It’s Irish Short Story Week at The Reading Life and I’m excited to be joining in. Last year, during this event, I read a lot of amazing reviews and Irish short stories. Many of them were real eye-openers for me. Ireland has a very rich tradition of folklore and fairy stories but its literature is by no means limited to this. I’ve read the works of some of Ireland’s most widely known authors like Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. However, during the next week I hope to read more new-to-me Irish authors. So far I’ve read four short stories by four different authors.
Janey Mary by James Plunkett
Remember Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Little Match Girl? Janey Mary reminds me of that a little. It’s the story of a poor, fatherless girl called Janey Mary who has been sent out into the cold by her mother, with strict instructions to not return without bread. But bread is nowhere to be had and the world outside is frosty and harsh, in more ways than one.
It’s a poignant story but it wasn’t my favourite of the lot. It felt just a little sappy in places and the characters were clichéd. It was not the best start to my read-a-thon but happily, it got much better from here on.
The Confirmation Suit by Brendan Behan
The narrator, a 12 year old boy, is readying for his Communion. Unfortunately, his special suit for the day, stitched by his beloved Miss McCann, is embarrassing. It has too-large buttons and too-tiny lapels. There is no way out of it, especially since he wouldn’t dream of hurting Miss McCann. So he resorts to a little subterfuge.
This is a lovely story. Not just the main story itself but also the little anecdotes and memories that the boy narrates. Like the time he and his grandmother were forced to cook a sheep’s head. There are so many little snippets that will make you smile. There’s a lot packed in here although the story is no more than a few pages long. This was a definite hit.
The First Confession by Frank O’Connor
Jackie is about to go for his first ever confession but he is terrified that his sins may be too horrifying for redemption. His sins include wanting to kill his coarse grandmother and trying to stick a bread-knife into his irritating sister.
This is an amusing and entertaining story. It has such well done characters and very witty writing. It treads the same territory as the earlier story but this one is funnier. If you read only one story from this list, make it this one.
The Reaping Race by Liam O’Flaherty
There’s a strange sort of race going on where 3 couples are competing to see who can reap a patch of a rye field first. The winner gets a princely sum of 5 pounds. From here on it goes into standard tortoise-and-the-hare territory. It is predictable and written to a template but the writer does manage to make the race exciting and engaging. This one is all about the narration rather than the story itself.
The first 3 stories have a lot in common. They all have a child at the centre of the action, the Church plays a very prominent part in each story and there is an underlying theme of innocence and the fear that comes from being a child in a grown-up world. Yet, these stories play out very differently and are obviously written by very different kind of writers. You can read all four stories here.
I've had fun exploring these stories and I hope to contribute to Irish Short Story week again before the 22nd of March (which is the end date). Join in if you can. The more the merrier I’m sure. If you want to play along, but like me, don’t know much about Irish Literature, then head over to The Reading Life and read Mel U’s excellent posts on the subject. He also has recommendations and resources to help you along. If you can’t join in, just lurk and check out what all the participants are reading. Fun either way.
I know this is Irish Short Story week but I couldn’t do an Irish anything without featuring my favourite Irishman, W. B. Yeats. Here’s a snippet from one of his poems about Ireland. It’s called To Ireland in the Coming Times.
KNOW, that I would accounted be
True brother of a company
That sang, to sweeten Ireland's wrong,
Ballad and story, rann and song;
Nor be I any less of them,
Because the red-rose-bordered hem
Of her, whose history began
Before God made the angelic clan,
Trails all about the written page.
When Time began to rant and rage
The measure of her flying feet
Made Ireland's heart begin to beat;
And Time bade all his candles flare
To light a measure here and there;
And may the thoughts of Ireland brood
Upon a measured quietude.