she won’t talk to Manus on a personal level.
Then we meet Bridget and Doalty. Doalty is a loveable rouge; we hear he has been moving
English equipment and makes light hearted remarks about Jimmy Jack’s fascination with
Greece. Bridget is a warm, simple young woman who laughs readily and jokes with Doalty.
They are easy with each other and the people around them.
We are them introduced to Hugh, the school master. He is also a stereotype. An oldish
man, Hugh is a drunkard, playing the father ignorant to his weak son’s needs. He articulates
clearly and patronisingly- playing word games with his class. He has a presence over them,
they make fun of him but still respect him enough to obey him and answer politely.
So here we have this quiet little scene, displaying to us the types of people that live in Baile
Beag. But are they intellectual? Manus teaches, obviously more capable than his father as
we hear that Maire feels Manus has a good chance of getting the job at the national school
while Hugh does not- ironic as we later find out that Hugh has got the position. Maire also
goes as far to call him a scholar in reference to his wanting to help her with the hay:-
“That’s the name of a hornpipe, isn’t it?- ‘The Scholar In The Hayfield’.
He also displays a fair knowledge of Greek as he talks to Jimmy about Homer. In fact even
though we hear that Jimmy is exceptionally into Greek and mythology he still asks Manus for
help with some of the words.
“...he could find the good swineherd who-’o oi biotoic malista kedeto’- what’s that
This is a simple hedge school teacher, without many prospects and he knows Greek. Today
we would consider this to be a great achievement as there are very few ordinary, everyday
people who are fluent in a language as old as Greek. However these people think nothing of
knowing the language, indeed some of them are fluent in Latin as we later find out. So in
those respects- the ability to speak Greek and Latin and seemingly having a superior intellect
to those around him, Manus is quite intelligent.
Jimmy Jack is another example of almost misplaced knowledge. We hear he is filthy and
unhygienic, not bothering to wash or change his clothes. He lives in a dream world and
rarely says anything that is unconnected to this. Yet he possesses a vast knowledge of
mythology, Greek and Latin- things most people know nothing about today. When he
converses with Maire about learning English he says:-
“Sure you know I only have Irish like yourself.”
MAIRE: And Latin. And Greek.
He is clearly a man without great social skills but of great intelligence in the field in which
he’s interested. At the start we hear he comes to the classes ‘partly for the company and
partly for the intellectual stimulation’ so we see he is eager to learn and improve himself. It
also mentions he is fluent in Latin and Greek but was not pedantic which enforced the point
that his intellect is something he takes as normal- as does everyone else around him.
Maire is harder to decipher. We can tell she ably bodied, collecting in the harvest and
working hard, long labour. We can see she interested in travelling abroad in the hope she
can earn money in America to send home. She studies a map of America avidly but we
can’t tell whether or not her interest is purely for the purpose of earning money or whether
she actually concerned about America or Geography. We do know she wished to learn
English- perhaps in the hope it will benefit her in America. She even goes as far as to
mention it to Hugh.
“We should all be learning to speak English. That’s what my mother says. That’s
what I say.”
In this respect we can see she wants to better herself, perhaps an indication that she feels
Hugh’s teaching in Greek and Latin is no longer sufficient for her needs. However she has
been brought up without a man in the house, forced to work hard to raise the children
beneath her and her forte seems to be labour rather than mental work. Maire is, however,
the first to realise that maybe Latin and Greek will not always be what they need if they want
to progress is a world that is changing.
Bridget and Doalty can be placed in the same category. They represent the comedy value in
the play, with their light banter and easy ways. Doalty is trying to learn times tables, with
little success while Bridget has been set a headline to write. We can see that they too seem
more able in the field. We are also made aware of the fact that Bridget keeps coming back
for more education
“There’s the one-and-eight I owe you for last quarter’s arithmetic and there’s my
one-and-six for this quarter’s writing”.
This shows a willingness to learn, although we can see that these subjects are simple things
we take for granted today, indicating neither of them are particularly intellectual. However
we have to take into consideration that because of the type of work they do they have never
had to be brainy.
Hugh was obviously once a great man. He is intelligent in that he is fluent in four languages
and had been the head of the school for thirty five years without anybody else challenging his
position. However he is also a drunk who is barely ever sober. We hear this from
Bridget’s quip when was he last sober? We can see this has affected his performance as a
school master- he does not stay to teach the class but instead leaves Manus to do it and
Maire comments she doesn’t think he’d ever be given a place at the national school.
Indeed we can see that the three intellects all have something that makes it difficult for them
to do anything great with their knowledge. Manus is lame and weak and has no real drive to
go for another job or career. Jimmy Jack is unhygienic and lives in a fantasy world, which
hinders him from holding normal conversation, let alone carving any sort of career out of his
intellect. Hugh was probably the most intelligent of the three is his day but now he is
constantly drunk and is unable to teach his class. In Baile Beag we can see that there is
talent and intellect but that is wasted on the people who can’t or won’t do anything with it.
And yet most the people are contented with this. In reference to a former pupil, Hugh says
that now she can write her name she had completed her education.
We are then introduced to the English and Owen and we begin to see the community
through their eyes. Hugh tells the class he was speaking to the head of the party Captain
Lancey about his languages.
“He then explained that he does not speak Irish. Latin I asked. None. Greek?
Not a syllable”.
From these standards we can say that the English are not as able in other languages and
therefore not as intelligent. However we are now able to note that Greek and Latin are both
old, dead languages that no one has any use for anymore. They are not going to be used in
the changing, progressing world and therefore can be of no use to those who learn it and
want to succeed outside the rural life of Baile Beag.
We are also made aware of how backward these people seem to the English- the people
that are portrayed as members of the evolving world. Owen mentions that his job is to
change the names of the places in Ireland with the help of Yolland. But the way he says it is
“My job is translate the quaint, archaic tongue you people persist in speaking into
the King’s good English”.
He belittles their language, saying it’s old fashioned and they still speak with it. He also calls
English good, another term that puts down Irish.
Owen has gone away an Irishman and come back an Englishman and this helps us
understand why these people seem so out of date. He has gone away and made a fortune
but only with the help of the English. Without them , we have to ask, would he have
become so successful? And if he hadn’t have moved away from Baile Beag would he have
all the things he has? Probably not, which undermines this quaint, perfect image we have of
the community. Now the people are no longer cutely unaware of anything but their little
existence, they are backward and their way of life isn’t just simple, but damaging to their
This is a community with several intellects and I think the point that Friel is making is that
these people are intelligent but it’s an intelligence with boundaries, in this case the boundaries
of the village. You go outside these boundaries and you find that their learning is no good
for them and they can’t use anything they know. However, because they are a simple, rural,
sort of people their intelligence is sufficient for them, despite our perception of what intellect