Men in Gate.

Guest writer Catherine McCartney with her take on the Meeting at Menim Gate play which has previously been reviewed on TPQ

Meeting at Menin Gate explores the complexity of communal and individual relationships in Northern Ireland through the evocative personas of, Liz, a victim and Terry, a perpetrator. The humanity of both is powerfully depicted; they are warm, intelligent and funny.  Both narrate their respective journeys, from childhood through to adulthood finally ending up on a Reconciliation junket to Belgium.  Liz’s father, an RUC officer, was murdered by the IRA 35 years previously and Terry, an ex-IRA man, had done time for the murder of two soldiers.  They meet in Belgium, hit it off and end up sleeping together. It is only after the event that Liz realises that the man she has fallen for is the same man who had burst into her home all those years ago and murdered her father in cold blood.

Martin Lynch explores the victims issue through the prism of Liz whom on discovering the identity of Terry succumbs to vengeance in pursuit of truth. It was at this point that the play was in danger of descending into comedy. Liz’s transformation from a rational intelligent woman into a pubic hair plucking maniac was unconvincing; it was difficult to envisage such a scenario in reality, not least because the torturer was female. The play concludes with both characters broken, helpless and in despair and seemingly with nowhere to go. Lynch’s message that vengeance only serves to diminish the victim would have had more of an impact if it was representative of what victims are seeking. That has not been my experience of victims therefore the scenario depicted did not resonate with me.

However it wasn’t the victim/perpetrator theme with gave me food for thought but the voice of the females in the play. The narrative of the conflict, regardless of which party is narrating, is a male one and Lynch’s play was no different.  Females are presented as the victim, the receiver, the submissive and the mad. The male is the power holder, the hero, the perpetrator, the political. The strong women in the play use their influence in a negative and destructive way.   Liz’s right wing Christian mother is a stern cold woman who represses Liz as a girl: she was a ‘bitch’ says Liz.  Terry’s mother doesn’t fare much better. She recites tales of republican rebellion and sings rebel songs; she serves him republicanism from her ‘tit’ and is ultimately responsible for Terry’s murderous acts.  The song Four Green Fields comes to mind.  The fathers of both are everything the women are not, kind and gentle, ‘good men’ - ‘decent men.’   Liz’s character is emotional, irrational, overwrought with grief and unable to discuss the past on a deeper level other than to say over and over that was ‘my daddy’, a childish term which sounded perverse in the mouth of a 45 year old woman. Liz regresses to her infanthood and cannot express any thoughts other than subjective hurt.

The female as the defective other is further illustrated in the changing description of the couple’s lovemaking. Described by Liz as ‘beautiful’ and a mutually enjoyable experience, freely and willingly entered into by both parties, each seeking pleasure from each other becomes ‘pleasuring his cock’  when she discovers his true identity. The fact that she chooses his genitals as the target for pliers is also indicative of the centrality of the male.   The characters on the periphery also reflect this and the names of Irish heroes from rebels to painters cited are all men.

Despite this Meeting at Menin Gate contributes to the on going debate of how we can come to terms with our past.  It is thought provoking, evocative and well worth going to see. For me what is missing from all narratives is the female one.


  1. Good piece Catherine. This play has generated quite a lot of interest given that we have three reviews of it already here. Not having viewed it I find it impossible to make a judgement.

  2. This is a very powerful review and the fact that it is written from a very different perspective, a female perspective allows a different window through which the play can be viewed.

    Power relationships in the context of a play such as this, are always going to be defined in male terms societal expectations would not allow it to happen any other way.

    Such relationships are a direct reflection of how they are socially constructed, especially in a rigid, conservative society such as ours.
    These pre-set expectations become even more apparent when the only two stong women in the play appear to be held up as social deviants.

    The most troubling aspect of this play for me, is the reality it brings home.
    Life imitating art or vice-versa is unquestionably believable and it throws up and open all types of scenarios that would present themselves as a result.

    I love plays, but I also enjoy the switching off moments that come with light entertainment and for that reason I think I would have to give this play a miss.

  3. Thanks Anthony.

    Fionnuala thank you for taking time to read it and your feedback.

  4. Catherine,
    It was a great review and it provided people with a very different take on the play.

  5. Catherine,

    I hope this is not the last we see here of your lucid writing