At Swim, Two Boys

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Overview

Set during the year preceding the Easter Uprising of 1916 — Ireland's brave but fractured revolt against British rule — At Swim, Two Boys is a tender, tragic love story and a brilliant depiction of people caught in the tide of history. Powerful and artful, and ten years in the writing, it is a masterwork from Jamie O'Neill.
Jim Mack is a naïve young scholar and the son of a foolish, aspiring shopkeeper. Doyler Doyle is the rough-diamond son — revolutionary and blasphemous — of ...

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Overview

Set during the year preceding the Easter Uprising of 1916 — Ireland's brave but fractured revolt against British rule — At Swim, Two Boys is a tender, tragic love story and a brilliant depiction of people caught in the tide of history. Powerful and artful, and ten years in the writing, it is a masterwork from Jamie O'Neill.
Jim Mack is a naïve young scholar and the son of a foolish, aspiring shopkeeper. Doyler Doyle is the rough-diamond son — revolutionary and blasphemous — of Mr. Mack's old army pal. Out at the Forty Foot, that great jut of rock where gentlemen bathe in the nude, the two boys make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, on Easter of 1916, they will swim to the distant beacon of Muglins Rock and claim that island for themselves. All the while Mr. Mack, who has grand plans for a corner shop empire, remains unaware of the depth of the boys' burgeoning friendship and of the changing landscape of a nation.

2002 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, Gay Men's Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Set in the year leading up to Dublin's 1916 Easter Uprising, this richly lyrical work tells the story of two young men seeking political, emotional, and sexual liberation as they come of age in troubled times. From a first-time novelist who spent ten years perfecting it, At Swim, Two Boys has been hailed as "the best literary news out of Ireland since the maturity of Roddy Doyle" (Kirkus Reviews). In our exclusive author essay, Jamie O'Neill shares his own insights on nationhood, identity, and the inspiration behind his masterful novel.
From the Publisher
The New York Times Book Review A dangerous, glorious book: the kind that is likely to make absolutely anyone cry and laugh in public places.

Mark Harris Entertainment Weekly A work of wild, vaulting ambition and achievement...Rich and allusive, blisteringly exuberant...one of the most psychologically accurate and moving love stories in recent literature.

Robin Hemley Chicago Tribune In exquisitely sculpted prose, Jamie O'Neill...achieves a kind of richness of scope and ambition that makes one reluctant to come to its tragic and inevitable close.

Library Journal
Published last year in Great Britain, this novel has been compared to works by James Joyce (or Flann O'Brien, whose At Swim-Two-Birds the title plays on), but it has more in common with the film Chariots of Fire in its painterly depiction of male athleticism and relationships. The sheltered son of a pro-British shopkeeper, 16-year-old Jim develops a doting and eventually homosexual relationship with Doyler, a bright boy from an impoverished family, as the two train for an ambitious swim across Dublin Bay on Easter 1916, a date that happens to coincide with a planned Republican uprising. Both become entangled with McMurrough, scion of wealthy Irish gentry, who is back in Dublin following imprisonment in England for indecent behavior. Jim is too na ve and Doyler too politically sophisticated for their years, while McMurrough is typecast as an Oscar Wilde figure. Still, these are rich characterizations, and together with the playfully rendered Irish dialect they outweigh the book's imperfections. O'Neill also offers gorgeous descriptions of the Dublin environs and remarkable details of the period. Recommended for most fiction collections. Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
New Yorker
Dublin burned, British troops and Irish separatists exchanged gunfire and artillery shells, and about two hundred and thirty civilians were killed during Easter week in Ireland in 1916. As Tim Pat Coogan writes in 1916: The Easter Rising, the rebel leader James Connolly, injured and confined to the Irish Volunteer headquarters after a few days of bloody fighting, passed the time reading a detective novel. During a rare quiet moment, Connolly dryly remarked, "A book like this, plenty of rest and an insurrection -- all at the same time. This certainly is revolution de luxe." Out in the streets, his militia battled to take the city, fighting with a bravery that has been repeatedly eulogized since. Within a week, the group was forced to surrender, and, like most of the leaders of the rebellion, Connolly himself was executed.

Into this turbulent landscape Jamie O'Neill casts the heroes of his historical novel, At Swim, Two Boys, whose title is a play on the title of Flann O'Brien's landmark Irish comic novel At Swim-Two-Birds. This story takes place in the year leading up to the Easter Rising and investigates the complicated weave of alliances in Ireland; the two Dublin boys struggle not only with their political affiliations but with their religious and sexual identities.

W. B. Yeats spoke to Ireland's scars of strife, famously noting in "Easter, 1916" that, after the Rising, "All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born." A new volume of Yeats's essays, Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, examines ancient tales of the land -- an Ireland bewitched by "sociable fairies," the banshee, and the medieval warrior Cuchulain. In fables, Yeats writes, mortals are transformed into "perfect symbols of the sorrow and beauty and of the magnificence and penury of dreams.'' (Lauren Porcaro)

Kirkus Reviews
The hunger for liberation -- political, emotional, and sexual -- gnaws at the big heart of this young Irish writer's engrossing, often very moving debut. The title, of course, alludes to "Flann O'Brien's" subversive comic masterpiece At Swim-Two-Birds. But O'Neill's real influences appear to be James Joyce's Ulysses and James Plunkett's Strumpet City, a romantic-epic portrayal of Dublin beset by the Troubles. O'Neill focuses initially on Arthur Mack, a widowed Dublin shopkeeper and Boer War veteran whose stubborn loyalty to Britain conflicts with the swirling energies of incipient rebellion against "foreign" rule that capture his neighbors. If Mack is a dreamy, distracted Leopold Bloom, his 16-year-old son James, a model youth seemingly destined for the priesthood or a teaching career, is a kind of Stephen Dedalus -- a passive, well-meaning boy whose life changes under the charismatic influence of his pal Doyler Doyle, a rebel with several causes who draws James into a plan to swim to a nearby island and plant a green flag (symbolizing Ireland's independence). The rapidly growing love the boys share is interrupted when Doyler is imprisoned for "sedition," then absorbed in his duties as a Volunteer soldier -- and is consummated, with bitter irony, when the Dublin streets become a blood-soaked "nighttown." O'Neill's replete characterizations of the aforementioned are deepened by the complex relationships each forms with such other figures as Jim's stoical, quietly perceptive Aunt Sawney, aristocratic Irish nationalist Eveline MacMurrough, and the latter's adult nephew Anthony, a sardonic homosexual (formerly convicted of "indecency") whose imaginary "conversations" with his deceased cellmate explore both Anthony's reluctant involvement with the Volunteers and his conflicted (and, really, rather contrived) dealings with both Doyler and James. Excess and overstatement do crop up, but O'Neill's warm empathy with his characters, stinging dialogue, and authentic tragic vision more than compensate: altogether, his first the best literary news out of Ireland since the maturity of Roddy Doyle.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743222952
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 2/4/2003
  • Edition description: First Scribner Trade Paperback Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 335,285
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jamie O'Neill

Raised in County Dublin, Jamie O'Neill is the author of Kilbrack and At Swim, Two Boys, which won the Ferro-Grumley Award for Fiction and the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Men's Fiction. He lives in Galway, Ireland.

Good To Know

In our interview with O'Neill, he shared some great stories about his personal appearances and readings:

"I once walked out of a public reading. It was in Australia and I'd been invited to read from At Swim, Two Boys at some Irish club or other. The usual emigré business. I arrived, to be informed that the proprietors had decided my book was "not fit stuff to be read on the premises." Instead, the restaurant across the road had been reserved, they were all going to eat there, I was welcome to join them, and could read afterwards from my table. Well, I'd come all this way, so I trooped along. And I was looking at these faces, the flushed complexions and dwindled eyes as the bottles were lavishly attacked. These people weren't here for literature at all. They really thought they'd be titillated by hearing some dirty queer words read in an Irish accent. So halfway through, I've had enough of this. I rap on the table. Ladies and gentlemen,' says I. Clash of cutlery, confused silence. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, my book is about love and courage, and the search in young hearts for nobility and pride. There's none of that here -- so I'm leaving.' And out I walked.

Generally, though, readings are great fun. And they can be genuinely enlightening. I was reading in Toronto last year, in the big library there (I should say now that At Swim, Two Boys culminates in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916). Well, there was a big crowd, appreciative audience, curious, listening. We had a great Q & A afterwards, with intelligent, searching questions. After an hour and a half of this, I began to think we had my book nicely wrapped up. Then, just at the end, this hesitant hand pokes up at the back. "I was just wondering," says its owner, ‘what is this Rising thing anyway?' And everyone turns and says, ‘Yeah, I was wondering about that too.' And you realize how small, how insignificant is your tiny country's big history.

The first reading I ever gave was the first I had ever attended (it had never occurred to me that people would go willingly to such things). It was in some small arts centre down in County Cork. I arrived hours early, nervously wanting to check out the place, the microphones, the lights. ‘You see,' I explained to the director, ‘this is the first time I've ever read to an audience.' I was expecting some calming words, a pat on the shoulder, a ‘you'll be fine.' Instead, the director, a returned Canadian, puts his hand to his mouth and bawls down the corridor: ‘Hey, we got ourselves a virgin!'

In Philadelphia, I don't know what it was, but the audience seemed to have mistook the Free Library for a church. I had never read to such a stony silence. ‘Look,' I said, after I'd finished a passage: ‘you could at least cough.'

But my most favoured memory is of a reading at Concordia University in Montreal. I stood on the podium and looked out on the faces. Generations of Irish faces, the high complexion of the men, that particular kink of the women's hair (those are some genes, I tell you). In the front row sat a priest, suited and collared. On his left, a lesbian couple. On his right, two gay men growing old together. Students, teachers; the university GLBT society. And I thought to myself, what a privilege to have brought such unlikely people together. What a very great privilege it is."

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    1. Hometown:
      Gortachalla in County Galway, Ireland
    1. Education:
      Presentation College, Glasthule, County Dublin; "and, of course, the city streets of London, the beaches of Greece."

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

At the corner of Adelaide Road, where the paving sparkled in the morning sun, Mr. Mack waited by the newspaper stand. A grand day it was, rare and fine. Puff-clouds sailed through a sky of blue. Fair-weather cumulus to give the correct designation: on account they cumulate, so Mr. Mack believed. High above the houses a seagull glinted, gliding on a breeze that carried from the sea. Wait now, was it cumulate or accumulate he meant? The breeze sniffed of salt and tide. Make a donkey of yourself, inwardly he cautioned, using words you don't know their meaning. And where's this paper chappie after getting to?

In delicate clutch an Irish Times he held. A thruppenny piece, waiting to pay, rolled in his fingers. Every so often his hand queried his elbow — Parcel safe? Under me arm, his hand-pat assured him.

Glasthule, homy old parish, on the lip of Dublin Bay. You could see the bay, a wedge of it, between the walls of a lane, with Howth lying out beyond. The bay was blue as the sky, a tinge deeper, and curiously raised-looking when viewed dead on. The way the sea would be sloping to the land. If this paper chappie don't show up quick, bang goes his sale. Cheek of him leaving customers wait in the street.

A happy dosser was nosing along the lane and Mr. Mack watched with lenient disdain. Any old bone. Lick of something out of a can. Dog's life really. When he came to the street Mr. Mack touched a finger to his hat, but the happy dosser paid him no regard. He slouched along and Mr. Mack saw it puddling after, something he had spilt in the road, his wasted civility. Lips pursed with comment, he pulled, squeezing, one droop of his bush mustache.

"Oh hello, Mrs. Conway, grand day it is, grand to be sure, tip-top and yourself keeping dandy?"

Nice class of lady, left foot, but without the airs. Saw me waiting with an Irish Times, twice the price of any other paper. They remark such things, the quality do. Glory be, I hope she didn't think — his Irish Times dropped by his side — Would she ever have mistook me for the paperman, do you think?

Pages fluttered on the newspaper piles, newsboards creaked in the breeze. Out-of-the-way spot for a paper stand. Had supposed to be above by the railway station. But this thoolamawn has it currently, what does he do only creeps it down, little by little, till now he has it smack outside of Fennelly's —

Mr. Mack swivelled on his heels. Fennelly's public house. The corner doors were propped wide where the boy was mopping the steps. Late in the morning to be still at his steps. The gloom inside gave out a hum of amusement, low mouths of male companionship, gathered by the amber glow of the bar. Mr. Mack said Aha! with his eyes. He thrust his head inside the door, waved his paper in the dark. "'Scuse now, gents." He hadn't his hat back on his head before a roar of hilarity, erupting at the bar, hunted him away, likely to shove him back out in the street.

Well, by the holy. He gave a hard nod to the young bucko leaning on his mop and grinning. What was that about?

Presently, a jerky streak of anatomy distinguished itself in the door, coughing and spluttering while it came, and shielding its eyes from the sun. "Is it yourself, Sergeant?"

"Hello now, Mr. Doyle," said Mr. Mack.

"Quartermaster-Sergeant Mack, how are you, how's every hair's breadth of you, what cheer to see you so spry." A spit preceded him to the pavement. "You weren't kept waiting at all?" This rather in rebuttal than inquiry. "Only I was inside getting of bronze for silver. Paper is it?"

The hades you were, thought Mr. Mack, and the smell of drink something atrocious. "Fennelly has a crowd in," he remarked, "for the hour."

"Bagmen," the paperman replied. "Go-boys on the make out of Dublin. And a miselier mischaritable unChristianer crew — "

Ho ho ho, thought Mr. Mack. On the cadge, if I know my man. Them boys inside was too nimble for him.

"Would you believe, Sergeant, they'd mock a man for the paper he'd read?"

"What's this now?" said Mr. Mack.

The paperman chucked his head. "God be their judge and a bitter one, say I. And your good self known for a decent skin with no more side than a margarine."

Mr. Mack could not engage but a rise was being took out of him. The paperman made play of settling his papers, huffling and humphing in that irritating consumptive way. He made play of banging his chest for air. He spat, coughing with the spittle, a powdery disgruntled cough — "Choky today," said he — and Mr. Mack viewed the spittle-drenched sheet he now held in his hand. This fellow, the curse of an old comrade, try anything to vex me.

"I'm after picking up," choosily he said, "an Irish Times, only I read here — "

"An Irish Times, Sergeant? Carry me out and bury me decent, so you have and all. Aren't you swell away with the high-jinkers there?"

Mr. Mack plumped his face and a laugh, like a fruit, dropped from his mouth. "I wouldn't know about any high-jinkers," he confided. "Only I read here 'tis twice the price of any other paper. Twice the price," he repeated, shaking his cautious head. A carillon of coins chinkled in his pocket. "I don't know now can the expense be justified."

"Take a risk of it, Sergeant, and damn the begrudgers." The paperman leant privily forward. "A gent on the up, likes of yourself, isn't it worth it alone for the shocks and stares?"

Narrowly Mr. Mack considered his man. A fling or a fox-paw, he couldn't be certain sure. He clipped his coin on the paper-stack. "Penny, I believe," he said.

"Thruppence," returned Mr. Doyle. "Balance two dee to the General."

Mr. Mack talked small while he waited for his change. "Grand stretch of weather we're having."

"'Tisn't the worst."

"Grand I thought for the time of year."

"Thanks be to God."

"Oh thanks be to God entirely."

Mr. Mack's face faltered. Had ought to get my thanks in first. This fellow, not a mag to bless himself with, doing me down always. He watched him shambling through the pockets of his coat. And if it was change he was after in Fennelly's it was devilish cunning change for never the jingle of a coin let out. A smile fixed on Mr. Mack's face. Barking up the wrong tree with me, my merry old sweat. Two dee owed.

At last the paperman had the change found. Two lusterless pennies, he held them out, the old sort, with the old Queen's hair in a bun. Mr. Mack was on the blow of plucking them in his fingers when the paperman coughed — "Squeeze me" — coughed into his — "Squeeze me peas, Sergeant" — coughed into his sleeve. Not what you'd call coughing but hacking down the tracts of his throat to catch some breath had gone missing there. His virulence spattered the air between, and Mr. Mack thought how true what they say, take your life in your hands every breath you breathe.

He cleared his own throat and said, "I trust I find you well?"

"Amn't I standing, God be praised?" With a flump then he was down on the butter-box he kept for a seat.

Bulbous, pinkish, bush-mustached, Mr. Mack's face lowered. He'd heard it mentioned right enough, that old Doyle, he was none too gaudy this weather. Never had thought to find him this far gone. That box wouldn't know of him sitting on it. He looked down on the dull face, dull as any old copper, with the eyes behind that looked chancy back. Another fit came on, wretched to watch, like something physical had shook hold the man; and Mr. Mack reached his hand to his shoulder.

"Are you all right there, Mick?"

"Be right in a minute, Arthur. Catch me breath is all."

Mr. Mack gave a squeeze of his hand, feeling the bones beneath. "Will I inquire in Fennelly's after a drop of water?"

"I wouldn't want to be bothering Fennelly for water, though."

Them chancy old eyes. Once upon a time them eyes had danced. Bang goes sixpence, thought Mr. Mack, though it was a shilling piece he pulled out of his pocket. "Will you do yourself a favor, Mick, and get something decent for your dinner."

"Take that away," Mr. Doyle rebuked him. "I have my pride yet. I won't take pity."

"Now where's the pity in a bob, for God's sake?"

"I fought for Queen and Country. There's no man will deny it."

"There's no man wants to deny it."

"Twenty-five years with the Colors. I done me bit. I went me pound, God knows if I didn't."

Here we go, thought Mr. Mack.

"I stood me ground. I stood to them Bojers and all."

Here we go again.

"Admitted you wasn't there. Admitted you was home on the boat to Ireland. But you'll grant me this for an old soldier. That Fusilier Doyle, he done his bit. He stood up to them Bojers, he did."

"You did of course. You're a good Old Tough, 'tis known in the parish."

"Begod and I'd do it over was I let. God's oath on that. We'd know the better of Germany then." He kicked his boot against the newsboard, which told, unusually and misfortunately for his purpose, not of the war at all but of beer and whiskey news, the threat and fear of a hike in the excise. "I'd soon put manners on those Kaiser lads."

"No better man," Mr. Mack conceded. Mr. Doyle tossed his head, the way his point, being gained, he found it worthless for a gain. Mr. Mack had to squeeze the shilling bit into his hand. "You'll have a lotion on me whatever," he said, confidentially urging the matter.

The makings of a smile lurked across the paperman's face. "There was a day, Arthur, and you was pal o' me heart," said he, "me fond segotia." The silver got pocketed. "May your hand be stretched in friendship, Sergeant, and never your neck."

Charity done with and the price of a skite secured, they might risk a reasonable natter. "Tell us," said Mr. Mack, "is it true what happened the young fellow was here on this patch?"

"Sure carted away. The peelers nabbed him."

"A recruitment poster I heard."

"Above on the post office windows. Had it torn away."

"Shocking," said Mr. Mack. "Didn't he know that's a serious offense?"

"Be sure he'll know now," said Mr. Doyle. "Two-monthser he'll get out of that. Hard."

"And to look at him he only a child."

"Sure mild as ever on porridge smiled. Shocking."

Though Mr. Mack could not engage it was the offense was referred to and not the deserts. "Still, you've a good few weeks got out of this work."

"They'll have the replacement found soon enough."

"You stuck it this long, they might see their way to making you permanent."

"Not so, Sergeant. And the breath only in and out of me." An obliging little hack found its way up his throat. "There's only the one place I'll be permanent now. I won't be long getting there neither."

But Mr. Mack had heard sufficient of that song. "Sure we're none of us getting any the rosier." The parcel shifted under his arm and, the direction coming by chance into view, Mr. Doyle's eyes squinted, then saucered, then slyly he opined,

"Knitting."

"Stockings," Mr. Mack elaborated. "I'm only on my way to Ballygihen. Something for Madame MacMurrough and the Comforts Fund."

"Didn't I say you was up with the high-jinkers? Give 'em socks there, Sergeant, give 'em socks."

Mr. Mack received this recommendation with the soldierly good humor with which it was intended. He tipped his hat and the game old tough saluted.

"Good luck to the General."

"Take care now, Mr. Doyle."

Parcel safe and under his arm, Mr. Mack made his way along the parade of shops. At the tramstop he looked into Phillips's ironmongers. "Any sign of that delivery?"

"Expected" was all the answer he got.

Constable now. Sees me carrying the Irish Times. Respectable nod. Little Fenianeen in our midst and I never knew. After hacking at a recruitment poster. Mind, 'tis pranks not politics. Pass a law against khaki, you'd have them queueing up to enlist.

The shops ended and Glasthule Road took on a more dignified, prosperous air. With every step he counted the ratable values rising, ascending on a gradient equivalent to the road's rise to Ballygihen. Well-tended gardens and at every lane a kinder breeze off the sea. In the sun atop a wall a fat cat sat whose head followed wisely his progress.

General, he calls me. Jocular touch that. After the General Stores, of course. Shocks and stares — should send that in the paper. Pay for items catchy like that. Or did I hear it before? Would want to be sure before committing to paper. Make a donkey of yourself else.

A scent drifted by that was utterly familiar yet unspeakably far away. He leant over a garden wall and there it blew, ferny-leaved and tiny-flowered, in its sunny yellow corner. Never had thought it would prosper here. Mum-mim-mom, begins with something mum. Butterfly floating over it, a pale white soul, first I've seen of the year.

Pall of his face back there. They do say they take on worse in the sunshine, your consumptives do. Segotia: is it some class of a flower? I never thought to inquire. Pal of me heart. Well, we're talking twenty thirty years back. Mick and Mack the paddy whacks. We had our day, 'tis true. Boys together and bugles together and bayonets in the ranks. Rang like bells, all we wanted was hanging. But there's no pals except you're equals. I learnt me that after I got my very first stripe.

He looked back down the road at the dwindling man with his lonely stand of papers. A Dublin tram came by. In the clattering of its wheels and its sparking trolley the years dizzied a moment. Scarlet and blue swirled in the dust, till there he stood, flush before him, in the light of bright and other days, the bugler boy was pal of his heart. My old segotia.

Parcel safe? Under me arm.

The paper unfolded in Mr. Mack's hands and his eyes glanced over the front page. Hotels, hotels, hotels. Hatches, matches, dispatches. Eye always drawn to "Loans by Post." Don't know for why. What's this the difference is between a stock and a share? Have to ask Jim when he gets in from school.

He turned the page. Here we go. Royal Dublin Fusiliers depot. Comforts Fund for the Troops in France. Committee gratefully acknowledges. Here we go. Madame MacMurrough, Ballygihen branch. Socks, woollen, three doz pair.

Gets her name in cosy enough. Madame MacMurrough. Once a month I fetch over the stockings, once a month she has her name in the paper. Handy enough if you can get it.

Nice to know they're delivered, all the same, delivered where they're wanted.

His eyes wandered to the Roll of Honor that ran along the paper's edge. Officers killed, officers wounded, wounded and missing, wounded believed prisoners, correction: officers killed. All officers. Column, column and a half of officers. Then there's only a handful of other ranks. Now that can't be right. How do they choose them? Do you have to — is that what I'd have to do? — submit the name yourself? And do they charge for that? Mind you, nice to have your name in the Irish Times. That's what I'll have to do maybe, should Gordie — God forbid, what was he saying? God forbid, not anything happen to Gordie. Touch wood. Not wood, scapular. Where am I?

There, he'd missed his turn. That was foolish. Comes from borrowing trouble. And it was an extravagance in the first place to be purchasing an Irish Times. Penny for the paper, a bob for that drunk — Jacobs! I didn't even get me two dee change. One and thruppenny walk in all. Might have waited for the Evening Mail and got me news for a ha'penny.

However, his name was Mr. Mack, and as everyone knew, or had ought know by now, the Macks was on the up.

The gates to Madame MacMurrough's were open and he peered up the avenue of straggling sycamores to the veiled face of Ballygihen House. A grand lady she was to be sure, though her trees, it had to be said, could do with a clipping.

He did not enter by the gates, but turned down Ballygihen Avenue beside. He had come out in a sweat, beads were trickling down the spine of his shirt, the wet patch stuck where his braces crossed. He mended his pace to catch his breath. At the door in the wall he stopped. Mopped his forehead and neck with his handkerchief, took off his hat and swabbed inside. Carefully stroked its brim where his fingers might have disturbed the nap. Replaced it. Size too small. Would never believe your head would grow. Or had the hat shrunk on him? Dunn's three-and-ninepenny bowler? No, his hat had never shrunk. He brushed both boots against the calves of his trousers. Parcel safe? Then he pushed inside the tradesmen's gate.

Brambly path through shadowy wood. Birds singing on all sides. Mess of nettles, cow-parsley, could take a scythe to them. Light green frilly leaves would put you in mind of, ahem, petticoats. A blackbird scuttled off the path like a schoolboy caught at a caper. Then he was out in the light, and the lawns of Ballygihen House stretched leisurely to the sea. The sea oh the sea, long may it be. What a magnificent house it was, view and vantage them both, for its windows commanded the breadth of Dublin Bay. If he had this house what wouldn't he do but sit upon its sloping lawns while all day long the mailboats to'd and fro'd.

Mr. Mack shook his head, but not disconsolately; for the beauty of the scene, briefly borrowed and duly returned, would brighten the sorrow of a saint. He followed the path by the trees, careful of stepping on the grass, till he came into the shadow of the house where the area steps led down to the kitchens.

And who was it only Madame MacMurrough's slavey showing leg at the step. Bit late in the morning to be still at her scrubbing. From Athlone, I believe, a district I know nothing about, save that it lies at the heart of Ireland.

He leant over the railing. "You're after missing a spot, Nancy."

The girl looked up. "'Tis you, Mr. Mack. And I thought it was the butcher's boy after giving me cheek."

She thought it was the butcher's — Mr. Mack hawked his throat. "Julian weather we're having."

She pulled the hair out of her eyes. "Julian, Mr. Mack?"

"Julian. Pertaining to the month of July. It's from the Latin."

"But 'tis scarce May."

"Well, I know that, Nancy. I meant 'tis July-like weather. Warm."

She stood up, skirts covering her shins. Something masonic about her smile. "Any news from Gordie, Mr. Mack?"

Mr. Mack peered over her shoulder looking to see was there anyone of consequence about. "Gordie?" he repeated. "You must mean Gordon, my son Gordon."

"No letters or anything in the post?"

"How kind of you, Nancy. But no, he's away on final training. We don't know the where, we don't know the where to. Submarines, do you see. Troop movements is always secretive in times of war."

"Ah sure he's most like in England, round about Aldershot with the rest of the boys."

No cook in evidence, no proper maid. Entire residence has the look of — "Aldershot? Why do you say Aldershot?"

"Do you know the place? Famous military town in Hampshire."

"You oughtn't be talking such things. Haven't I just warned you about submarines?"

"In Ballygihen, Mr. Mack?"

"Matter a damn where." He felt he had stamped his foot, so he patted his toes on the gravel and muttered, "Dang. Matter a dang, I meant."

The breeze reblew the hair in her eyes. Slovenly the way she ties it. Has a simper cute as a cat. "Is there no person in authority here I might address my business to?"

"Sure we're all alone in the big house together. If you wanted you could nip round the front and pull the bell. I'd let you in for the crack."

Flighty, divil-may-care minx of a slavey. Pity the man who — He pinched, pulling, one droop of his mustache. "I haven't the time for your cod-acting now, Nancy. It so happens I'm here on a serious matter not altogether disconnected with the war effort itself. I don't doubt your mistress left word I was due."

She looked thoughtful a moment. "I misrecall your name being spoke, but there was mention of some fellow might be bringing socks. I was to dump them in the scullery and give him sixpence out of thank you."r

After the huffing and puffing and wagging his finger, in the end he had to let his parcel into her shiftless hands. She knew better by then to bring up the sixpence. He had tipped his scant farewell and was re-ascending the steps when she let out, "Still and all, Mr. Mack, it's the desperate shame you wouldn't know where your ownest son was stationed at."

"A shame we all must put up with."

"Sure wherever it is, he'll be cutting a fine dash of a thing, I wouldn't doubt it."

Slavey, he thought, proper name for a rough general. "Don't let me disturb you further from your duty."

"Good day, Mr. Mack. But remember now: all love does ever rightly show humanity our tenderness."

All love does what? Foolish gigglepot. Should have told her, should have said, he's gone to fight for King and Country and the rights of Catholic Belgium. Cutting a dash is for rakes and dandyprats. All love does ever what?

He sloped back down the road to Glasthule, his heart falling with the declining properties. Could that be true about the sixpence? It was a puzzle to know with rich folk. Maybe I might have held on to the stockings and fetched them over another day. Nothing like a face-to-face in getting to know the worth of a man. Or maybe the lady supposed I'd be too busy myself, would send a boy instead. Jim. She thought it was Jim I'd be sending. Jim, my son James. The sixpence was his consideration. Now that was mighty generous in Madame MacMurrough. Sixpence for that spit of a walk? There's the gentry for you now. That shows the quality.

Quick look-see in the hand-me-down window. Now that's new. Must tell Jim about that. A flute in Ducie's window. Second thoughts, steer clear. Trouble enough with Gordie and the pledge-shop.

Brewery men at Fennelly's. Mighty clatter they make. On purpose much of the time. Advertise their presence. Fine old Clydesdale eating at his bait-sack. They look after them well, give them that. Now here's a wonder — paper stand deserted. Crowd of loafers holding up the corner.

A nipper-squeak across the road and his heart lifted for it was the boy out of the ironmonger's to say the tram had passed, package ready for collection. He took the delivery, signed the entry-book, patting the boy's head in lieu of gratuity, recrossed the street.

He was turning for home into Adelaide Road, named after — who's this it's named for again? — when Fennelly's corner doors burst open and a ree-raw jollity spilt out in the street. "Sister Susie's sewing shirts for soldiers," they were singing. Except in their particular rendition it was socks she was knitting.

"Quare fine day," said one of the loafers outside. Another had the neck to call out Mr. Mack's name.

Mr. Mack's forefinger lifted vaguely hatwards. Corner of his eye he saw others making mouths at him. Loafers, chancers, shapers. Where were the authorities at all that they wouldn't take them in charge? Fennelly had no license for singing. And the Angelus bell not rung.

Package safe? Under me arm. Chickens clucking in the yards, three dogs mooching. What they need do, you see, is raise the dog license. That would put a stop to all this mooching. Raise the excise while they're about it. Dung in the street and wisps of hay, sparrows everywhere in the quiet way.

The shop was on a corner of a lane that led to a row of humbler dwellings. He armed himself with a breath. The bell clinked when he pushed the door.

Incorrect to say a hush fell on the premises. They always spoke in whispers, Aunt Sawney and her guests. There she sat, behind the counter, Mrs. Tansy sat on the customers' chair, they had another fetched in from the kitchen for Mrs. Rourke. Now if a customer came, he'd be hard put to make it to the till. Gloomy too. Why wouldn't she leave the door wide? Gas only made it pokier in the daylight. Which was free.

"God bless all here." He touched the font on the jamb. Dryish. Have to see to that. Blessed himself.

"Hello, Aunt Sawney. Ready whenever to take over the reins. Mrs. Rourke, how's this the leg is today? I'm glad to see you about, Mrs. Tansy."

New tin of snuff on the counter. Must remember to mark that down in the book. Impossible to keep tabs else. Straits of Ballambangjan ahead. "I wonder if I might just...pardon me while I...if you could maybe." Maneuver safe between. Find harbor in the kitchen. Range stone cold, why wouldn't she keep an eye on it? Poke head back inside an instant. "Range is out, Aunt Sawney, should your guests require some tea."

Three snorts came in reply as each woman took a pinch of snuff.

He sat down at the kitchen table, laid the new package in front of him. His eyes gauged its contents, while he reached behind his neck to loosen the back-stud of his collar. He flexed his arms. Let me see, let me see. The boy at the ironmonger's had dangled the package by the twine and he had a deal of difficulty undoing the knot. Keep the torn paper for them on tick.

And finally there they were. Bills, two gross, finest American paper, fine as rashers of wind, in Canon bold proclaiming:

Adelaide General Stores

Quality Goods At Honest Prices

Mr. A. Mack, Esqr.

Will Be Pleased To Assist In All Your Requirements

An Appeal To You!

One Shilling Per Guinea Spent Here

Will Comfort Our Troops In France!

Page was a touch cramped at the base so that the end line, "Proprietress: Sawney Burke," had to be got in small print. Still, it was the motto that mattered, and that was a topper. Will comfort our troops in France. Appeal to the honor of the house.

Mustache. Touch it. Spot of something in the hairs. Egg, is it? Stuck.

Was I right all the same to leave it to honor only? Nothing about the pocket. How's about this for the hookum?

Pounds, Shillings and Pence!

Why Not Buy Local And Save On Leather?

Appeal to the pocket of the house. Might better have had two orders made up. One for the swells, other for the smells.

Never mind the smells, the Macks is on the up.

Jim. What time is it? Home for his dinner at five after one. Gone twelve now. He could maybe deliver the startings in his dinner-hour, the leavings before his tea.

Have I missed the Angelus so? How's this I missed the Angelus?

Clink. That's the door. Customer? No, exeunt two biddies. She'll be in now, tidy away. Aunt Sawney, I've had these advertising-bills made up...? No, wait till they're delivered first. Fate accomplished. Where's that apron? Better see to the range. "Aunt Sawney, there you are. Must be puffed out after that stint. I'll do shop now. You read the paper in your chair. We'll soon have a feel of heat."

"Stay away from that kitchener," she said.

"The range?" said Mr. Mack.

"That kitchener wants blacking."

"The range?"

She was already on her knees. She had a new tin of Zebra black-lead with her. "Ye'll have me hands in blisters. I left it go out since yesternight."

Surely a touch uncivil to name a kitchen range after the hero who avenged Khartoum. "Did we finish that other tin of Zebra already? Right so, I'll mark that down in the book. It's best to keep tabs."

"'Tis cold plate for dinner. And cold plate for tea."

"Whatever you think is best, Aunt Sawney. But you're not after forgetting it's his birthday today?"

"I'm not after forgetting this kitchener wants blacking." She damped a cloth in the black-lead tin, letting out a creak of coughing as she did so.

The door clinked. Customer. "I'll be with you directly," he called. Then, thoughtfully: "Not to trouble yourself, Aunt Sawney. I have a cake above out of Findlater's. Sure what more could his boyship want? But no mention of birthdays till after his tea. We'll have nothing brought off all day else."

"I suppose and you got him them bills for his treat."

Well, I'll be sugared. How would she know about the bills? He watched her at her labor for a moment. Wiry woman with hair the color of ash. The back tresses she wore in a small black cap which hung from her crown like an extra, maidenly, head of hair. Even kneeling she had a bend on her, what's this they used call it, the Grecian bends. If you straightened her now, you'd be feared of her snapping. Cheeks like loose gullets, wag when vexed. When the teeth go, you see, the pouches collapse. Nose beaked, with dewdrop suspending. Not kin, thanks be to God, not I, save through the altar. Gordie and Jim are blood.

She coughed again, sending reverberations down her frame. Brown titus she calls it. Useless to correct her at her age. "I'll leave the inside door pulled to in case you'd feel a chill from beyond. You're only over the bronchitis."

"Mrs. Tansy says the font wants filling."

Gently Mr. Mack reminded her, "Mrs. Tansy is a ranting Methody."

"She still has eyes to see."

Why would anyone look into a font? he wondered as he poured the holy water. Suppose when you are that way, dig with the other foot that is, these things take on an interest, a mystery even, which all too often for ourselves, digging as it were with the right foot, which is to say the proper one, have lost — lost where I was heading for there.

Cheeses, would you look at that motor the way it's pitching up Glasthule. Tearaways they have at the wheel. Take your life in your hands every turn you take. Hold on now, I believe I recognize that motor-car. He blew on his mustache, considering. There's a pucker idea: fonts for trams. Should send that in the paper. Never seen a font in a moving object. Would a bishop have one in his brougham for instance? Or is there maybe an injunction against fonts in anything not stationary? Should check the facts before committing to paper. There's fellows ready to pounce, the least miscalculation.

Nothing much in the street. Far away beyond the fields and the new red-bricked terraces rose the Dublin Mountains. Green grew to grey. Oats by reason the wet climatics. Clever the way the fields know to stop just where the hills begin. Turf then. They were down the other week trying to hock it on account the price of coal. Is there a season for turf, though? Make a donkey of yourself buying the wrong time of year.

Curls of smoke from the cottages nearby. Keeping the home fires burning. Back inside the shop. Clink, it's only me. Font again, no wonder it dries up so. Trade a little slack. Always the same this time of day. Might give that counter a wipe-down. Bits of snuff and goodness knows. Time to finish a stocking before dinner? Wouldn't it be grand now if Gordie would be wearing one of my stockings.

Where's there a place to fix a new shelf? Need a display for maybe a quality range of teas. High-grown, tippy Darjeeling, cans of, please. That would fetch the carriage trade.

What's this that Nancy one was on about, all love does ever what? Damn silly child. Holy show she made of his parade. Marching with Gordie in the ranks to the troopship. Son of mine stepping out with a slavey. Where's the up in that?

Here a shelf, there a shelf? Can smell it now, the wafting scents. Would madam take a seat while I weigh her requirements? None of your one-and-fourpence populars, but Assam and pekoe and souchong, and customers to match, and souchong and oolong and Assam and —

Peeping up at him, her dabs just nipping the counter, a little female bedouin with dirty face and half an apron on.

"Well, little lady? Why aren't we at school today?"

"The ma sent me over for a saucer of jam."

Beside the door Mr. Mack had fixed a makeshift sign. "One Shilling per Guinea Spent Here is a CREDIT to You!" He might better have saved the paper. "Ha'penny," he said to the slum-rat.

The sleek green motor cleared the feeble rise, haughty jerk as it jumped the tramlines, swept through the gates, gravel flittering with road-dust in its wake. Past the lodge, empty these years, least so by day, under the fairy light of arching trees, to emerge at its stabling where it shuddered in quiet triumph before a gauntleted glove that had stroked its wheel reached down to cut the engine.

Silence then, a world at rest. Not the antithesis of dust, of speed, but its complement. The gloved hand ungloved its partner which in turn ungloved its mate. Fingers untied her chiffon and felt for hair under her hat. Strays tidied behind her ears. The chiffon became a scarf, her hands reawoke the wide sloping brim of her hat. Gradually the earth too rewoke. Hedges chirruped to life, a crow bickered above, the sea resumed its reverend tide. Her hat was hopelessly démodé but the fashion was too ridiculous: she refused to wear flower-pots, and would have nothing to do with feathery things she had not shot herself.

Eveline MacMurrough slid to the passenger side, shifted her skirt over the low door. One leg, two legs, she steadied on the running-board, then slipped to the ground. The hand that held her gloves patted the coachwork, patted the trim. My Prince Henry. And they had thought to requisition you for an ambulance at the Front. Les brutes anglaises.

There was no one to see to her entrance, only the skivvy from the kitchen whom she had scarcely begun to civilize. This skin of jitters received her gloves, her chiffon, hat; Eveline allowed the dustcoat to be eased from her shoulders. L'idiote. "Not through the hall, child," she said. "Outside and shake the dust."

In the stand glass she reviewed her visage. The wind-screen had not been a total success. Then again goggles did leave such hideous lines. Perhaps it must be the veil after all. Though she did so resent the implication of purdah. Toilet water, a good scrub, then hot damp towels.

"Is old Moore about?"

"Would he not be in the garden, mam?"

Peasant insistence on interrogative response. It rather appealed to Eveline. Yes, she rather believed she liked it. "When you find him, tell him the motor-car wants cleaning. Lamps too, I dare say. Cook?"

"Hasn't she taken the morning to visit her sister in St. Michael's that's poorly?"

Defensive really: none of my doing, as though to say. "Are we to starve so?"

"No, mam. She left a cold dinner prepared."

"Lunch," said Eveline.

"Lunch, mam."

There was a quick call through the staff roll. Bootman repairing a leak in the attic, meaning presumably he was high; parlor maids called back to the registry, replacements not turned up. Really she must see to appointing new people, a housekeeper at the very least. So trying with the war on. Rush to the altar to avail of the separation allowances. It was something her nephew might take in hand. "And my nephew?"

"I'm not sure, mam" — flush in her cheeks — "if he hasn't gone bathing."

Eveline had completed her inspection at the hall stand. The child waited by the pass door, hands by her sides like a board-school girl. Itching to be below stairs out of harm's way. Pauvre ingénue. Eveline smiled and ordered hot water and towels to her dressing-room. Even the imbécile might manage that.

While she sponged her cheeks with water of roses, she considered her interview with the new curate at St. Joseph's, Glasthule. Naturally, it was the canon she had called upon, some invitation to decline, but a young priest had received her, offering regrets at the canon's indisposition. The canon's health was neither here nor there to Eva, her confessor being of the Jesuits at Gardiner Street, but the young man made such parade of hospitality, she had quickly perceived her demurs would serve but to encourage his insistence.

She had accepted tea in best blue china. The curate gave his name — unless she misheard, Father Amen O'Toiler, which sounded a sermon in itself. He fingered her card, then, still fidgeting, stood to make his say. "I cannot tell you, Madame MacMurrough, what pleasure it is to greet a scion of your famous name." Her famous name was given its due, which she heard as a type of Cook's tour of Irish history. Bridges taken, fords crossed, the sieges broken, battles lost, long valiant retreats — and not a one but a MacMurrough had been to the fore.

It was a familiar account and she had waited politely, seated at the edge of an aged Biedermeier whose stuffing was gone. Absently she wondered which charity the curate had in mind and what donation might eventually suffice.

The priest had continued his progress round the sunless parlor, chilly yet fuming from an ill-ventilated fire. Every few paces he referred to her card, as though the heads of his argument had been pencilled thereon, as onwards he passed through the dark centuries, the long night of Ireland's woe. Yet night, he averred, not so dark as to blind, for in every generation a light had sparked, betimes no more than a flash on the hillside, moretimes a flame to set the age afire. And not once in all the years but the cry had gone out: MacMurrough! The name was imperishable, ineradicable, sempiternal, a lodestar in the Irish firmament that had blazed to its zenith, as many believed (and not least the curate himself, if he might make so bold), in the brilliant, some might say heliacal, career of Madame MacMurrough's late revered regretted father, Dermot James William MacMurrough, Queen's Counsellor, quondam Lord Mayor and Chief Magistrate of our great metropolis, freeman of the cities of Waterford, Cork, New York and Boston, Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, Member for the Borough of Ferns.

"And there at the moment of her direst need" — the curate's voice had strained as he came to the crux of his tale — "when sacred Ireland stood upon the edge, at the very brink of extinction, who stood forth to show the way? Who but your father saw through the genteel broadcloth, the polished suaviloquence, to the degenerate soul within? Who was it saved Ireland from the alien heretical beast?"

Yes, Eveline thought now, before her dressing-table glass, her father had been first to denounce Parnell. Though it had been a close race, so fierce the stampede.

Perfume bottles, phials of scent, Gallé and Lalique; a porcelain shepherdess proffered tiny sugared treats on a tray, offered them twice, for the toilet glass reviewed her, stretching through the bottles, a child sinking through colored viscous water. Eveline chose a bon-bon, sucked it thoughtfully.

There was more to this curate than at first she had suspected. More than once he had made allusion to the Fenians. His face had pecked in the intervals after, seeking collusion. She had nodded, blinked with charming detachment. Then taking her leave she had felt his high neck bend toward her. That odor of carbolic and abstinence so readily in the mind confused with mastery. The priest whispered in her ear: "The sword of light is shining still. England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity."

The formula was stale, let alone the notion, but it had sounded singular on the lips of a priest. If this now was the teaching of the seminaries, change most certainly was in the air. Poor old Parnell — the Chosen Man, the Chief, the Uncrowned King of Ireland, adulterer, fornicator, the Lost Leader — it would be the supreme irony: to have terrified the Church into Irish Ireland.

She rose now from her dressing-table and approached the garden window. She turned the hasp and the casement opened. She inhaled the breath from the sea. Casement, how very beautiful was the word. She spoke it softly. A decidedly beautiful name, Casement. "He is far from the land," she softly hummed.

A trundle on the stairs and the child came in with towels and steaming water. At the washstand she ventured to say, "There was a delivery while you was out, mam."

Eveline nodded.

"Only stockings, mam. Was I right to leave them in the library like you said?"

Stockings, yes. She must see to them directly her toilet was done.

One more bon-bon from the porcelain shepherdess. It was evident the maids — the few were left her — had been at her supply. "When you have finished whatever you are doing below, go down to Glasthule. The confectioner's will know my order."

As she came down to the library she saw through the open door the gardener and the gardener's boy and the gardener's boy's boy all greedily washing her Prince Henry. It was the one chore she might charge them to perform. Her mind drifted to a time late last summer when she had motored over the hills to the old demesne near Ferns. With her had traveled two gentlemen of the press and a representative of the Irish Automobile Club. Her intention had been to astonish the world by ascending and descending Mount Leinster, whose track, winding to the summit, had in parts a gradient steeper than one in three. This feat would prove not only the motor's magnificent pedigree but her own accomplishment, representative of all Irish womanhood's, in handling it.

And indeed she had carried the day. The motor performed superbly, the IAC man figured and stamped in his book, the newspapermen assured her of a prominent notice. She had expected at the least a Johnsonian quip — the wonder being not in her exploit, but in a lady's wish to stage such performance. But the next day's newspapers gave no mention of her. The August bank holiday had passed and while she had been conquering Mount Leinster Great Britain had declared war on Germany.

At her library desk, begloved once more, this time in creamy four-button mochas, she opened the brown-papered parcel of stockings. Plain-knit, rough-textured stuff. Queer specimen down Glasthule had suggested the arrangement. She might not approve of enlistment in the tyrant's yeomanry, but she did not see why Irish soldiers should suffer cold feet. Besides, the soul had grown soft since Parnell, with the English and their ploys, killing home rule with kindness. A reacquaintance with arms might prove useful, indeed requisite, in the coming times.

For she too felt the change in the air. Last August, while she motored home alone through the acetylene-lit gloom, the twilight had forced itself upon her. But this was not the evening twilight of the foolish poets. It was the half-light before dawn, the morning of a new Ireland. For indeed it was true: England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity. And she, a MacMurrough born to lead, knew well where lay her duty.

Inside the foot of each stocking she inserted a slip of paper. Green paper whose script proclaimed: "Remember Ireland!"

Copyright © 2001 by Jamie O'Neill

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First Chapter

Chapter One

At the corner of Adelaide Road, where the paving sparkled in the morning sun, Mr. Mack waited by the newspaper stand. A grand day it was, rare and fine. Puff-clouds sailed through a sky of blue. Fair-weather cumulus to give the correct designation: on account they cumulate, so Mr. Mack believed. High above the houses a seagull glinted, gliding on a breeze that carried from the sea. Wait now, was it cumulate or accumulate he meant? The breeze sniffed of salt and tide. Make a donkey of yourself, inwardly he cautioned, using words you don't know their meaning. And where's this paper chappie after getting to?

In delicate clutch an Irish Times he held. A thruppenny piece, waiting to pay, rolled in his fingers. Every so often his hand queried his elbow -- Parcel safe? Under me arm, his hand-pat assured him.

Glasthule, homy old parish, on the lip of Dublin Bay. You could see the bay, a wedge of it, between the walls of a lane, with Howth lying out beyond. The bay was blue as the sky, a tinge deeper, and curiously raised-looking when viewed dead on. The way the sea would be sloping to the land. If this paper chappie don't show up quick, bang goes his sale. Cheek of him leaving customers wait in the street.

A happy dosser was nosing along the lane and Mr. Mack watched with lenient disdain. Any old bone. Lick of something out of a can. Dog's life really. When he came to the street Mr. Mack touched a finger to his hat, but the happy dosser paid him no regard. He slouched along and Mr. Mack saw it puddling after, something he had spilt in the road, his wasted civility. Lips pursed with comment, he pulled, squeezing, one droop of his bush mustache.

"Oh hello, Mrs. Conway, grand day it is, grand to be sure, tip-top and yourself keeping dandy?"

Nice class of lady, left foot, but without the airs. Saw me waiting with an Irish Times, twice the price of any other paper. They remark such things, the quality do. Glory be, I hope she didn't think -- his Irish Times dropped by his side -- Would she ever have mistook me for the paperman, do you think?

Pages fluttered on the newspaper piles, newsboards creaked in the breeze. Out-of-the-way spot for a paper stand. Had supposed to be above by the railway station. But this thoolamawn has it currently, what does he do only creeps it down, little by little, till now he has it smack outside of Fennelly's --

Mr. Mack swivelled on his heels. Fennelly's public house. The corner doors were propped wide where the boy was mopping the steps. Late in the morning to be still at his steps. The gloom inside gave out a hum of amusement, low mouths of male companionship, gathered by the amber glow of the bar. Mr. Mack said Aha! with his eyes. He thrust his head inside the door, waved his paper in the dark. "'Scuse now, gents." He hadn't his hat back on his head before a roar of hilarity, erupting at the bar, hunted him away, likely to shove him back out in the street.

Well, by the holy. He gave a hard nod to the young bucko leaning on his mop and grinning. What was that about?

Presently, a jerky streak of anatomy distinguished itself in the door, coughing and spluttering while it came, and shielding its eyes from the sun. "Is it yourself, Sergeant?"

"Hello now, Mr. Doyle," said Mr. Mack.

"Quartermaster-Sergeant Mack, how are you, how's every hair's breadth of you, what cheer to see you so spry." A spit preceded him to the pavement. "You weren't kept waiting at all?" This rather in rebuttal than inquiry. "Only I was inside getting of bronze for silver. Paper is it?"

The hades you were, thought Mr. Mack, and the smell of drink something atrocious. "Fennelly has a crowd in," he remarked, "for the hour."

"Bagmen," the paperman replied. "Go-boys on the make out of Dublin. And a miselier mischaritable unChristianer crew -- "

Ho ho ho, thought Mr. Mack. On the cadge, if I know my man. Them boys inside was too nimble for him.

"Would you believe, Sergeant, they'd mock a man for the paper he'd read?"

"What's this now?" said Mr. Mack.

The paperman chucked his head. "God be their judge and a bitter one, say I. And your good self known for a decent skin with no more side than a margarine."

Mr. Mack could not engage but a rise was being took out of him. The paperman made play of settling his papers, huffling and humphing in that irritating consumptive way. He made play of banging his chest for air. He spat, coughing with the spittle, a powdery disgruntled cough -- "Choky today," said he -- and Mr. Mack viewed the spittle-drenched sheet he now held in his hand. This fellow, the curse of an old comrade, try anything to vex me.

"I'm after picking up," choosily he said, "an Irish Times, only I read here -- "

"An Irish Times, Sergeant? Carry me out and bury me decent, so you have and all. Aren't you swell away with the high-jinkers there?"

Mr. Mack plumped his face and a laugh, like a fruit, dropped from his mouth. "I wouldn't know about any high-jinkers," he confided. "Only I read here 'tis twice the price of any other paper. Twice the price," he repeated, shaking his cautious head. A carillon of coins chinkled in his pocket. "I don't know now can the expense be justified."

"Take a risk of it, Sergeant, and damn the begrudgers." The paperman leant privily forward. "A gent on the up, likes of yourself, isn't it worth it alone for the shocks and stares?"

Narrowly Mr. Mack considered his man. A fling or a fox-paw, he couldn't be certain sure. He clipped his coin on the paper-stack. "Penny, I believe," he said.

"Thruppence," returned Mr. Doyle. "Balance two dee to the General."

Mr. Mack talked small while he waited for his change. "Grand stretch of weather we're having."

"'Tisn't the worst."

"Grand I thought for the time of year."

"Thanks be to God."

"Oh thanks be to God entirely."

Mr. Mack's face faltered. Had ought to get my thanks in first. This fellow, not a mag to bless himself with, doing me down always. He watched him shambling through the pockets of his coat. And if it was change he was after in Fennelly's it was devilish cunning change for never the jingle of a coin let out. A smile fixed on Mr. Mack's face. Barking up the wrong tree with me, my merry old sweat. Two dee owed.

At last the paperman had the change found. Two lusterless pennies, he held them out, the old sort, with the old Queen's hair in a bun. Mr. Mack was on the blow of plucking them in his fingers when the paperman coughed -- "Squeeze me" -- coughed into his -- "Squeeze me peas, Sergeant" -- coughed into his sleeve. Not what you'd call coughing but hacking down the tracts of his throat to catch some breath had gone missing there. His virulence spattered the air between, and Mr. Mack thought how true what they say, take your life in your hands every breath you breathe.

He cleared his own throat and said, "I trust I find you well?"

"Amn't I standing, God be praised?" With a flump then he was down on the butter-box he kept for a seat.

Bulbous, pinkish, bush-mustached, Mr. Mack's face lowered. He'd heard it mentioned right enough, that old Doyle, he was none too gaudy this weather. Never had thought to find him this far gone. That box wouldn't know of him sitting on it. He looked down on the dull face, dull as any old copper, with the eyes behind that looked chancy back. Another fit came on, wretched to watch, like something physical had shook hold the man; and Mr. Mack reached his hand to his shoulder.

"Are you all right there, Mick?"

"Be right in a minute, Arthur. Catch me breath is all."

Mr. Mack gave a squeeze of his hand, feeling the bones beneath. "Will I inquire in Fennelly's after a drop of water?"

"I wouldn't want to be bothering Fennelly for water, though."

Them chancy old eyes. Once upon a time them eyes had danced. Bang goes sixpence, thought Mr. Mack, though it was a shilling piece he pulled out of his pocket. "Will you do yourself a favor, Mick, and get something decent for your dinner."

"Take that away," Mr. Doyle rebuked him. "I have my pride yet. I won't take pity."

"Now where's the pity in a bob, for God's sake?"

"I fought for Queen and Country. There's no man will deny it."

"There's no man wants to deny it."

"Twenty-five years with the Colors. I done me bit. I went me pound, God knows if I didn't."

Here we go, thought Mr. Mack.

"I stood me ground. I stood to them Bojers and all."

Here we go again.

"Admitted you wasn't there. Admitted you was home on the boat to Ireland. But you'll grant me this for an old soldier. That Fusilier Doyle, he done his bit. He stood up to them Bojers, he did."

"You did of course. You're a good Old Tough, 'tis known in the parish."

"Begod and I'd do it over was I let. God's oath on that. We'd know the better of Germany then." He kicked his boot against the newsboard, which told, unusually and misfortunately for his purpose, not of the war at all but of beer and whiskey news, the threat and fear of a hike in the excise. "I'd soon put manners on those Kaiser lads."

"No better man," Mr. Mack conceded. Mr. Doyle tossed his head, the way his point, being gained, he found it worthless for a gain. Mr. Mack had to squeeze the shilling bit into his hand. "You'll have a lotion on me whatever," he said, confidentially urging the matter.

The makings of a smile lurked across the paperman's face. "There was a day, Arthur, and you was pal o' me heart," said he, "me fond segotia." The silver got pocketed. "May your hand be stretched in friendship, Sergeant, and never your neck."

Charity done with and the price of a skite secured, they might risk a reasonable natter. "Tell us," said Mr. Mack, "is it true what happened the young fellow was here on this patch?"

"Sure carted away. The peelers nabbed him."

"A recruitment poster I heard."

"Above on the post office windows. Had it torn away."

"Shocking," said Mr. Mack. "Didn't he know that's a serious offense?"

"Be sure he'll know now," said Mr. Doyle. "Two-monthser he'll get out of that. Hard."

"And to look at him he only a child."

"Sure mild as ever on porridge smiled. Shocking."

Though Mr. Mack could not engage it was the offense was referred to and not the deserts. "Still, you've a good few weeks got out of this work."

"They'll have the replacement found soon enough."

"You stuck it this long, they might see their way to making you permanent."

"Not so, Sergeant. And the breath only in and out of me." An obliging little hack found its way up his throat. "There's only the one place I'll be permanent now. I won't be long getting there neither."

But Mr. Mack had heard sufficient of that song. "Sure we're none of us getting any the rosier." The parcel shifted under his arm and, the direction coming by chance into view, Mr. Doyle's eyes squinted, then saucered, then slyly he opined,

"Knitting."

"Stockings," Mr. Mack elaborated. "I'm only on my way to Ballygihen. Something for Madame MacMurrough and the Comforts Fund."

"Didn't I say you was up with the high-jinkers? Give 'em socks there, Sergeant, give 'em socks."

Mr. Mack received this recommendation with the soldierly good humor with which it was intended. He tipped his hat and the game old tough saluted.

"Good luck to the General."

"Take care now, Mr. Doyle."


Parcel safe and under his arm, Mr. Mack made his way along the parade of shops. At the tramstop he looked into Phillips's ironmongers. "Any sign of that delivery?"

"Expected" was all the answer he got.

Constable now. Sees me carrying the Irish Times. Respectable nod. Little Fenianeen in our midst and I never knew. After hacking at a recruitment poster. Mind, 'tis pranks not politics. Pass a law against khaki, you'd have them queueing up to enlist.

The shops ended and Glasthule Road took on a more dignified, prosperous air. With every step he counted the ratable values rising, ascending on a gradient equivalent to the road's rise to Ballygihen. Well-tended gardens and at every lane a kinder breeze off the sea. In the sun atop a wall a fat cat sat whose head followed wisely his progress.

General, he calls me. Jocular touch that. After the General Stores, of course. Shocks and stares -- should send that in the paper. Pay for items catchy like that. Or did I hear it before? Would want to be sure before committing to paper. Make a donkey of yourself else.

A scent drifted by that was utterly familiar yet unspeakably far away. He leant over a garden wall and there it blew, ferny-leaved and tiny-flowered, in its sunny yellow corner. Never had thought it would prosper here. Mum-mim-mom, begins with something mum. Butterfly floating over it, a pale white soul, first I've seen of the year.

Pall of his face back there. They do say they take on worse in the sunshine, your consumptives do. Segotia: is it some class of a flower? I never thought to inquire. Pal of me heart. Well, we're talking twenty thirty years back. Mick and Mack the paddy whacks. We had our day, 'tis true. Boys together and bugles together and bayonets in the ranks. Rang like bells, all we wanted was hanging. But there's no pals except you're equals. I learnt me that after I got my very first stripe.

He looked back down the road at the dwindling man with his lonely stand of papers. A Dublin tram came by. In the clattering of its wheels and its sparking trolley the years dizzied a moment. Scarlet and blue swirled in the dust, till there he stood, flush before him, in the light of bright and other days, the bugler boy was pal of his heart. My old segotia.

Parcel safe? Under me arm.

The paper unfolded in Mr. Mack's hands and his eyes glanced over the front page. Hotels, hotels, hotels. Hatches, matches, dispatches. Eye always drawn to "Loans by Post." Don't know for why. What's this the difference is between a stock and a share? Have to ask Jim when he gets in from school.

He turned the page. Here we go. Royal Dublin Fusiliers depot. Comforts Fund for the Troops in France. Committee gratefully acknowledges. Here we go. Madame MacMurrough, Ballygihen branch. Socks, woollen, three doz pair.

Gets her name in cosy enough. Madame MacMurrough. Once a month I fetch over the stockings, once a month she has her name in the paper. Handy enough if you can get it.

Nice to know they're delivered, all the same, delivered where they're wanted.

His eyes wandered to the Roll of Honor that ran along the paper's edge. Officers killed, officers wounded, wounded and missing, wounded believed prisoners, correction: officers killed. All officers. Column, column and a half of officers. Then there's only a handful of other ranks. Now that can't be right. How do they choose them? Do you have to -- is that what I'd have to do? -- submit the name yourself? And do they charge for that? Mind you, nice to have your name in the Irish Times. That's what I'll have to do maybe, should Gordie -- God forbid, what was he saying? God forbid, not anything happen to Gordie. Touch wood. Not wood, scapular. Where am I?

There, he'd missed his turn. That was foolish. Comes from borrowing trouble. And it was an extravagance in the first place to be purchasing an Irish Times. Penny for the paper, a bob for that drunk -- Jacobs! I didn't even get me two dee change. One and thruppenny walk in all. Might have waited for the Evening Mail and got me news for a ha'penny.

However, his name was Mr. Mack, and as everyone knew, or had ought know by now, the Macks was on the up.

The gates to Madame MacMurrough's were open and he peered up the avenue of straggling sycamores to the veiled face of Ballygihen House. A grand lady she was to be sure, though her trees, it had to be said, could do with a clipping.

He did not enter by the gates, but turned down Ballygihen Avenue beside. He had come out in a sweat, beads were trickling down the spine of his shirt, the wet patch stuck where his braces crossed. He mended his pace to catch his breath. At the door in the wall he stopped. Mopped his forehead and neck with his handkerchief, took off his hat and swabbed inside. Carefully stroked its brim where his fingers might have disturbed the nap. Replaced it. Size too small. Would never believe your head would grow. Or had the hat shrunk on him? Dunn's three-and-ninepenny bowler? No, his hat had never shrunk. He brushed both boots against the calves of his trousers. Parcel safe? Then he pushed inside the tradesmen's gate.

Brambly path through shadowy wood. Birds singing on all sides. Mess of nettles, cow-parsley, could take a scythe to them. Light green frilly leaves would put you in mind of, ahem, petticoats. A blackbird scuttled off the path like a schoolboy caught at a caper. Then he was out in the light, and the lawns of Ballygihen House stretched leisurely to the sea. The sea oh the sea, long may it be. What a magnificent house it was, view and vantage them both, for its windows commanded the breadth of Dublin Bay. If he had this house what wouldn't he do but sit upon its sloping lawns while all day long the mailboats to'd and fro'd.

Mr. Mack shook his head, but not disconsolately; for the beauty of the scene, briefly borrowed and duly returned, would brighten the sorrow of a saint. He followed the path by the trees, careful of stepping on the grass, till he came into the shadow of the house where the area steps led down to the kitchens.

And who was it only Madame MacMurrough's slavey showing leg at the step. Bit late in the morning to be still at her scrubbing. From Athlone, I believe, a district I know nothing about, save that it lies at the heart of Ireland.

He leant over the railing. "You're after missing a spot, Nancy."

The girl looked up. "'Tis you, Mr. Mack. And I thought it was the butcher's boy after giving me cheek."

She thought it was the butcher's -- Mr. Mack hawked his throat. "Julian weather we're having."

She pulled the hair out of her eyes. "Julian, Mr. Mack?"

"Julian. Pertaining to the month of July. It's from the Latin."

"But 'tis scarce May."

"Well, I know that, Nancy. I meant 'tis July-like weather. Warm."

She stood up, skirts covering her shins. Something masonic about her smile. "Any news from Gordie, Mr. Mack?"

Mr. Mack peered over her shoulder looking to see was there anyone of consequence about. "Gordie?" he repeated. "You must mean Gordon, my son Gordon."

"No letters or anything in the post?"

"How kind of you, Nancy. But no, he's away on final training. We don't know the where, we don't know the where to. Submarines, do you see. Troop movements is always secretive in times of war."

"Ah sure he's most like in England, round about Aldershot with the rest of the boys."

No cook in evidence, no proper maid. Entire residence has the look of -- "Aldershot? Why do you say Aldershot?"

"Do you know the place? Famous military town in Hampshire."

"You oughtn't be talking such things. Haven't I just warned you about submarines?"

"In Ballygihen, Mr. Mack?"

"Matter a damn where." He felt he had stamped his foot, so he patted his toes on the gravel and muttered, "Dang. Matter a dang, I meant."

The breeze reblew the hair in her eyes. Slovenly the way she ties it. Has a simper cute as a cat. "Is there no person in authority here I might address my business to?"

"Sure we're all alone in the big house together. If you wanted you could nip round the front and pull the bell. I'd let you in for the crack."

Flighty, divil-may-care minx of a slavey. Pity the man who -- He pinched, pulling, one droop of his mustache. "I haven't the time for your cod-acting now, Nancy. It so happens I'm here on a serious matter not altogether disconnected with the war effort itself. I don't doubt your mistress left word I was due."

She looked thoughtful a moment. "I misrecall your name being spoke, but there was mention of some fellow might be bringing socks. I was to dump them in the scullery and give him sixpence out of thank you."

After the huffing and puffing and wagging his finger, in the end he had to let his parcel into her shiftless hands. She knew better by then to bring up the sixpence. He had tipped his scant farewell and was re-ascending the steps when she let out, "Still and all, Mr. Mack, it's the desperate shame you wouldn't know where your ownest son was stationed at."

"A shame we all must put up with."

"Sure wherever it is, he'll be cutting a fine dash of a thing, I wouldn't doubt it."

Slavey, he thought, proper name for a rough general. "Don't let me disturb you further from your duty."

"Good day, Mr. Mack. But remember now: all love does ever rightly show humanity our tenderness."

All love does what? Foolish gigglepot. Should have told her, should have said, he's gone to fight for King and Country and the rights of Catholic Belgium. Cutting a dash is for rakes and dandyprats. All love does ever what?

He sloped back down the road to Glasthule, his heart falling with the declining properties. Could that be true about the sixpence? It was a puzzle to know with rich folk. Maybe I might have held on to the stockings and fetched them over another day. Nothing like a face-to-face in getting to know the worth of a man. Or maybe the lady supposed I'd be too busy myself, would send a boy instead. Jim. She thought it was Jim I'd be sending. Jim, my son James. The sixpence was his consideration. Now that was mighty generous in Madame MacMurrough. Sixpence for that spit of a walk? There's the gentry for you now. That shows the quality.

Quick look-see in the hand-me-down window. Now that's new. Must tell Jim about that. A flute in Ducie's window. Second thoughts, steer clear. Trouble enough with Gordie and the pledge-shop.

Brewery men at Fennelly's. Mighty clatter they make. On purpose much of the time. Advertise their presence. Fine old Clydesdale eating at his bait-sack. They look after them well, give them that. Now here's a wonder -- paper stand deserted. Crowd of loafers holding up the corner.

A nipper-squeak across the road and his heart lifted for it was the boy out of the ironmonger's to say the tram had passed, package ready for collection. He took the delivery, signed the entry-book, patting the boy's head in lieu of gratuity, recrossed the street.

He was turning for home into Adelaide Road, named after -- who's this it's named for again? -- when Fennelly's corner doors burst open and a ree-raw jollity spilt out in the street. "Sister Susie's sewing shirts for soldiers," they were singing. Except in their particular rendition it was socks she was knitting.

"Quare fine day," said one of the loafers outside. Another had the neck to call out Mr. Mack's name.

Mr. Mack's forefinger lifted vaguely hatwards. Corner of his eye he saw others making mouths at him. Loafers, chancers, shapers. Where were the authorities at all that they wouldn't take them in charge? Fennelly had no license for singing. And the Angelus bell not rung.

Package safe? Under me arm. Chickens clucking in the yards, three dogs mooching. What they need do, you see, is raise the dog license. That would put a stop to all this mooching. Raise the excise while they're about it. Dung in the street and wisps of hay, sparrows everywhere in the quiet way.

The shop was on a corner of a lane that led to a row of humbler dwellings. He armed himself with a breath. The bell clinked when he pushed the door.

Incorrect to say a hush fell on the premises. They always spoke in whispers, Aunt Sawney and her guests. There she sat, behind the counter, Mrs. Tansy sat on the customers' chair, they had another fetched in from the kitchen for Mrs. Rourke. Now if a customer came, he'd be hard put to make it to the till. Gloomy too. Why wouldn't she leave the door wide? Gas only made it pokier in the daylight. Which was free.

"God bless all here." He touched the font on the jamb. Dryish. Have to see to that. Blessed himself.

"Hello, Aunt Sawney. Ready whenever to take over the reins. Mrs. Rourke, how's this the leg is today? I'm glad to see you about, Mrs. Tansy."

New tin of snuff on the counter. Must remember to mark that down in the book. Impossible to keep tabs else. Straits of Ballambangjan ahead. "I wonder if I might just...pardon me while I...if you could maybe." Maneuver safe between. Find harbor in the kitchen. Range stone cold, why wouldn't she keep an eye on it? Poke head back inside an instant. "Range is out, Aunt Sawney, should your guests require some tea."

Three snorts came in reply as each woman took a pinch of snuff.

He sat down at the kitchen table, laid the new package in front of him. His eyes gauged its contents, while he reached behind his neck to loosen the back-stud of his collar. He flexed his arms. Let me see, let me see. The boy at the ironmonger's had dangled the package by the twine and he had a deal of difficulty undoing the knot. Keep the torn paper for them on tick.

And finally there they were. Bills, two gross, finest American paper, fine as rashers of wind, in Canon bold proclaiming:


Adelaide General Stores

Quality Goods At Honest Prices

Mr. A. Mack, Esqr.

Will Be Pleased To Assist In All Your Requirements

An Appeal To You!

One Shilling Per Guinea Spent Here

Will Comfort Our Troops In France!


Page was a touch cramped at the base so that the end line, "Proprietress: Sawney Burke," had to be got in small print. Still, it was the motto that mattered, and that was a topper. Will comfort our troops in France. Appeal to the honor of the house.

Mustache. Touch it. Spot of something in the hairs. Egg, is it? Stuck.

Was I right all the same to leave it to honor only? Nothing about the pocket. How's about this for the hookum?


Pounds, Shillings and Pence!

Why Not Buy Local And Save On Leather?


Appeal to the pocket of the house. Might better have had two orders made up. One for the swells, other for the smells.

Never mind the smells, the Macks is on the up.

Jim. What time is it? Home for his dinner at five after one. Gone twelve now. He could maybe deliver the startings in his dinner-hour, the leavings before his tea.

Have I missed the Angelus so? How's this I missed the Angelus?

Clink. That's the door. Customer? No, exeunt two biddies. She'll be in now, tidy away. Aunt Sawney, I've had these advertising-bills made up...? No, wait till they're delivered first. Fate accomplished. Where's that apron? Better see to the range. "Aunt Sawney, there you are. Must be puffed out after that stint. I'll do shop now. You read the paper in your chair. We'll soon have a feel of heat."

"Stay away from that kitchener," she said.

"The range?" said Mr. Mack.

"That kitchener wants blacking."

"The range?"

She was already on her knees. She had a new tin of Zebra black-lead with her. "Ye'll have me hands in blisters. I left it go out since yesternight."

Surely a touch uncivil to name a kitchen range after the hero who avenged Khartoum. "Did we finish that other tin of Zebra already? Right so, I'll mark that down in the book. It's best to keep tabs."

"'Tis cold plate for dinner. And cold plate for tea."

"Whatever you think is best, Aunt Sawney. But you're not after forgetting it's his birthday today?"

"I'm not after forgetting this kitchener wants blacking." She damped a cloth in the black-lead tin, letting out a creak of coughing as she did so.

The door clinked. Customer. "I'll be with you directly," he called. Then, thoughtfully: "Not to trouble yourself, Aunt Sawney. I have a cake above out of Findlater's. Sure what more could his boyship want? But no mention of birthdays till after his tea. We'll have nothing brought off all day else."

"I suppose and you got him them bills for his treat."

Well, I'll be sugared. How would she know about the bills? He watched her at her labor for a moment. Wiry woman with hair the color of ash. The back tresses she wore in a small black cap which hung from her crown like an extra, maidenly, head of hair. Even kneeling she had a bend on her, what's this they used call it, the Grecian bends. If you straightened her now, you'd be feared of her snapping. Cheeks like loose gullets, wag when vexed. When the teeth go, you see, the pouches collapse. Nose beaked, with dewdrop suspending. Not kin, thanks be to God, not I, save through the altar. Gordie and Jim are blood.

She coughed again, sending reverberations down her frame. Brown titus she calls it. Useless to correct her at her age. "I'll leave the inside door pulled to in case you'd feel a chill from beyond. You're only over the bronchitis."

"Mrs. Tansy says the font wants filling."

Gently Mr. Mack reminded her, "Mrs. Tansy is a ranting Methody."

"She still has eyes to see."

Why would anyone look into a font? he wondered as he poured the holy water. Suppose when you are that way, dig with the other foot that is, these things take on an interest, a mystery even, which all too often for ourselves, digging as it were with the right foot, which is to say the proper one, have lost -- lost where I was heading for there.

Cheeses, would you look at that motor the way it's pitching up Glasthule. Tearaways they have at the wheel. Take your life in your hands every turn you take. Hold on now, I believe I recognize that motor-car. He blew on his mustache, considering. There's a pucker idea: fonts for trams. Should send that in the paper. Never seen a font in a moving object. Would a bishop have one in his brougham for instance? Or is there maybe an injunction against fonts in anything not stationary? Should check the facts before committing to paper. There's fellows ready to pounce, the least miscalculation.

Nothing much in the street. Far away beyond the fields and the new red-bricked terraces rose the Dublin Mountains. Green grew to grey. Oats by reason the wet climatics. Clever the way the fields know to stop just where the hills begin. Turf then. They were down the other week trying to hock it on account the price of coal. Is there a season for turf, though? Make a donkey of yourself buying the wrong time of year.

Curls of smoke from the cottages nearby. Keeping the home fires burning. Back inside the shop. Clink, it's only me. Font again, no wonder it dries up so. Trade a little slack. Always the same this time of day. Might give that counter a wipe-down. Bits of snuff and goodness knows. Time to finish a stocking before dinner? Wouldn't it be grand now if Gordie would be wearing one of my stockings.

Where's there a place to fix a new shelf? Need a display for maybe a quality range of teas. High-grown, tippy Darjeeling, cans of, please. That would fetch the carriage trade.

What's this that Nancy one was on about, all love does ever what? Damn silly child. Holy show she made of his parade. Marching with Gordie in the ranks to the troopship. Son of mine stepping out with a slavey. Where's the up in that?

Here a shelf, there a shelf? Can smell it now, the wafting scents. Would madam take a seat while I weigh her requirements? None of your one-and-fourpence populars, but Assam and pekoe and souchong, and customers to match, and souchong and oolong and Assam and --

Peeping up at him, her dabs just nipping the counter, a little female bedouin with dirty face and half an apron on.

"Well, little lady? Why aren't we at school today?"

"The ma sent me over for a saucer of jam."

Beside the door Mr. Mack had fixed a makeshift sign. "One Shilling per Guinea Spent Here is a CREDIT to You!" He might better have saved the paper. "Ha'penny," he said to the slum-rat.


The sleek green motor cleared the feeble rise, haughty jerk as it jumped the tramlines, swept through the gates, gravel flittering with road-dust in its wake. Past the lodge, empty these years, least so by day, under the fairy light of arching trees, to emerge at its stabling where it shuddered in quiet triumph before a gauntleted glove that had stroked its wheel reached down to cut the engine.

Silence then, a world at rest. Not the antithesis of dust, of speed, but its complement. The gloved hand ungloved its partner which in turn ungloved its mate. Fingers untied her chiffon and felt for hair under her hat. Strays tidied behind her ears. The chiffon became a scarf, her hands reawoke the wide sloping brim of her hat. Gradually the earth too rewoke. Hedges chirruped to life, a crow bickered above, the sea resumed its reverend tide. Her hat was hopelessly démodé but the fashion was too ridiculous: she refused to wear flower-pots, and would have nothing to do with feathery things she had not shot herself.

Eveline MacMurrough slid to the passenger side, shifted her skirt over the low door. One leg, two legs, she steadied on the running-board, then slipped to the ground. The hand that held her gloves patted the coachwork, patted the trim. My Prince Henry. And they had thought to requisition you for an ambulance at the Front. Les brutes anglaises.

There was no one to see to her entrance, only the skivvy from the kitchen whom she had scarcely begun to civilize. This skin of jitters received her gloves, her chiffon, hat; Eveline allowed the dustcoat to be eased from her shoulders. L'idiote. "Not through the hall, child," she said. "Outside and shake the dust."

In the stand glass she reviewed her visage. The wind-screen had not been a total success. Then again goggles did leave such hideous lines. Perhaps it must be the veil after all. Though she did so resent the implication of purdah. Toilet water, a good scrub, then hot damp towels.

"Is old Moore about?"

"Would he not be in the garden, mam?"

Peasant insistence on interrogative response. It rather appealed to Eveline. Yes, she rather believed she liked it. "When you find him, tell him the motor-car wants cleaning. Lamps too, I dare say. Cook?"

"Hasn't she taken the morning to visit her sister in St. Michael's that's poorly?"

Defensive really: none of my doing, as though to say. "Are we to starve so?"

"No, mam. She left a cold dinner prepared."

"Lunch," said Eveline.

"Lunch, mam."

There was a quick call through the staff roll. Bootman repairing a leak in the attic, meaning presumably he was high; parlor maids called back to the registry, replacements not turned up. Really she must see to appointing new people, a housekeeper at the very least. So trying with the war on. Rush to the altar to avail of the separation allowances. It was something her nephew might take in hand. "And my nephew?"

"I'm not sure, mam" -- flush in her cheeks -- "if he hasn't gone bathing."

Eveline had completed her inspection at the hall stand. The child waited by the pass door, hands by her sides like a board-school girl. Itching to be below stairs out of harm's way. Pauvre ingénue. Eveline smiled and ordered hot water and towels to her dressing-room. Even the imbécile might manage that.

While she sponged her cheeks with water of roses, she considered her interview with the new curate at St. Joseph's, Glasthule. Naturally, it was the canon she had called upon, some invitation to decline, but a young priest had received her, offering regrets at the canon's indisposition. The canon's health was neither here nor there to Eva, her confessor being of the Jesuits at Gardiner Street, but the young man made such parade of hospitality, she had quickly perceived her demurs would serve but to encourage his insistence.

She had accepted tea in best blue china. The curate gave his name -- unless she misheard, Father Amen O'Toiler, which sounded a sermon in itself. He fingered her card, then, still fidgeting, stood to make his say. "I cannot tell you, Madame MacMurrough, what pleasure it is to greet a scion of your famous name." Her famous name was given its due, which she heard as a type of Cook's tour of Irish history. Bridges taken, fords crossed, the sieges broken, battles lost, long valiant retreats -- and not a one but a MacMurrough had been to the fore.

It was a familiar account and she had waited politely, seated at the edge of an aged Biedermeier whose stuffing was gone. Absently she wondered which charity the curate had in mind and what donation might eventually suffice.

The priest had continued his progress round the sunless parlor, chilly yet fuming from an ill-ventilated fire. Every few paces he referred to her card, as though the heads of his argument had been pencilled thereon, as onwards he passed through the dark centuries, the long night of Ireland's woe. Yet night, he averred, not so dark as to blind, for in every generation a light had sparked, betimes no more than a flash on the hillside, moretimes a flame to set the age afire. And not once in all the years but the cry had gone out: MacMurrough! The name was imperishable, ineradicable, sempiternal, a lodestar in the Irish firmament that had blazed to its zenith, as many believed (and not least the curate himself, if he might make so bold), in the brilliant, some might say heliacal, career of Madame MacMurrough's late revered regretted father, Dermot James William MacMurrough, Queen's Counsellor, quondam Lord Mayor and Chief Magistrate of our great metropolis, freeman of the cities of Waterford, Cork, New York and Boston, Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, Member for the Borough of Ferns.

"And there at the moment of her direst need" -- the curate's voice had strained as he came to the crux of his tale -- "when sacred Ireland stood upon the edge, at the very brink of extinction, who stood forth to show the way? Who but your father saw through the genteel broadcloth, the polished suaviloquence, to the degenerate soul within? Who was it saved Ireland from the alien heretical beast?"

Yes, Eveline thought now, before her dressing-table glass, her father had been first to denounce Parnell. Though it had been a close race, so fierce the stampede.

Perfume bottles, phials of scent, Gallé and Lalique; a porcelain shepherdess proffered tiny sugared treats on a tray, offered them twice, for the toilet glass reviewed her, stretching through the bottles, a child sinking through colored viscous water. Eveline chose a bon-bon, sucked it thoughtfully.

There was more to this curate than at first she had suspected. More than once he had made allusion to the Fenians. His face had pecked in the intervals after, seeking collusion. She had nodded, blinked with charming detachment. Then taking her leave she had felt his high neck bend toward her. That odor of carbolic and abstinence so readily in the mind confused with mastery. The priest whispered in her ear: "The sword of light is shining still. England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity."

The formula was stale, let alone the notion, but it had sounded singular on the lips of a priest. If this now was the teaching of the seminaries, change most certainly was in the air. Poor old Parnell -- the Chosen Man, the Chief, the Uncrowned King of Ireland, adulterer, fornicator, the Lost Leader -- it would be the supreme irony: to have terrified the Church into Irish Ireland.

She rose now from her dressing-table and approached the garden window. She turned the hasp and the casement opened. She inhaled the breath from the sea. Casement, how very beautiful was the word. She spoke it softly. A decidedly beautiful name, Casement. "He is far from the land," she softly hummed.

A trundle on the stairs and the child came in with towels and steaming water. At the washstand she ventured to say, "There was a delivery while you was out, mam."

Eveline nodded.

"Only stockings, mam. Was I right to leave them in the library like you said?"

Stockings, yes. She must see to them directly her toilet was done.

One more bon-bon from the porcelain shepherdess. It was evident the maids -- the few were left her -- had been at her supply. "When you have finished whatever you are doing below, go down to Glasthule. The confectioner's will know my order."

As she came down to the library she saw through the open door the gardener and the gardener's boy and the gardener's boy's boy all greedily washing her Prince Henry. It was the one chore she might charge them to perform. Her mind drifted to a time late last summer when she had motored over the hills to the old demesne near Ferns. With her had traveled two gentlemen of the press and a representative of the Irish Automobile Club. Her intention had been to astonish the world by ascending and descending Mount Leinster, whose track, winding to the summit, had in parts a gradient steeper than one in three. This feat would prove not only the motor's magnificent pedigree but her own accomplishment, representative of all Irish womanhood's, in handling it.

And indeed she had carried the day. The motor performed superbly, the IAC man figured and stamped in his book, the newspapermen assured her of a prominent notice. She had expected at the least a Johnsonian quip -- the wonder being not in her exploit, but in a lady's wish to stage such performance. But the next day's newspapers gave no mention of her. The August bank holiday had passed and while she had been conquering Mount Leinster Great Britain had declared war on Germany.

At her library desk, begloved once more, this time in creamy four-button mochas, she opened the brown-papered parcel of stockings. Plain-knit, rough-textured stuff. Queer specimen down Glasthule had suggested the arrangement. She might not approve of enlistment in the tyrant's yeomanry, but she did not see why Irish soldiers should suffer cold feet. Besides, the soul had grown soft since Parnell, with the English and their ploys, killing home rule with kindness. A reacquaintance with arms might prove useful, indeed requisite, in the coming times.

For she too felt the change in the air. Last August, while she motored home alone through the acetylene-lit gloom, the twilight had forced itself upon her. But this was not the evening twilight of the foolish poets. It was the half-light before dawn, the morning of a new Ireland. For indeed it was true: England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity. And she, a MacMurrough born to lead, knew well where lay her duty.

Inside the foot of each stocking she inserted a slip of paper. Green paper whose script proclaimed: "Remember Ireland!"

Copyright © 2001 by Jamie O'Neill

Read More Show Less

Introduction

A SCRIBNER READING GROUP GUIDE
At Swim, Two Boys

DISCUSSION POINTS

1. The Irish have long been a storytelling people, and Jamie O'Neill is certainly no exception. He brings to life the Irish struggle for independence with an intensity and an honesty that is staggering. In what ways do you find O'Neill's writing to be reminiscent of that of other great Irish authors, both contemporary and classic? What techniques may O'Neill have borrowed from authors such as James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Oscar Wilde, and even Frank McCourt?

2. Language, both in the narrative and, especially, in the dialogue between characters, makes this a rich and sometimes challenging read, but it also pulls us into the world of Ireland in a way that nothing else could. Why is language so significant in this novel? Discuss the ways that O'Neill wields words to shed light on individual characters and to illuminate the underlying forces that shape the tumultuous Ireland of the early 1900s.

3. Focusing on Aunt Eva, Aunt Sawney, Nancy, and even MacMurrough's Nanny Tremble, look at the different things women stand for in this novel. In what ways do their representational roles -- as church, as Ireland, as universal mother -- clash? Do they ever exist outside of these compartmentalized spheres? Also, does the novel suggest that women are above the weakness of the flesh, or that they are saintly beings? Is the author toying with the ideal of the Christian woman (holy and untawdried)?

4. Passion, lust, and love manifest themselves in very interesting ways in this story. While Jim and Doyler share a free and beautiful passion for one another, Brother Polycarp and MacMurrough are at times likesexual predators; one could almost say that they fall perfectly into the stereotypical homosexual deviant role that society perpetuates. To what extent do you think MacMurrough's predatorial behavior is a fulfillment of the expectations that society has for him as a gay man? Discuss the ways in which his love and desire for other men become subverted into lust and carnal desire though the lens of society's eye.

5. MacMurrough compartmentalizes his desires, his intellect, and his feelings of sympathy, empathy, and love in the voices of Dick, Scrotes, and Nanny, respectively. Are we to believe that he is literally schizophrenic? Or do these voices (and the way that they seem to meld into one voice by the end) point to larger themes?

6. Similarly, what instigates the transformation that MacMurrough undergoes throughout the course of the novel? Why does he seem, at least by the end, somehow freed from his self-hatred and ready to experience love again in the most selfless form? How much of this change can be attributed to Jim, who has a great capacity for love?

7. Symbols play a role of great importance in this story, and whether it is a flag, a stripe, a medal, or a religious emblem, the sacredness of these objects divides and unites the characters time and time again. What is it about the nature of symbols that makes them so powerful to these people -- and to all people, for that matter? Why, for instance, does Doyler's red badge mean so much to him? Do you think symbol worship in this novel verges on idolatry? Is it dangerous?

8. By the end of the novel, Jim seems set on more fighting. How do you feel about his choice to continue the fight? Are you left with a feeling of disillusionment? Do you think the author is making an overarching statement about war?

9. This novel, like some other covertly or overtly gay novels written in the twentieth century (The Well of Loneliness, Maurice, Giovanni's Room), ends in tragedy. Is this simply the plight of the gay character in modern literature? Is the reunion between Jim and Doyler in the last pages of the novel enough of a happy ending to make At Swim, Two Boys a novel of triumph rather than tragedy?

10. We watch as the characters in this novel struggle with their feelings of desire in a society that will not even recognize it. (Think back to the scene in which Jim tries to confess to the priest.) Discuss the ways in which Jim, Doyler, and MacMurrough try to rediscover a hidden history through the stories they tell one another about the Spartans. Why is having this history so significant to them? How does the notion of queer sexuality recycle, revise, and challenge traditional perceptions of gender in this novel?

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
The Irish guerrilla leader Michael Collins once wrote that the Ireland he fought for was the Ireland he had missed as an emigrant.

When I started At Swim, Two Boys I too was an emigrant, living in London. I was cut off from the living stream of Dublin life, its people and pubs, and on visits home it was the history, that which changes only slowly, that drew me -- most particularly the Easter Rising of 1916. You can trace the progress of that escapade -- short doomed affair that it was -- through the thoroughfares of Dublin, in bullet holes in the public statues and buildings. On Easter Monday, 1916, the poet Patrick Pearse led his few volunteers against the might of the British Empire. His followers assumed it was Irish guns that would free their country. But Pearse in his heart knew all along that only British arms, fired at his execution, would shame the Irish to waking. Nineteen sixteen is the birth and soul of modern Ireland, a soul breathed, in so Irish a way, from the triumph of failure.

One evening I stood under the walls of Arbour Hill, where Pearse was executed, and I wondered, Was the love of Ireland, for which Pearse gave his life, so very different from loving an Irishman.

In London, when asked was I Irish, I would often reply, "No, I'm gay." For the two identities seemed incompatible, if not downright contradictory. In At Swim, Two Boys I wanted to ask that same question and answer, most affirmatively, "Yes." Two Dublin boys would fall in love, and in their friendship discover their country, a country whose freedom was worthy of their fight.

That was 1990. I took a job in a London psychiatric hospital, working nights as a porter. In the quiet of the 12-hour shifts I worked on my novel. Like a good lover, that novel provoked me, angered me, left me despairing at times -- but it never bored me, the writing of it. Many times I abandoned it, always to return. It became a passion, a ten-year affair of love. Nobody ever read any of it. I had no notion was it good or bad. All I wanted was for it to be right. I grew up around Sandycove and the Forty Foot (that same gentlemen's bathing place where Ulysses opens and Buck Mulligan takes his dip in the "snotgreen" sea). That's where Jim and Doyler, the two boys of my novel's title, meet. I think in their wanderings of that rich shore I sought an understanding of my own boyhood: in the character of MacMurrough, an older gentleman, an acceptance of the man I had become. In Mr. Mack too and his relationship with his son, Jim, I sought an inkling of the workings of my own father.

I wanted to tell a story of courage and pride, of the search in young hearts for nobility and love. I sought the soul of my country and to breathe there the warmth of friendship. You don't do that in 18 months, nor in 80,000 words. At least I don't.

Ten years on, and At Swim, Two Boys at last is finished. Its publication has allowed me to return to Ireland. But the day I finished that novel was perhaps the saddest of my life. These people, whose lives I had shared so long and so intimately, were leaving home. I've been a touch lonely ever since. (Jamie O'Neill)
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

A SCRIBNER

READING GROUP GUIDE

At Swim, Two Boys

DISCUSSION POINTS

1. The Irish have long been a storytelling people, and Jamie O'Neill is certainly no exception. He brings to life the Irish struggle for independence with an intensity and an honesty that is staggering. In what ways do you find O'Neill's writing to be reminiscent of that of other great Irish authors, both contemporary and classic? What techniques may O'Neill have borrowed from authors such as James Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Oscar Wilde, and even Frank McCourt?

2. Language, both in the narrative and, especially, in the dialogue between characters, makes this a rich and sometimes challenging read, but it also pulls us into the world of Ireland in a way that nothing else could. Why is language so significant in this novel? Discuss the ways that O'Neill wields words to shed light on individual characters and to illuminate the underlying forces that shape the tumultuous Ireland of the early 1900s.

3. Focusing on Aunt Eva, Aunt Sawney, Nancy, and even MacMurrough's Nanny Tremble, look at the different things women stand for in this novel. In what ways do their representational roles — as church, as Ireland, as universal mother — clash? Do they ever exist outside of these compartmentalized spheres? Also, does the novel suggest that women are above the weakness of the flesh, or that they are saintly beings? Is the author toying with the ideal of the Christian woman (holy and untawdried)?

4. Passion, lust, and love manifest themselves in very interesting ways in this story. While Jim and Doyler share a free and beautiful passion for one another, Brother Polycarp and MacMurrough are at times like sexual predators; one could almost say that they fall perfectly into the stereotypical homosexual deviant role that society perpetuates. To what extent do you think MacMurrough's predatorial behavior is a fulfillment of the expectations that society has for him as a gay man? Discuss the ways in which his love and desire for other men become subverted into lust and carnal desire though the lens of society's eye.

5. MacMurrough compartmentalizes his desires, his intellect, and his feelings of sympathy, empathy, and love in the voices of Dick, Scrotes, and Nanny, respectively. Are we to believe that he is literally schizophrenic? Or do these voices (and the way that they seem to meld into one voice by the end) point to larger themes?

6. Similarly, what instigates the transformation that MacMurrough undergoes throughout the course of the novel? Why does he seem, at least by the end, somehow freed from his self-hatred and ready to experience love again in the most selfless form? How much of this change can be attributed to Jim, who has a great capacity for love?

7. Symbols play a role of great importance in this story, and whether it is a flag, a stripe, a medal, or a religious emblem, the sacredness of these objects divides and unites the characters time and time again. What is it about the nature of symbols that makes them so powerful to these people — and to all people, for that matter? Why, for instance, does Doyler's red badge mean so much to him? Do you think symbol worship in this novel verges on idolatry? Is it dangerous?

8. By the end of the novel, Jim seems set on more fighting. How do you feel about his choice to continue the fight? Are you left with a feeling of disillusionment? Do you think the author is making an overarching statement about war?

9. This novel, like some other covertly or overtly gay novels written in the twentieth century (The Well of Loneliness, Maurice, Giovanni's Room), ends in tragedy. Is this simply the plight of the gay character in modern literature? Is the reunion between Jim and Doyler in the last pages of the novel enough of a happy ending to make At Swim, Two Boys a novel of triumph rather than tragedy?

10. We watch as the characters in this novel struggle with their feelings of desire in a society that will not even recognize it. (Think back to the scene in which Jim tries to confess to the priest.) Discuss the ways in which Jim, Doyler, and MacMurrough try to rediscover a hidden history through the stories they tell one another about the Spartans. Why is having this history so significant to them? How does the notion of queer sexuality recycle, revise, and challenge traditional perceptions of gender in this novel?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 48 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(31)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(5)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 48 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2003

    Truth and Beauty

    In a genre mired by middle-aged men vainly trying to pass off their fantasies of an idealized adolescance as 'literature,' it is indeed astounding to discover a work of true art. Though not perfect and at times difficult, O'Neill's novel surpasses all expectations and delivers a heartbreaking story of love, war, political and personal identity, tragedy and redemption. The last chapter-- and indeeed the last two pages-- are without a doubt one of the best finales in literature and well worth the effort of reaching. Heads above any of its contemporaries, the novel ranks among the finest works of Modernism (and yes, I am refering to 'Ulysses' as well as Woolf's 'The Waves' or Elliot's 'The Waste Land'). It does, at times, suffer from the stereotypical hyper-masculinity that is prevalent in gay fiction (witness Doyler's near rape of the shop boy which is instigated by Doyler's rage towards the boy for being 'soft')as well as the questionable view of women in the novel; but these concerns pale in the sheer scope of the work and its gorgeous sea of language. Bravo, Mr. O'Neill! You have done your country (both Ireland and the gay community) proud! You have given us a true work of art bearing both truth and beauty.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2004

    Don't Waste Your Time!

    This book has to be by far, one of the worst books I have ever read in my life. The author believes that a lot of petty detail goes a long way. On the contrary, it confuses the reader! I love books with a lot of detail and imagination, but the author of this book needs to learn that a little goes a long way. Lastly, unless you are able to read Irish Slang, don't waste your time. You are better off reading a classic.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2003

    -

    One of the most brilliant books I've ever read. As mentioned below, it's the kind of book that changes your life and dominates your thoughts for ages after you've finished. The homosexual relationship between Jim and Doyler is frank and realistic, without any glossing over, and yet still one of the most beautiful I have ever encountered.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2002

    two boys , too awful

    this book is absolutely awful,it's like reading an Irish dictionary, covered with over describing of every thought this author has had in the last ten years. Try writing a story next time thats readable. I liked the premise of the story, but my gosh, the rambling in this book is totally beyond description. I would not recommend this book AT ALL.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2002

    All Love Does Ever Rightly Show Humanity Our Tenderness

    I had to chip away at this book, it took 3 tries-the language in my mouth is chunk...chunk... chunk and in my head clink..clunk...clunk. 1st try,2nd try- o bother, so I put it down. To say nothing of the size! 3rd try I'm going to do this dammit! and something happened...Jim meets Doyler and it just tears off with you in tow ready for a swim floundering alittle leading you by your hand to the 'beckoning sparkling reckless' sea. You'll stay up all hours,get mad ,laugh, cry (I did and I'm really macho) and mostly you'll get attached and not want any of it to end.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2013

    You guys really shouldn't buy books about gays if you cannot handle it.

    Seriously why? Gay people are awesome. Gay books are writen for a reason.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2013

    Trash

    Go to hell fags

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2013

    Minus stars

    Disgusting filth. Trash. Nasty. Offensive

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 5, 2013

    I am going to finish the book because I started it, a personal r

    I am going to finish the book because I started it, a personal resolution. The story is beautiful, the writing is beyond me. I love the Irish angle, but the slang is beyond my American English, and the Irish references unknown to me. I think that this book could have been so much better had it been written to tell a story instead of describing a story. Let the story be humorous on its own, not with quips. Let the story be sad on its own, not with unknown comparison.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    Pal o' me heart

    Beautifully written. It left me heartbroken and hopeful all at the same time. As for the complaints about the dialect, I had no prior knowledge of the Irish dialect used, and I had no trouble at all reading this. This book starts off a bit slow, but you'll be rewarded for your troubles; this was an emotional, heart-wrenching tale.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2008

    Invigorating and stimulating, while also very sobering.

    Jamie O'Neill has written a beautiful story, full of memorable characters and encompassing emotions. This novel is not for the faint of heart and one should be well prepared to challenge themselves to complete this novel. It is a brilliant dance between history and fiction, leaving the reader both exhausted and exhilarated.<BR/> <BR/>You're sure to laugh aloud, blush, get angry and cry during the length of the book; it is just that good! Brilliant, and there is very little else to say. <BR/><BR/>Just as an aside: This story brought to life my favorite fictional character that I've read. MacEmm is the most interesting and somehow loveable person brought to life by Jamie O'Neill. Much praise from across the Pond, Mr. O'Neill.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2005

    Difficult, Though Thoroughly Rewarding

    A magnificent and magnificently crafted novel. In response to the few negative reviews here: yes, it is a difficult novel to read; neither is the language our standard contemporary American nor is the style your average beach-read. But, to be fair, would the works of Joyce (would we call 'Ulysses' much less 'Finnegan's Wake' 'readable' today?), Proust, Pynchon (excepting the language, for the most part), and on into the ranks of those considered to be the masters of the form of the novel fare any better under those strictures? It is a difficult work; however, if you really open yourself to it, you will find it rewards tenfold any efforts you make. The language, once you yield to it, is a gorgeous sea that takes you in and carries you away and does not give you up easily. The stream-of-consciousness style he employs (another homage to Joyce) renders up the beauty not only in the extraordinary but also in the ordinary and the ugliness in both the spectacular and the mundane. The characters are wonderfully written and engage your attentions and emotions as fully as your friends; they will make you laugh and cry as you celebrate and suffer with them, and you will be alternately amazed at and frustrated by their wisdom and their lack of sense. The plot draws you in until it seems more real than your own life and far more important than the trivial concerns of work, rest and nutrition. In short, this is a remarkable book. To pass it off as difficult and cumbersome or to compare it to its contemporaries with which it shares shelf space is to do both it and yourself an injustice. One can no more control the sea than one can approach the greatest works of literature with inflexible ideas of what a novel should and should not be. Art should constantly challenge our views, expand our horizons and test its own definition. If you let it be what it is and allow yourself to slip into its waters, you will discover a breathtaking work of indescribable beauty that will yield up to you pearls and gems beyond measure to which you can return again and again.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2004

    Unused Potential

    At Swim, Two Boys had potential to be a great story about two boys who break out of traditional 1900 Irish society to bring about a revolution. Instead, I found it to be a long-winded story about a group of people in a small Irish town in the early 1900s. The characters were either shallow or undeveloped; it was hard to create a feeling of like or dislike toward any character within the novel. While the book contains a lot of historical context in addition to an authentic Irish dialogue, the story line often became cloudy and confusing due to extensive description.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2003

    An Astonishing, Towering Achievement

    Like a life-lived, this book defies description -- except that reading it is like a life lived, several lives, full of wicked tragedy, unfairness, startling beauty, passion, and love. After diving first into the deep and beautiful prose of the book, I was swept along, and greedily read, page after page. But then as the story built, I found myself slowing down, dreading the next turn, craving the next development. I started doling the pages out to myself, 10 or 20 at a time, skipping back a lot to reread favorite passages, reading out loud more and more. Two of the 3 main characters, Doyler and James, they became my close friends. When not reading the book, it was like they were my children out of view. I wondered and worried over them. I knew nothing about the Easter Rising before reading this book. Now I feel like I know too much about it. If this book does not make you cringe and cry and laugh and shudder, I'd have to say (with all due apologies) that you must have less of a whole heart. There are images in this book that will never leave me, and always haunt me. Phrases that will resound in my mind forever I know how Doyler feels when he says 'He was pal o¿ me heart, so he was. I try not to think of him, only I can¿t get him off my mind. He¿s with me always day and night. I do see him places he¿s never been, in the middle of a crowd I see him. His face looks out from the top of a tram, a schoolboy wouldn¿t pass but I¿m thinking it¿s him. I try to make him go away, for I¿m a soldier now and I¿m under orders. But he¿s always there and I¿m desperate to hold him. I doubt I¿m a man except he¿s by me.' These characters will always be with me, always, always, always. And so I feel like, in a way, anyone who reads and loves this book, will have forever something in commmon with me. Comrades we'll be.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2002

    Pal o' my heart

    Wonderful novel. Don't be put off by trying to get the characters straight in the beginning and submerging yourself in the Irish dialect...it is worth the effort. Wonderful emotional payoff.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2013

    forget it!!!

    This is a tough read. I gave up after 200 pages. Really should had given up after the first chapter. It doesn't get easier. Probably a good story, but getting to pass the indulgent writing style takes more than it is worth.

    ps

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2013

    Listen

    When I was a little girl, I used to be bisexual; I would make out with guys, and I would hide out with some girls and we would also make out. God helpef me realize how wrong that is and I am returning the favor by telling you guys that homosexuality is a sin and you need to repent and come to God.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Moved to tears...

    Like many other reviewers have said, the book is hard to get into at first. The language barrier is great, unless, I suspect, you have spent a great deal of time in Ireland. But once you get past this, this is a moving and touching novel. Characters that seem unimportant and uninteresting develope into moving story lines. A beautiful and tragic love story. Well worth the time. I look forward to reading it again from a Romeo and Juliet perspective, knowing in the beginning what will ultimately happen. I would recommend it to anyone.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2002

    A Compelling and Difficult Book

    This a wonderful story-which incidentally brings to the fore a loving relationship between two young Irish men in the early twentieth century in Ireland. I would not call this a "gay novel" per se because that would necessarily pigeonhole it and perhaps dissuade some readers from enjoying its many pleasures. However, the relationship that develops beteen Doyle and Jim is told in a a very straight forward and realistic manner. It keeps to the spirit of the era where there would have been no such thing then as beling labeled "gay". Nonetheless, this book will be especially rewarding for comtemporary gay readers because it places the same-sex relationship in the natural flow of historical events,i.e. the struggle for Irish independence. This is not to say that the book is not always easy to read. There are peculiarities of the Irish-English dialect (in words and word order) that will take some getting used to as are the occasional gaelic turns of phrase. The story moves on and it's pretty compelling all the way. I haven't enjoyed a good novel like this in some time. Kudos to Jamie O'Neill for bringing this touching and powerful story to light!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2002

    Profound, for me, and life changing. I know Jim and Doyler.

    I read this book at my cottage in Connemara, on holiday from the US. I dipped into the book, having found a paperback copy at a Galway bookshop, just to see where it belonged on my to-read pile. I read two pages and then went unfed and unwashed for days. This is a totally compelling story. My copy is underlined, starred, highlit, and dog-earred, and when I reached the end and read that Jamie O'Neill lives in Galway, I very nearly got in my car and drove the 45 minutes there, planning to get out and shout, Where are you? so that I could do salaams to his front door. Something interesting came out of this book for me. Aside from being a literary tour de force, which it is, undeniably, At Swim is an introduction to the deeper levels of a lifestyle-alternative that I, in my own life, have only touched upon in the most superficial ways. I found today, after reading the last page, that I have been changed profoundly by this book. I will never again look at men's love for other men in the same way. The word play in this book is a delight. The foreshadowing, the language games, the arcane references, are a chuckle-and-read-again pleasure. This is James Joyce without the agony. O'Neill is careful to clue you in to unusual words, so that your reading is not interrupted by puzzlement. He adds 'coward' to the imprecation 'quakebuttocks,' so that you do not skip a beat. This is kindly, and I don't mind his paternalism. The historical background was of great interest to me. I had finished, just before reading this book, Roddy Doyle's A Star Called Henry, which dealt also with the Easter Rising. This is a time in Irish history that has been writ over and over, and still commands fascination. If I must wait ten years for Jamie O'Neill's next book, so be it.

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