The streets of Galway were gray that night. Everywhere I looked, gray buildings, gray sidewalks, gray sky beneath a mist floating in from the Atlantic, hovering ominously and imprinting coronas on the sidewalk from the interior light of pubs still open in the midnight hour.
Our footsteps echoed as we walked from The Kings Head to the hackney office on Dominic Street, across the street from Taylor’s, which was Kieran’s favorite pub. Kieran used Taylor’s as his personal office. Many were the nights he summoned Darren and Shannon and me to Taylor’s to talk business because Kieran never saw the line between work and play. Were it any other night, the four of us would have gone into Taylor’s; we would have sailed through the door in Kieran’s wake, following his bouncing, proprietary swagger as he made his way to the back section designated for Irish traditional musicians. But the evening had been exhausted at The Kings Head. It was past time to call it a night, and I had to get home to Inverin.
I was standing on the sidewalk when the hackney driver brought his two-door Honda around. I bid goodnight to the three of them and got in the front seat for what would be a thirty-minute ride up the coast road. You’d think the memory I retain of that night would center on the activity in The Kings Head. Close to one hundred people had turned out for The Galway Music Centre’s inaugural showcase of local musicians, which the four of us had spent an entire month orchestrating on behalf of the nonprofit business we’d started. But as Ireland has a habit of making art of the contrary, what stands in my memory is the hackney ride home.
It wasn’t often I had cause to make the journey from Galway to Inverin at night, but when I did, it was an eerie experience. The total darkness on the two-lane road, how the moon illuminated the sea in shifting hues of black, cobalt, and silver; the lonesome stretch of treeless landscape beneath the absence of sound made the journey surreal as I watched for signposts guiding me home. It was a gradual change of consciousness as I left the energy of Galway City and crept into the bleak solitude of Inverin. Whenever I took a hackney, there’d be a conversation with the driver to fill in a silence too fraught with possibilities, but then travelling with a stranger in the dark of night tends to create a tacit alliance.
On this night, the hackney driver was a local named Michael Connolly, and I admit I started it all because I’m uneasy with weighted pauses. I have a nervous habit of filling in gaps when I think there’s too much dead air.
“Are you from around here?” I asked Michael Connolly, who was raven-haired and blue-eyed and looked to be in his early thirties. Tall and lithe with graceful hands resting loosely on the steering wheel, it seemed he’d cut through this coastal swath of Connemara so many times that the car no longer required his guidance.
“I am, yeah. Born and raised just up the road, but I’ve done me share of travelling.” His Connemara accent got under the vowels, rolled to a singing pitch, and ended each sentence in a manner that left me expecting more. “You’re an American, yeah?” he continued, in that way the Irish have of letting you know nothing slips by them.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, but I’ve spent the last few years in Los Angeles.”
“Los Angeles,” Michael Connolly said, repeating the name as if he were sorry to hear of my troubles. I can’t say I blamed him. He was so relaxed with himself, so brighteyed and open that he lacked the requisite wary manner it takes to get by in a place where all that glitters isn’t gold.
I gave him a sideways glance. “Have you been to Los Angeles?”
“Oh God, yeah,” he said. “Lived there two years, so I did, and that was enough for me. My idea of heaven is Ireland with Los Angeles weather,” he said. “My idea of hell is Los Angeles with Irish weather.”
It was a seamlessly delivered line with such perfect timing that it left me speechless. Five months on the west coast of Ireland, and I still hadn’t loosened my grip on the thrill of Irish banter. I found all exchanges fascinating and would study the distinctive phrasing of the musical dialect in the vain hope I’d be able to master it one day.
Because the Irish have an effect on a person. They’re so good at being themselves that it makes an outsider want to become one of them, to shed all dissimilarities and drift into that easy way of theirs, where the art of communication is a banter that sings.
Claire Fullerton is the multiple, award-winning, traditionally published author of four novels and one novella. She has recently completed her fifth novel. Claire lives in Malibu, California with her husband and three German shepherds.
In emotionally evocative, simplistic language, author Claire Keegan tells the story of a young girl sent to live with rural Irish relatives, while her over-burdened mother is due to have yet another baby. First-time experiences and awkward adjustments give the tentative girl her first taste of self-worth and belonging to a childless couple now aching to share their heart. A story profound in tacit nuance and cultural identity, the poignant ending resonates with an appropriateness both heart-rending and satisfying.
Claire Keegan is an Irish writer known for her award-winning short stories. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, Granta, and The Paris Review; and translated into 20 languages.
An international bestseller and one of The Times’ “Top 50 Novels Published in the 21st Century,” Claire Keegan’s piercing contemporary classic Foster is a heartbreaking story of childhood, loss, and love; now released as a standalone book for the first time ever in the US
“At times uproariously funny, uncannily accurate, and glaringly insightful, David Butler’s Fugitive is a collective exposé on human nature delivered in entertaining snippets with such clever finesse it will reaffirm your enjoyment of the art of the short story.”
Award-winning novelist, poet, short story writer, and playwright David Butler’s second collection of short stories, Fugitive, is a delightful assembly of character-driven stories that, when pieced together, give the reader great insight into modern-day Ireland, while simultaneously depicting universal themes. These are swaggering, anecdotal stories, everyday slices of life made significant, visual as staged plays rollicking in pitch-perfect Irish vernacular, each with a pithy conclusion like a moral to the story.
The 21 short stories that make up Fugitive are primarily short in length and deeply human. Butler’s talent is the ability to set the stage in medias res, dropping the reader into the story with an immediate sense of familiarity. His narrative is direct and conversational, as in the case of the wildly surprising, hitch-hiking story gone wrong as two youths traverse the country. The story, “Taylor Keith,” opens with, “The mist rolling off the mountain was threatening rain, otherwise we’d never have taken that lift.” The journey from Dublin to Galway with a dubious stranger becomes a nerve-wracking misadventure when one odd shock follows another, until the narrator concludes of his driver, “By Jaysus, he was some cute hoor all the same.”
In “The Lie,” Butler posits the dilemma of Jack as he weighs the question of loyalty to a deceased friend named Ronnie to whom he’d served as best man at his wedding. Beside the casket, Ronnie’s widow asks him what really happened on that stag night long ago, remarking that ever after, Ronnie significantly changed until his life ended in suicide. Jack guards the hidden facts: “Ronnie’d had what they term ‘history.’ But what autopsy can disclose a state of mind?”
In “The Tailor’s Shears,”Butler weaves two subjects:the plight of a divorced woman past childbearing years and the frustrating unpredictability of the publishing world. After seven years of marriage, Emily Brooks wonders what to do with her life. “Spinster is a cruel word. A male word. As she examined the fissured puffiness about those eyes with a detachment that surprised her, Emily decided she would not endure the humiliation of placing herself back on the market. On the reduced to clear shelf.” When chance presents Emily with a local writing group, “It was as if a light had come on inside her head,” and the reader is taken through 25 erratic years of Emily pursuing the publication of her short story collection, in a one step forward, two steps back manner that renders the superb ending comical.
The spot-on use of Irish colloquialism throughout Fugitive animateseach lively story. In “First Time,” the teammate of a deceased 16 year old meets his dead friend’s mother at the funeral and, after volunteering to help her around the yard, an improper relationship develops to dangerous proportions. The narrator says of himself, “OK, I can be a bit of a headbanger on the rugby pitch, but I’ve never been any use with the girls,” and “I’d never so much as snogged a girl.” After the illicit affair is discovered, the young man wonders, “I would love to know who dobbed us in. One of the neighbors, was it? Can you not?”
Tipping its hat to the sign of the times, the witty “Distancing”portrays the unintended consequences of social distancing when the anxious Emily calls her neighbor, in that short window of time while her husband walks the dog, to ask that her skimpily clad, 18-year-old Brazilian au pair be kept from her husband’s line of view. Nervous at being caught out by her husband, upon his return, Emily composes a smile, “the smile that, ever since the lockdown started, seemed only to put Frankie on edge.”
At times uproariously funny, uncannily accurate, and glaringly insightful, David Butler’s Fugitive is a collective exposé on human nature delivered in entertaining snippets with such clever finesse it will reaffirm your enjoyment of the art of the short story.
Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.
David Butler is a multi-award winning novelist, poet, short-story writer and playwright. The most recent of his three published novels, City of Dis (New Island) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. His poetry collections All the Barbaric Glass (2017) and Liffey Sequence (2021) are published by, and available from, Doire Press. His 11 poem cycle ‘Blackrock Sequence’, a Per Cent Literary Arts Commission illustrated by his brother Jim, won the World Illustrators Award 2018 (books, professional section). Arlen House is to bring out his second short story collection, Fugitive, in 2021. Literary prizes include the Maria Edgeworth (twice), ITT/Red Line and Fish International Award for the short story; the Scottish Community Drama, Cork Arts Theatre and British Theatre Challenge awards; and the Féile Filíochta, Ted McNulty, Brendan Kennelly and Poetry Ireland/Trocaire awards for poetry. His radio play ‘Vigil’ was shortlisted for a ZeBBie 2018. David tutors regularly at the Irish Writers Centre.
Home Stretch by Graham Norton is a vibrantly written, delightful story with coming-of-age elements operating within a family saga’s network that begins in small-town Ireland, travels to New York, spans 32 years, and sweeps back to where it started.
It is 1987 Ireland, and Dan and Chrissie Hayes own a local pub in Mullinmore, not far from Cork City. As the tight-knit community prepares for the wedding of two young locals, 22-year-old Connor Hayes agrees to join the bride, groom, and three others on a trip to the beach the day before the wedding.
Tragedy strikes on Barry’s roundabout when the car flips on the way home and three of the six youths are killed. In a community whose citizens live like threads in a fabric, Mullinmore is blindsided, and when word spreads that Connor Hayes was driving, the stage is set for this intricately entwined story involving the ramifications of that fateful car crash.
Connor’s parents arrange for Connor to take a construction job in Liverpool, thinking the day will come when Connor’s presence doesn’t serve as constant reminder of the town’s tragedy, that one day it will be safe for Connor to come back, but Connor’s motivation is influenced by Ireland’s cultural mores and his return to Mullinmore is a decades-long journey.
The fully realized characters in this cause-and-effect story are written sympathetically; the drama that unfolds is due to the times. Connor is a young man grappling with identity issues, and as he comes to terms with his sexuality, he fears bringing shame to his family and cuts all ties with his past, including communication with his parents and sister.
Leaving Liverpool for London without telling his family, Connor settles in and finds a new family. He thinks in hindsight, “If he hadn’t been forced to run away, who knows how long it would have taken to become this man?” His confidence builds, and he wonders, “Had this life that he was now living been available to him all along?”
Connor’s elder sister, Ellen, wants to distance herself from her family’s stigma, and doesn’t suspect the attentions of Martin Coulter are divisive. The son of the Mullinmore’ s doctor, Martin Coulter is connected to Connor as one of the survivors of the car crash, and when he marries Ellen Hayes, the marriage swiftly becomes unhappy. “The change was so abrupt, she doubted herself. The young bride wondered what she had done wrong. What had changed?” In time, Martin follows in his father’s professional footsteps and two children come along, but “Marriage, it seemed to Ellen, wasn’t about being happy or making someone happy. It turned out it was just a matter of deciding whose unhappiness was easiest to deal with. It was hers.”
In London, Connor crosses paths with an international businessman named Tim and moves with him to America. The years transpire, Connor is 44 in the year 2012, and a twist of fate comes in New York City when “Two Irish men walked into a bar.”
Finbarr Coulter is newly arrived in New York from Ireland. Twenty-two, he lands a bartending job and on his first week of employment, when Connor walks in to drown the sorrows of his 16-year relationship ending, it comes to uncanny light after a few too many that the two are related. Connor wonders, “What version of the story did Finbarr know? He knew he was afraid—but of what precisely? He felt he could bear hearing about the town still blaming him for what had happened,” but “what terrified him was the idea of discovering that everyone had simply forgotten him and gone on with their lives.”
A trajectory begins that leads Connor home to Ireland, and wheels are set in motion to repair the past. The Irish culture has changed, and with it the minds of Mullimore’s locals, and the truth behind the car crash 32 years before brings all characters in the story to alignment.
Author Graham Norton is a masterful storyteller. The layered crafting of Home Stretch is rife with pithy innuendo and story-driving personality. His sharp eye captures the nuance of small-town Ireland in the process of evolution as he unfurls this interconnected story with spellbinding verve and finesse.
Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.
Graham William Walker (born 4 April 1963), better known by his stage name Graham Norton, is an Irish actor, author, comedian, commentator, and presenter. Well known for his work in the UK, he is a five-time BAFTA TV Award winner for his comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show (2007-present) and an eight-time award winner overall. Originally shown on BBC Two before moving to other slots on BBC One, his chat show succeeded Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in BBC One’s prestigious late-Friday-evening slot in 2010. From 2010 to 2020 Norton presented the Saturday morning slot on BBC Radio 2 and since 2021 has presented on Saturdays and Sundays on Virgin Radio UK. Since 2009, he has been the BBC’s television commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest, which led Hot Press to describe him as “the 21st century’s answer to Terry Wogan”. He has been noted for his innuendo-laden dialogue and flamboyant presentation style. In 2012 he sold his production company So Television to IT
You’ll see in this photographs that I’m standing against a gray stone wall on a windswept day in the middle of an Irish field, with what are obviously the ruins of a monastery behind me.
Observant people might ask why the monastery is behind me, and I am holding a set of keys in my hand as if it were the bigger focal point. Here’s the story.
We kind of knew where we were heading, my friend Tama and I, and by this I mean we had a loose plan with regard to how we were going to spend the afternoon in Gort, Ireland. We’d been freewheeling across the countryside in a rented car the size of a match box, with its steering wheel on the right side, while we drove on the left of the two-lane road as if trying to best a test for dyslexia. Tama is a devout Catholic, who has a thing about historic churches, which is why we couldn’t have adhered to a plan had we had one. “Stop,” Tama would shout every time we spied one of the dim, ominous structures off in the distance. We’d scratch the gravel driveway and wander inside, our solitary footsteps crossing the marble floor in a tread- ye- lightly and humble yourself echo off the cavernous vaulted ceiling. We did this so many times that after yet another sweep inside a church, I’d take to wandering the halcyon graveyards to read the Irish tombstone inscriptions, while Tama would light a red votive candle and fall to her pious knees.
I thought I was alone in the yard when a voice came sailing from behind me. “Have you found your way to Kilmacduagh monastery?” it queried. I turned to find a young woman taking in my outlander attire of three quarter down jacket and rubber soled shoes. “It’s just up the road there,” she continued, pointing. “Just knock on the door of the middle house across the road and ask Lily for the keys.”
I was standing behind Tama when she knocked on the front door of a low slung house on a sparsely populated lane. Across the lane, placid fields of damp clover shimmered in the afternoon mist as far as the eye could see. On one verdant field, a series of interspersed ruins jutted in damp metal-gray; some without roofs, some with wrought-iron gates, and one in particular beside an impressively tall stone spire, which had two windows cut in vertical slashes above a narrow door raised high from the ground.
Immediately the front door opened, and a pair of blue water eyes gave us the once over with an inquisitive, “Yes?””Are you Lily? We’re here for the keys,” Tama said.”The keys, is it? Just a moment there,” the woman said, and after closing the door, she opened it seconds later and handed us a set of long metal keys. “Just slip them through the door slot when you’re through,” she said, closing the door with a quick nod.I can’t say there was any indication of which key went to what, among the cluster of gates and doors throughout the 7th century monastery called Kilmacduagh, but we figured it out. I was so tickled over the keys that I couldn’t get over it. “Is this weird?” I said to Tama. “We could be anybody. It’s not that there’s anything anybody could steal, but that’s not the point.” I could wax rhapsody over the hours we spent unlocking gates and pushing through doors in the eerie, hallowed grounds, but that’s not my point either. My point is that’s Ireland for you: a stranger offering directions without being asked, Lily handing over the keys like an afterthought, and Tama and I trolling the grounds of sacred space when nobody else was around. But suddenly a German couple appeared as we were on our way back up the lane. They looked at us wide eyed and queried, “What is this place?”
“It’s a 7th century monastery,” I said, “here, take the keys and slip them through Lily’s door when you’re through.”
An unprecedented, live event will take place on Sunday, March 14 from 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time on Facebook. 8 Book Pages will coordinate to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and the idea is for attendees to join the group pages ahead of time then hop from page to page as events happen! You can see the Book Pages here, at the right of the image below.
I will have the great pleasure of being “in conversation” with my favorite author, Billy O’Callaghan, who hails from Douglas, County Cork, Ireland, and who is the author of 4 short story collections and 3 novels, his latest being the newly released, Life Sentences, which I loved!
The Irish Echo released the article below yesterday. Below the image is the actual link!
Every March, I look forward to St. Patrick’s Day because it triggers the memory of when I lived on the west coast of Ireland. As an American with 48% Irish DNA, I felt right at home in Inverin, which is a small village in Connemara, 2.7. miles up the road from the village of Spiddal, the next significant town being Clifden, fifty miles or so up the same road.
I lived in Ireland for more than a year and loved every minute of it.. Connemara is a land separated into geometric prisms by grey-stone walls leading down to the rock encrusted shores of the Atlantic on one side of the coast road and bog-land that stretches out forever on the other. Alongside the novelty of discovering Ireland was a curious sense of familiarity that gave way to a sense of belonging. Between the time I arrived in Ireland and the time I left, I managed to ingratiate myself into the rhythm of a land that has more soul and character than any place I’d ever imagined.
Inverin really isn’t much more than a stretch of the coast road at the gateway to the Gaeltacht, which is an area on the west coast of Ireland where Irish is spoken as a first language. Inverin is moody, pastoral, a bit desolate, and those that reside there have deep generational ties. Inverin is 13 miles up the coast road from Galway City. Here are some photographs to give you an idea of Inverin’s atmosphere:
I lived within a short walk of this graveyard. It’s down a gravel road not far from The Centra, which, for all intent and purposes, is the lone gas station/grocery store in Inverin. I have a thing about graveyards that’s hard to explain. They speak to me of the significance of human existence–of love and life and history, with indelible, reverential resonance indicative of a region’s culture. Ireland takes its cemeteries seriously, and walking through an Irish graveyard has always given me an anchored sense of place. They are lonely, haunting, and beautiful, and what I love about the graveyard pictured above is that the headstones all face the sea.
Inverin was my home base, and during the week, I took the bus from Inverin into Galway, where I worked on New Road at the Galway Music Centre. Galway is a college town, which makes it feel youthful and vibrant. Here are some photographs that illustrate my point:
The Claddagh, Galway, a port for anglers on Galway Bay.
As a writer by nature, I walk through life with a running commentary in my head, and keep a journal. I took the experience of living in Ireland and used it as a basis to write a novel about a single American female who leaves the record business in Los Angeles and relocates to rural Ireland, where she meets an Irish traditional musician who won’t come closer nor completely go away. The novel is titled “Dancing to an Irish Reel.” I went out of my way not to patronize anything about Ireland, particularly its people. I wanted to refrain from bringing an American frame of reference to the book because I felt it had been done before and somehow cheated what I wanted to be the point of the story, which concerns the ambiguity of a budding love relationship, with its attendant excitement, hope and doubt. On the one hand, this story could have happened anywhere (I know of very few people who haven’t been thrown into confusion as they navigate the minefield of new found attraction) but because this story takes place in Ireland, I had the opportunity to highlight a setting in possession of unfathomable beauty, with a history of cultural nuances worth the singing of deep praise. In writing “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” I did what all novelists do: tell about how they find the world through the vehicle of one painstakingly crafted case in point story.
In anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, there is a Goodreads Giveaway running until March 20 of Dancing to an Irish Reel.
And this will be fun, as well as unprecedented! On Sunday, March 14, I’ll have the immense pleasure of being a part of a Facebook, multiple book page St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I’ll be in conversation with Irish author, Billy O’Callaghan, at noon, Eastern Standard Time on the Facebook page, The Write Review. We plan to talk about Irish culture, the influence of Ireland on our writing, and whatever else comes to mind. I hope to see you there! You can find all the book pages involved in this celebration on the graphic below, so if you’re on Facebook, simply go to the book pages to join in the fun!
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Now that my book, ‘’Dancing to Irish Reel” is out, I’m being asked the inevitable question, “How much of the story is true?” Everyone who knows me personally knows I picked up and moved to the west coast of Ireland without much of a plan, and that I stayed for a year. Add that to the fact that the book is written in the first person, that the narrator’s interior monologues in the story are unabashedly confessional to the point of unnecessary risk. I’ve been told the book reads like a memoir, and for that, I can only say I’m glad because this was my intention. I can see why readers might think the entire story is true.
But writers make a choice in how to lay out a story, and in my case, I wrote the book based on the kind of books I like to read. I’m a one-trick pony kind of a reader. I want an intimate narrator’s voice with which I can connect. I want to know exactly whom I’m listening to, so that I can align with a premise that makes the story’s swinging pendulum of cause and effect plausible. The way I see it, there are always bread crumbs along the path to the chaotic predicaments people find themselves in, and although many are blind to their own contributions, when I read a book, I want to be the one who divines how the character got there.
What fascinates me about people are their backstories. Oh, people will tell you their highlights, but they rarely reveal their churning cauldron of attendant emotions; they rarely confess to carrying acquired fears. We all want to appear bigger than our own confusion, and the key word here is “appear,” because when it comes to faces, most people like to save theirs. This is the point I wanted to make in the story, but I also wanted “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” to be about discovery, so I started with a narrator who is a fish out of water: a twenty-five year old American ensconced in a specific culture she uncovers like the dance of seven veils. In the midst of this there enters an Irish traditional musician named Liam Hennessey. He is from the region, of the region, and therefore it can only be said he is because of the region in a way that is emblematic. From a writer’s point of view, the supposition offers the gift of built-in conflict, most poignantly being the clash of the male-female dynamic set upon the stage of differing cultures trying to find a bridge. And I can think of no better culture clash than America and Ireland. I say this because I happen to know to the Irish, we Americans are a bit brazen, that we have the annoying habit of being direct. But the Irish are a discreet lot, culled from a set of delicate social manners that seem to dance around everything, leaving an American such as me with much guesswork.
No matter how they shake it, writers write about what they know, even if it has to be extracted from varying quadrants that have no good reason for being congealed. “Dancing to an Irish Reel” is a good example of this: it came to me as a strategy for commenting on the complexities of human beings inherent longing to connect—the way we do and say things that are at variance with how we really feel, in the interest of appearances, and how this quandary sometimes dictates how we handle opportunities in life. In my opinion, there is no better playing field on which to illustrate this point than the arena of new found attraction. I’m convinced the ambiguity of new love is a universal experience, and since the universe is a big wide place, and since ‘”Dancing to an Irish Reel” has something to say about hope and fear and the uncertainty of attraction, it occurred to me that I might as well make my point set upon the verdant fields of Ireland because everything about the land fascinated me when I lived there, and I wanted to take any reader that would have me to the region I experienced as cacophonous and proud: that mysterious, constant, quirky, soul-infused island that lays in the middle of the Atlantic, covered in a blanket of green, misty velvet.
Excerpt from “Dancing to an Irish Reel”
The distance between Inverin and Clifden is approximately sixty kilometers. It’s a visually inspiring hour-long ride through undulating midlands with grass as soft as velvet, gray stone walls that split the landscape, and bubbling intermittent streams as you glide along a two-lane road that cuts through a terrain devoid of street markers, stop signs, or any other indication the area has been previously trodden. There is little suggestion of civilization anywhere in sight and it is a quiet, unobstructed journey through the heart of Connemara with nothing in store, save for the destination of Clifden.
Driving into Clifden, one is abruptly thrust into the center of a thriving village that hosts an annual, three-day music festival wherein every pub door is invitingly open with signs outside announcing which Irish traditional musicians will be playing within the standing-room-only venues. A rudimentary chalkboard sat on the sidewalk outside of Mannion’s Pub with “Welcome Liam Hennessey” sprawled across in large, eye-catching cursive.
I followed Liam into the middle of a waiting crowd, which parted ceremoniously as he made his way to the old man seated against the wall across from the bar. Wind-tossed and toothless, the man sat on a battered wooden chair, tuning a fiddle and nodding his greeting while Liam opened his accordion case and settled in beside him. When a flute player joined them, the crowd fell into an anticipatory hush, ready for the music to begin. I stationed myself in front of the bar, minding my own business, but that soon became short-lived.
“Are you here with Liam?” asked a middle-aged man who was standing too close to me.
“Yes.” I took a step back.
“She’s here with Liam,” the man announced, turning to the man beside him.
“Ah,” the second man gasped, “she is, so!”
“Where did you get that blond hair on your head?” The first man eyed me.
“I brought it with me from America,” I said.
“She’s from America!” The man turned to the other man, his eyes opened wide.
“America indeed!” The second man drew in his breath.
“All I want in the world is for me brother to come in and see me standing here talking to you,” said the first man. “I wouldn’t care if a pooka came for me after that. Will you have a pint? Get her a pint, Tom,” he directed.
“Tom, make that a half-pint,” I said, trying not to laugh. I looked over at an obviously amused Liam, who smiled and winked as if to say he knew what was happening.
I looked toward the door and noticed an unusually small woman walking in with what appeared to be members of her family due to their similarity in stature. I’d met her in Galway before: she was a musician named Deanna Rader who played guitar and sang anything from Irish traditional music to her own compositions. I’d heard her sing in her low, husky voice a few times before, and because she was a friend of Declan’s, I’d exchanged pleasantries with her a few times as well. From the looks of things, she was in Mannion’s with her father and two sisters. She came smiling to my side instantly.
“Well then, you’ve made your way out here now, have you?” She looked up at me.
“I came here with Liam,” I said, grateful to know someone in the crowd.
“I knew you must have. So, it’s the two of you now, is it?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d put it that way,” I said, diverting the implication. I couldn’t recall if I’d seen Deanna while I was out with Liam, or if she asked this because she’d heard people talking.
“You’re a long way from home yourself,” I said. “Is this festival a big deal?”
“Oh God, yes. People look forward every year. Luckily my parents live in Letterfrack, just up the road. I’ve been spending the last couple of nights with them. We’ve all come ’round tonight for the craic.”
“Well, it’s nice to know someone here,” I said.
“My sister came out to sing tonight. Would you mind asking Liam if she could give us a song?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll ask him when they take a break.”
“They probably won’t do that, so you’d be waiting for ages,” Deanna said. “You’ll just have to lean over and ask, like.”
“When?” I asked.
“How about now?” she said.
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” she smiled sweetly.
I looked over at the musicians, who were in full swing. There was no way I was going to butt in, even though Deanna kept standing there looking up at me expectantly. Just then, a man at the bar stepped forward enthusiastically. He leaned into the musicians circle, grabbed Liam by the arm, and shouted loudly, “The young lady here wants to give us a song.” With that, the music came to a screeching halt, and a whirlwind of preparation commenced. Liam leaned over and whispered to the two musicians beside him, instruments were set down, a microphone was raised, a path spontaneously cleared, and into the arena stepped Deanna’s sister. It was like the infamous scene of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy.
There was a hush in the room as all eyes riveted upon the girl. She stood all of five foot two, but within that minuscule framework there was a lot going on: thick, raven hair fell in loose waves across her forehead and down her back. Large green oval eyes slanted and squinted catlike beneath thick, dark lashes. Turn by turn, her eyes focused and held one man in the room after another. She stood with her right hand on her hip and her voluptuous weight shifted to the left. With great histrionics, she crooned out a song in the Irish language I’d never heard before.
When she finally stopped, she sashayed over to Liam, totally aware everybody was watching. With grand theatrics, she threw both her arms around his neck and kissed him square on the mouth, nearly knocking him over with her forward advance. All hands in the room clapped loudly, wolf whistles erupted, and a few eyes turned my way.
“I imagine you’d have something to say about this passionate display,” said Deanna’s father, who had materialized beside me.
“Not really,” I said. “Do you?”
“You have to watch that one is all. She’ll be the death of me one day, he said, cocking his head toward her.
“I hope not,” I said.
“No harm done then?”
“No harm at all,” I said.
Dancing to an Irish Reel is available where books are sold!
I’ve had many people ask me about a certain picture on my website, where I’m standing against a gray stone wall on a windswept day in the middle of an Irish field, with what are obviously the ruins of a monastery behind me. Observant people have thought, “Wait, there’s a ruined monastery behind her, why is her back turned as she looks into the camera, holding a set of keys in her hand as if it were the bigger focal point?” I’m glad for the opportunity to explain that picture here.
We kind of knew where we were heading, my friend Tama and I, and by this I mean we had a loose plan with regard to how we were going to spend the afternoon in Gort, Ireland. We’d been freewheeling across the countryside in a rented car the size of a matchbox, its steering wheel on the right side while we drove on the left of the two-lane road as if trying to best a test for dyslexia.
Tama is a devout Catholic, who has a thing about historic churches, which is why we couldn’t have adhered to a plan had we made one. “Stop,” Tama would shout each time we spied one of the dim, ominous structures in the distance. We’d scratch the gravel driveway and wander inside, our solitary footsteps crossing the marble floor in a tread lightly and humble yourself echo off the cavernous vaulted ceiling. We did this so many times that after yet another sweep inside a church, I’d leave Tama to light a red votive candle and fall to her pious knees while I wandered the graveyards and read the tombstone inscriptions thinking about impermanence; knowing I was passing through in more ways than one.
I thought I was alone in the graveyard when a voice sailed from behind me. “Have you found your way to Kilmacduagh monastery?” it queried. I turned to find a young woman taking in my outlander attire of all-weather jacket and rubber-soled shoes. “It’s just up the road there,” she pointed. “You’ll want to knock on the door of the middle house across the road and ask Lily for the keys.”
I was standing behind Tama when she knocked on the front door of a low slung house on a sparsely populated lane. Across the lane, placid fields of damp clover shimmered in the afternoon mist as far as the eye could see. On one verdant field, a series of interspersed ruins jutted in damp metal-gray; some without roofs, some with wrought-iron gates, one in particular beside a towering stone spire with two windows cut in vertical slashes above a narrow door. When the front door opened, a pair of blue water eyes gave us the once over with a suspicious, “Yes?”
“Are you Lily?” Tama asked.
“I am,” the woman stated.
“We’re here for the keys,” Tama said.
“The keys, is it? Just a moment there,” Lily said, and after she closed the door, Tama and I stood on the doorstep wordlessly, waiting for the next thing to happen. Seconds later, the door opened and Lily handed us a set of long metal keys. “Just slip them through the door slot when you’re through,” she said with a quick nod and closed the door.
There was no indication of which key went to what, among the cluster of gates and doors throughout the 7th-century monastery called Kilmacduagh, but after enough scrambling, we figured it out. I was so tickled over being given the keys that I couldn’t get over it. “Is this weird?” I said to Tama. “We could be anybody. It feels like we’ve been given the keys to the kingdom without being vetted. It’s not that there’s anything anybody could steal, but that’s not the point.
I could wax rhapsody over the hours we spent unlocking gates, pushing through doors and climbing the ruins of the eerie, hallowed grounds, but that’s not my point either. My point is that’s Ireland for you: a stranger offering directions without being asked, Lily handing over the keys like an afterthought, and Tama and I trolling the grounds of historic, sacred space when nobody else was around.
A German couple appeared as we made our way back up the lane. They looked at us wide-eyed and queried, “What is this place?”
“It’s a 7th century monastery,” I said, “here, take these keys and slip them through Lily’s door when you’re through.”
Claire Fullerton is the author of Dancing to an Irish Reel, A Portal in Time, Mourning Dove, and coming May 1st, Litle Tea.
Reviewed by Johnnie Bernhard
Hans Christian Anderson wrote, “To travel is to live.” His words suggest the underlying theme of Dancing to an Irish Reel by Claire Fullerton. Living, instead of existing, is exactly what protagonist Hailey Crossan does on the west coast of Ireland. Leaving the “soullessness of Los Angeles” and her job in the record industry for Ireland, she discovers a culture and its people far removed from the American lifestyle managed by time and money.
Life in Ireland brings an ethereal dimension to Hailey’s self-discovery, as she dances to reels and waltzes in the unpredictability of a new job and relationship with an Irish musician.
Dancing to an Irish Reel is not a novel of the romance genre. The characters and situations they encounter are more reflective of upmarket fiction. The author has poignantly made a statement on cultural differences, language, and life choices in this novel. There is no formulaic pattern to the plot, particularly the last chapter.
In an interview, author Claire Fullerton explains:
The road to enduring love is never linear. We hit many road blocks and speed bumps on the way to what’s ours, but we always have such hope along the way. I call Dancing to an Irish Reel an anti-romance, in that it is true to how love often goes, before we find the one that stays. It’s the push and pull of relationships that intrigues me.
Hailey is not the typical female protagonist. Like the Irish weather, she is fierce. As a single American female living in Inverin, a village in rural Ireland, she relies on public transportation and yes, the kindness of strangers. Her solitary walks in a graveyard or along the sea create interest among the people of Inverin. She is not a typical tourist. The stares and sidelong glances she receives from them are met with confidence and charm. She wins the respect and friendship of those strangers and the heart of Liam Hennessey.
There are many scenes of fortuity within this novel. Hailey finds a job supporting musicians in the Galway Music Centre, propelling her into a world of characters and situations unlike those found in the village. Those moments are also found in the unfolding relationship with Liam, particularly when Hailey discovers how the Irish love.
The sense of place within the novel is authentic. Fullerton knows what she is writing about. It is best illustrated in the commanding first-person narration. There are no trite descriptions of the setting and the people of Ireland. Readers familiar with the west coast of Ireland will readily recognize it. Fullerton’s sincere admiration for Irish musicians and poets is captured in Hailey’s voice.
Dancing to an Irish Reel is a comfortable, satisfying read. It is a poignant reminder of the differences between living in the moment or being managed by time and the making of money. It is what Hailey Crossan discovers on a trip to Ireland. It is what Claire Fullerton invites us to learn.