Murder and mystery will come to ‘Culture Night’ this Friday thanks to the premiere of a new play and installation by Dermott Petty, Joan O’Hanrahan and Brian Dillon that’s based loosely on an event that rocked north Clare nearly half a century ago. Joe Ó Muircheartaigh spoke to filmmaker Dermott Petty about ‘Body of Water’.
THE real story ended in a suicide in a Miami motel from what the end of year report for 1967 by Garda Commissioner Patrick Carroll said was “barbiturate intoxication”.
It brought to an end a murder investigation that started at the Cliffs of Moher, but formed a trail taking in New York, Paris, Rome, Dublin and Shannon and involved the FBI’s J Edgar Hoover, Interpol and the local unit of Ennistymon Gardaí.
The investigation was sparked by the grim discovery made by Doolin fisherman Martin O’Brien on 26 May, 1967 — on Tráth Leathan he found a dead woman, wearing only a pair of black panties, sandwiched between two rocks. On that same day, Garda Andy Guthrie found a bracelet near O’Brien Tower at the Cliffs of Moher.
So began an investigation, with the US Embassy in London confirming a few months later that fingerprints had identified the woman as Maria Virginia Domenech, a 28-year-old Peurto Rican who lived in New York.
After the bracelet was identified as belonging to Ms Domenech the investigation widened when J Edgar Hoover confirmed to Ennistymon Gardaí that Maria’s mother Veronica Domenech was also missing and that officers on both sides of the Atlantic were investigating a double-murder.
There are a lot of different strands to it, but it is a work in progress, but the different strands will come together as one. The first thing we see is the film segment of the body being thrown over. Then the body will come ashore and there’s all the things that happen in the village.”
Patrick D’Arcy, a friend of the Domenechs soon emerged as the chief suspect — he had travelled to Europe with Maria under the assumed name of Alfred Young. In Ireland they checked into Dublin’s International Hotel, from where they headed to the Cliffs of Moher were Maria was thrown to her death.
After finally being tracked down, D’Arcy denied any association with the Domenechs but after questioning disappeared under another assumed name, this time masquerading as John Quinn.
He was eventually found in that Miami motel on October 15 with a suicide note by his side.
‘Body of Water’ doesn’t set out to tell this story, but it’s clearly influenced by it. Of it. Part of it. As the blurb for ‘Culture Night’ 2015 says, it’s a story of how a village in North Clare is “turned upside down by a body that washes ashore”.
“The play tells the story of how an unidentified female body is washed ashore in Doolin which leads to an international search for her identity and is followed by a murder investigation. The play is a fictional telling of the story incorporating visuals; actors and music to tell a tale of murder, greed and mayhem.”
Filmmaker Dermott Petty, whose work has been aired at festival such as the Galway Fringe, Galway Film Fleadh and the Moscow Short Film Festival is behind ‘Body of Water’ that will have it’s premiere in the Russell Centre in Doolin this Friday.
“That body (Maria Domenech) came ashore in ’67, but we set our play in ’68,” he says. “It’s based very loosely on what actually happened. It’s a collaboration between Joan O’Hanrahan, Barry Dillon and myself.
“It’s a fictional telling of what could happen if a body comes ashore that no one can identify. It actually turns out to be a murder. It’s a combination of a script of mine, but there’s also visuals — video and film and photographs from Joan O’Hanrahan, with Barry Dillon is creating the soundscape,” he adds.
“There are a lot of different strands to it, but it is a work in progress, but the different strands will come together as one. The first thing we see is the film segment of the body being thrown over. Then the body will come ashore and there’s all the things that happen in the village.
“There are false leads, assumptions and there are the efforts to try and identify the body. Eventually they discover that the person was murdered. It’s the whole thing that the body turns out not to be from Ireland, but from another country, so there’s no record of that body being in Ireland, so it’s a mystery,” he continues.
Petty is a native of Lisdoonvara and now lives in Doolin, while the other members of the production team in O’Hanrahan and Dillon also hail from Lisdoonvarna. Meanwhile, the actors are also all north Clare natives — Gary Hetzler and Rita Guthrie are from Lisdoonvarna, Eoin Keane is from Kilfenora and Andy Grindrod is from Doolin.
“We started this summer,” says Petty, “and it’s a real work in progress, but we are going to have some answers at the end of the thing, with a finished product sometime at the end of the year.
“We are using this opportunity (Culture Night) to really work at it and see how we can incorporate the three different disciplines and how to the story of it and the feeling of it in the strongest way possible.”
And it’s more than just a murder mystery brought to the stage, as Petty reveals.
“We were talking about how lonely it is when somebody is drowned,” he says. “That kind of feeling of a person landing in a place that they’re not known. And when something like that happens, there’s what it can do to a community. It can drive people apart, it can bring people together. It can bring the best and the worst out in people.
“We’re bringing things in like the landscape of north Clare, which is quite remarkable. It’s very beautiful, but it’s also very dark. There are elements of Scandinavian noir in that respect — the Cliffs of Moher may be beautiful to one person but it’s death to someone else. The sea is wonderful, but it can be the last breath of someone. It’s a lot of different contrasts.”
‘Body of Water’ — a play and installation by Dermott Petty, Joan O’Hanrahan, on how a village in north Clare was turned upside down by a body that washes ashore will be presented in the Russell Cultural Centre at 8pm this Friday, 18 September.