she could have been a criminal!.
  • After three months of good service from Máire, Bean C "gave her the road". She says that she couldn't keep her, what would the neighbors and other people way. She couldn't have her children in contact with the likes of Máire.
  • The Attorney points out that she was happy to hire Máire when she might have been a criminal, but not when she was pregnant.
  • Attorney 1 establishes that Bean C gave Máire a week's notice, and talked to a friend to get Máire a place in the "home".

Scene 9

Major Characters: We met Bean Uí Chinsealigh in the previous scene. She had hired Máire to work in her home, helping with all the domestic duties and the five children. At the end of Bean C's testimony, she reaffirmed that she talked to a friend and got Máire a place in a "home" for girls like her, presumably. In this scene, we see how that came about, as most of it is a conversation between Máire and a Social Worker (SW below).



The scene takes place in the house of Bean C.

  • In the first part of this scene, Bean C's friend the Social Worker (SW) comes for tea. Bean C reveals that she is worried about Máire, that she can't keep her, in her condition. The SW asks to talk with Máire.
  • Máire and the SW talk alone. Máire is a bit alarmed by the questions about her background, and gives a false name, as well as avoiding some questions.
  • SW tells her she has to leave, and Máire jumps up to leave on the spot -- but with more questions, reveals that she has no friends to go to, and says she would rather drown in the river than go back to her family. The SW promises to find her a place in a home for girls like her, and then, after it is all over, she can forget all about it and start a new life.
  • Maíre leaves, and we find ourselves in court, where the SW is called to the witness box.
  • Attorney 1 establishes that Máire was stubborn and wouldn't give any information about her family, so the best the SW could do was to send her to the home.
  • Attorney 2 tries to shake the SW's testimony that this home for girls was the best place that she could send Máire, but the SW sticks to her position.

Scene 10

Major Characters: Máire has moved to the "home" that the social worker found her, in the previous two scenes. She's working in the laundry, and much of this scene consists of chat with her co-workers, Dailí, Pailí, and Mailí, as well as Nábla. We also have a brief appearance by Seáinín an Mhótair, and the Social Worker from the previous couple of scenes puts in an appearance. This scene concludes Act I.



The laundry at the "home", where the young women who are 'sheltered' there work.

  • The scene opens with lots of "girls" working at ironing, folding, and so on -- Máire is sewing. The conversation from her co-workers starts with how hot it is, and the general style is sarcastic wit.
  • A flurry of excitement strikes the girls when Seánín shows up -- a little old guy that doesn't interest them personally, but who carries news of the outside world, and they are clearly desperate for that. But he has no news.
  • Seánín notices the new girl, Máire, and suggests that she avoid company with the other women there, the ones teasing him.
  • Seánín just wants to pick up the laundry bundles and get going, but they tease and cajole him, trying to make him stay a little longer.
  • After he goes, they turn to Máire and start talking. Mailí announces that she'll be leaving soon, having found a foster home for her child. Máire doesn't know about these, but the girls explain that a foster home is the key to getting out -- a good religious couple willing to raise someone else's child. They also explain that the birth mother is not allowed to know anything about the people who adopt the child.
  • Máire can't conceive of giving up her child and never knowing how things turned out, and her questions cause some friction. But as they realize that she is just terribly naive, they take some pity on her, and one -- who says she is getting an apartment and working in a factory -- says that Máire can visit her when she gets out.
  • The bell rings for tea, and they discover that the Social Worker (SW) -- whom the girls despise -- is coming. Many of them flee, and the SW dismisses the rest to tea, except Máire.
  • She tells Máire that she can go back to the housekeeping job, because the SW has found a foster home for Máire's daughter. The doctor has examined the baby, the documents are ready, all she has to do is sign and she is free to go.
  • Máire is incensed, and a big argument ensues. Máire refuses to sign, and figures to get an apartment and a factory job. The SW tries to reason with her, suggesting the child will have a better life, and that a single woman has a difficult time (even without child), but Máire says that she would not marry a man who would not take her daughter as well.

Any questions or comments, drop me an e-mail.