“A beautifully crafted collection that reflects the best of the Irish short story tradition.”
The Rebels – It was a time when corporal punishment and segregation in Irish schools was the norm. A time when schoolboys brought a turf to school to keep the schoolroom warm during damp, frigid winter days.
But some of the boys were rebellious…
Saving the Bacon – “Being the owners of a pig gave us a certain prestige at school. We were men of property, even if the property had to be fed twice a day.”
When the pig belonging to two brothers becomes sickly, they decide to hold a card game raffle in the hopes that they will recoup something…
The Threshold – A young Irish Catholic boy learns that a man he has befriended on the beach is going to die. It is his first experience of death. He fears for the soul of his friend who was not always a ‘good’ Catholic and he learns that his friend had deceived him.
Peasants – The tale of an Irish cattle drover bringing his herd to the town for market – only to find that the gate is locked and a new tariff of a shilling per head of cattle is now being enforced.
The Letter – An eighteen year old Irish man receives a letter from a girl. He wants to open it somewhere private. He bicycles out to the sea wall near the red lighthouse and goes for a swim in the bay. He ponders whether the girl will have responded positively to his own letter to her in which he laid his soul bare.
He procrastinates opening the letter as he chats to the older man enjoying the warm Irish Sunday afternoon.
Summer Evening – Irish teenage reservists escape their dreary day-to-day lives and go skinny-dipping one summer evening. Afterwards, they go to the Town Hall for a local dance and discuss their experiences with the girls there.
Deór na hAithri – This story earned the author his first literary prize. This story is the Irish translation of ‘The Tears of Prayer” which is featured next in this collection. Needless to say, I didn’t read this Irish language version as I am unable to read Gaelic.
The Tears of Prayer – An impoverished Irish woman pines for her husband who has abandoned the family. Meanwhile she resents having to resort to the charity of the ‘Vincent‘ man, and is struggling to cope her many children.
Republicans – Jackie Dempsey’s obituary is in the paper. People from all walks of life attended the Catholic funeral. Though many attended, Jack Dempsey was mourned by few.
Neighbors – Michael and Margaret are a young couple living in a one room Dublin flat. They are poor but happy. The noise of the city and their many friends fills their room. Then, their circumstances improve and they purchase a bungalow outside the city. Michael realizes that with prosperity comes mortgage payments, responsibilities, tinkers for neighbors, and…. silence.
A Pilgrim – A lone tinker meets two men who have just come from Lough Derg, the penance island. He is intrigued by their time there so decides to visit it himself. He leaves his tent, his donkey, and all of his worldly possessions and hitchhikes to Lough Derg.
The Land of Youth – Padraig and Bairbre were once engaged to be married. Then Bairbre’s head was turned by another man and Padraig could never forgive her. They maintained a life-long feud – and that is really something when you live on a small Irish island. As they each endure a hard life, and it is nearing the end, they each see a vision. But their visions are very different…
An Outpost of Rome – A rural Irish priest plans to have a new altar installed in his parish church. He wonders if his parishioners will find the money to fund it. Meanwhile, he invites the young city man (who wants to sell him the marble altar) to lunch at the vestry.
The Pill – Mr. and Mrs. Casey were up in Belfast overnight. Their nosy neighbours were scandalized to see a young man leave the Casey’s house at the same time the milk was delivered. Who could have spent the night with young Siobhán Casey?
Siobhán is a canny wee girl.
Night Thoughts – A father takes his three young boys for a night of camping only to find one hurdle after another to skew his plans.
It is the first time that the four ‘men’ of the family are on their own overnight and he ruminates on how lucky he is to be a father.
The Mohair Boys, Part II – Set in Mississippi, this story tells the tale of a graduate student finishing off his thesis. The student, from Ireland, is suffering from culture shock and homesickness. He has brought his young family with him to America and it is an experience of a lifetime. (I’m sure this story is partly autobiographical, as Richard Power himself took his young family to Iowa to work on his PhD for two years.)
It seems only fitting that my latest read for this year’s Reading Ireland Month Challenge, should be written by a man so important to Ireland’s literary history. Truth be told, I enjoyed reading the lengthy introduction (written by James MacKillop) just as much as I enjoyed the stories. The introduction is a brief biography of the author – and what a man he was! At the time of his death, he left behind his loving wife Ann and six children, aged three to thirteen. Not to mention trunks full of unpublished stories.
My favourite story from this collection was “The land of youth“. Like the small Irish island upon which it is set, it encompasses all the qualities, both good and bad, of humankind.
The stories in this collection brought the Ireland of yesteryear vividly to life. Recommended to those who appreciate Irish literature and short stories, or those who admire tales featuring a good cross section of Ireland’s citizenry.
Richard Power was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1928. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin and was a champion of the Irish language (he studied Irish in the Aran Islands). He worked as a civil servant. Married to Ann, and the father of six children, Power’s body of work is astounding in that he died at the very young age of 43. He wrote in both English and Irish and his work comprised of novels, poetry and screenplays. His most famous work was the novel “Hungry Grass” which had a place on the Irish best seller list.