MELISSA McMahon is planning to make a documentary about her grandfather, Mike McMahon from Cranny, who was better known as Mike Doctor. Mike was very well known in amateur drama circles and died suddenly a quarter of a century ago, aged 74.
Melissa, who is from Ennis and is currently making a documentary on The Clare Champion forRaidió Corca Baiscinn in Kilkee , attributes her interest in the arts to her grandfather, although she was only five years old when he passed away.
“As I grew up, I was told many stories about my grandfather’s love for poetry, theatre and people. His life as a farmer in West Clare ran parallel to his love for the arts. His creativity spanned decades and the older I got and the more my creative span grew, it became evident to me that my love for the theatre, writing poetry and immersing myself in the arts from a young age was a deep-rooted passion inherited directly from him.
“This has given me a sense of closeness and bonding with my grandfather throughout the years,” Melissa, a Media, Communications and English graduate reflected.
“He was told four days before he died that his heart was as strong as an ox. I’m sure everyone believed, including him, that he had plenty of time left and plenty to give. He certainly was, creatively, still at his peak. An interview he gave to our local radio station, four days before he died, portrayed a man of passion and poise, a man who revelled in his creative work and who had a deep, unabiding love for his family,” Melissa added.
Born on Easter Monday, 1916, Mike Doctor inherited a small farm in Boloughera West, Lissycasey. It took some time for his talents to become evident but, when they did, they were clear for all to see. He married, in his 40s, a beautiful nurse, 16 years his junior, who returned from time spent in America to visit family in the locality. She met Melissa’s grandfather and never went back.
“Her name was Angela, my wonderful grandmother. It was while working at a West Clare community radio station, my first post-college job, that I had the tools available to me to utilise my creativity. My curiosity about my grandfather’s volume of work grew. I knew everything he wrote went back to America with his son, my uncle Brian, when he died. He kindly agreed to send copies of everything back to Ireland to me,” Melissa said.
“Themes of religion, family, sport, events of historical importance and people of historical importance ran through every poem I read. His writing conveyed depth, love and an awareness of his surroundings. A man who was diligently aware of those less fortunate than himself and who portrayed the hardships of the time with a rawness and reality that only those who lived through it would know how to portray.
“This is evoked in his poems. His empathy for people is evident from The Year of the Homeless to A Cripple in a Chair, an ode to the late Christy Brown, who was later portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis in the award-winning movie, My Left Foot. His poems were relevant and reflected the society of the time, a society still deeply steeped in religion, family, hardship, love and sport,” Melissa reflected.
A poem synonymous with Mike was written in 1979, entitled The Year of the Child. He published the poem and went door to door throughout Clare and Galway, distributing the poem and collecting subscriptions for UNICEF. He collected one thousand pounds for UNICEF that year.
“My last memory of my grandfather is seeing him on stage. Although a keen poet, he also loved to act. Writing plays was another past-time he took great enjoyment from and this particular play proved to be his most popular, A Visit to the Doctor.
A tribute in the local newspaper following his death stated, ‘His stage appearances are legendary. Not alone are locals aware of his stage prowess, but his ability to put prose in motion and to captivate his audience are well understood’,” Melissa said.
Her grandfather stage-directed and wrote this drama. The play, performed by Coolmeen GAA Club, won county, provincial and All-Ireland honours.
“Through his work, he conveyed the hardships of the time with dignity and sensitivity. He was an observer of people but one of the people. He was just an ordinary farmer with a kind of talent that was none too prevalent in the world he lived in. And this should be acknowledged. I feel privileged to have come across his work now, as an adult, and almost 25 years since his death. I feel compelled to make people aware of his work. While there aren’t vast volumes of paper to sift through, the work I have read tells me his was a gift and a gift should be treasured and nurtured, even long after someone has gone. That is why I intend on getting a volume of his work published and I am working on a radio documentary about him.
An excerpt from a tribute at his funeral, printed in The Clare Champion, sums up how the people of his locality felt about him,” Melissa noted.
That tribute read, “You have left us, stole away in the night and you have left a huge empty space in this parish. Your talents were many, the laughter you produced will ring around here for years. You are gone but not forgotten. May your words, which have been happily recorded on tape and in verse, continue to give enjoyment to Clare audiences for many years to come. May your composures continue to live and that your true ability will be recognised in the future.”