Caught in a Snare Trap: The Modern Irish Experience in “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and “Six Shooter”

The modern Irish experience can be thought of as a giant hole in which the Irish have had to figure out how to escape. Oftentimes, however, individuals don’t end up finding their way out. This can be linked to two of Martin McDonagh’s works The Beauty Queen of Leenane and “Six Shooter,” where main characters Maureen and Mr. Donnelley are unsatisfied with their current environment and want to liberate themselves. But, as evidenced by the modern Irish experience, the Irish can’t always leave their homeland because of family and social pressures, among other reasons. Therefore, in The Beauty Queen of Leenane and “Six Shooter,” despite how desperately they wanted to escape from their respective situations, McDonagh traps Maureen and Mr. Donnelly to demonstrate the prisonlike nature of the modern Irish experience.

In talking about Maureen and Mr. Donnelly’s respective desire to flee from their situations, McDonagh reveals the characters’ dissatisfaction with the present, reflecting the feelings of Irish commoners during The Troubles. In Beauty Queen of Leenane, Mag sits by the fireplace while Maureen paces the room fantasizing about her future plans with Pato. Maureen opens her monologue by asserting: “Boston. To Boston I’ll be going” (McDonagh 70). It is from the beginning of her monologue that readers can almost feel Maureen’s desperation to leave. As evidenced by the abrupt opening of “Boston,” the reader can get a sense of Maureen’s eagerness to run off somewhere else. Additionally, the repetition of “Boston” in this short excerpt supplements the idea that Maureen is eager to flee. When she ends with “I’ll be going,” Maureen is capping off an assertion that she will leave for America and leave Ireland behind. It is Maureen’s decisive language that further demonstrates her desperation to find a new place to reside. Later on in the same monologue, Maureen adds that Boston “does have a nice ring to it,” further illuminating her obsession with packing up her bags and going to this faraway place for good (McDonagh 70). Maureen’s motivation to escape her present environment is reminiscent of the Irishmen during the Troubles who were unsatisfied with their living situation and emigrated elsewhere.

This idea can also be drawn from “Six Shooter.” At the end of the short film, once Mr. Donnelly has experienced several deaths in one day, he tries to end his life in hopes of reuniting with his deceased wife. Before he fails to shoot himself in the head, Mr. Donnelly addresses his bunny: “I’ll be following you shortly” (McDonagh 25:10). Because of the horrible events that transpired, Mr. Donnelly was hoping to escape, or “follow” his bunny. Mr. Donnelly’s close encounters with death in that single day motivated him to want to flee via suicide and thus constituted his dissatisfaction with the present. Although differing in severity, the way in which Maureen and Mr. Donnelly respond to their respective unfortunate realities is quite reminiscent of what happened among the Irish commoners who were removed from The Troubles in that both characters developed an eagerness to escape from their environments. Therefore, McDonagh worked up a desire to flee in Maureen and Mr. Donnelly in response to their respective dissatisfaction with the present to mirror the feelings of Irishmen who lived through The Troubles; however, the desire to leave stemming from dissatisfaction only represents half of the Irish experience. McDonagh employs irony in his characters’ fates to paint a full picture of the modern Irish experience…

In Beauty Queen of Leenane and “Six Shooter,” McDonagh sets up an ironic ending for Maureen and Mr. Donnelly in which they’re trapped in the present after making thorough efforts to escape, conjuring up a complete image of the modern Irish experience. At the end of Beauty Queen of Leenane, Ray informs Maureen that Pato got engaged to Dolores Hooley, angering Maureen so much so that she takes out her anger on Ray. The argument escalates to the point where Ray must leave, but on his way out, he yells at Maureen: “The exact fecking image of your mother you are, sitting there pegging orders and forgetting me name! Goodbye!” (83). Judging from Ray’s words, Maureen has turned into her mother, Mag, who is known as a senile, demanding old lady among readers. Instead of following her plan to go to Boston, Maureen is sitting in the rocking chair like Mag, “pegging orders,” and going absolutely nowhere. The irony lies in the fact that Maureen, an Irish woman with plans to leave her depressing homeland, becomes her mother, an immobile uptight woman who ends up dead. At this point, Maureen is stuck where she is despite her efforts to escape, reflecting the whole modern Irish experience of being tied to the homeland. This directly relates to “Six Shooter,” when Mr. Donnelly fails to kill himself after dealing with numerous deaths in the same day. His failed suicide attempt represents the struggle of desperately trying to be released from the shackles of the present only to be trapped in the end. Furthermore, Mr. Donnelly’s murdering of his bunny highlighted the ironic nature of Mr. Donnelly’s storyline; all he wanted was to escape death, but instead, he caused more death by shooting his bunny and then ran out of bullets, trapping him in life. Thus it’s the ironic experiences Maureen and Mr. Donnelly of wanting so badly to break free from suffering only to be trapped in the end that evokes the full modern Irish experience.

McDonagh’s play The Beauty Queen of Leenane and short film “Six Shooter” revealed the modern Irish experience for what it truly is: a trap. As seen in Maureen’s eagerness to leave Ireland for Boston and Mr. Donnelley’s readiness to pull the trigger on himself, the Irish experience instills false hope. It’s this blindness, the fruit of false hope, that leads Maureen to be stuck in Ireland in a rocking chair like her late mother and Mr. Donnelley to be alive in the end. Thus the desperation and false hope that ironically lead McDonagh’s characters to their traps displays the modern Irish experience as prisonlike.