A singular country, p.7
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       A Singular Country, p.7

           J. P. Donleavy
 
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  Ah but don’t give up on your Irishman yet. And don’t worry about the countryside. There are still to be found in enough plenitude those stalwarts who do not cower, who do not wince, who do not hold their hands shielding their goolies. And who as men still stand upright and resolute at the bar over which their time honoured pint or ball of malt is pushed under their chins while talking the evening away without so much a backward thought given to the Man Fighter Mark I or your bloody well more difficult Mark II variety, or what either of these categories have wrought. And let me tell you there’s no whining or whinging about washing an anciently dirty pair of socks or the underpants with the slight green mould alive on them. Or not having your bowl of steaming spuds on the table with buckets of butter and pucks of cabbage when it’s time to eat. But of course she might, while you are up on top of her doing what comes naturally, be reading over your shoulder the in memoriams in the evening newspaper. But even in the face of such indifference there are still left plenty of your Irishmen who carry on doing what the bull does to the cows and even if the latter is not reading a newspaper sure she’s often busying herself eating grass.

  And in Ireland

  Nourishment and concupiscence

  Often

  Go together

  And more praise be

  To the Small farm

  Where

  It happens

  THERE IS IN IRELAND NO GREATER POWER THAN THE POWER OF THE WOMAN, WHO FROM THE LONG YEARS SHE RESOLUTELY ANCHORS HERSELF IN HER HOME, IS ALWAYS READY WITH THE CUPS OF TEA AND A HOSPITALITY THAT ENCOURAGES LIFE.

  VI

  Ah but let us for the delayed moment not yet allude to leaping leprechauns wearing their golden little boots and emerald jackets and tall orange hats and dancing their little dances on grassy mounds in the moonlight but instead focus on the saints. Now there is nowhere on earth where more praying goes on for favours to be granted from the above than on the isle of the shamrock. And using the intercession of these sainted holy folk, there’d be your long columns in the papers of Deo Gratias, and thanks be to Sancta Trinitas, St. Jude, St. Anthony, St. Christopher and a list of the hallowed consecrated persons as long as your arm. And according to the publication promised, doing your miracles left right and centre. Now I know among you you’d have your sceptics. But by god there’s one saint I’m telling you who for a fact didn’t leave someone’s prayer and fervent request unanswered. And it’s astonishing that hardly do you ever see her name mentioned in the columns of thanksgiving. And I’m not talking about St. Clare of St. Martha but St. Bridget herself. Who long before she ever had anything to do with your sanctification and the Catholic religion, was more than rumoured to be the ancient pagan goddess of fertility.

  Now you would, if not of the Roman Catholic persuasion, be forgiven if you were a might bit sceptical about the powers of these saints whose names are invoked up and down long lists in the newspapers. But let me tell you, you are making one hell of a big mistake. And plenty of the disasters and yearning in your life could be put right. For when he was still Blessed Oliver Plunkett, and not yet canonized as a saint, there was no end of requests this eminently Blessed man was getting from all sides and for which he interceded. And weren’t acknowledgements of thanks to him published one following the other in the columns of the better Irish papers, for an avalanche of favours received. And this Blessed man whose preserved head in a tabernacle I visited in Drogheda, did much in saving the idolatrous bacon of yours truly with miracles of a nature I won’t go into now. And didn’t the same Blessed Oliver, as he was then, do the same for all those to whom I recommended him. And in due course, following successful deliverance from ruinous misfortune, didn’t he later become the patron saint of Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield, the notorious Ginger Man himself.

  Now then. You Protestants, you Buddhists, you Jews, you Muslims, you Hindus, you Shakers, get ready. Here’s a true story referring to an absolute miracle. The like of which and considering the circumstances, is not often described in Ireland due to the religious devoutness of the people and due to the many celibate spiritual exercises in which the populace more normally indulges. And although this little tale might be considered by some to be somewhat bizarrely pagan in nature, if not a wee bit satanic or heretic, it is nevertheless religious enough in its sincerity. Nor is there the merest bit of exaggeration here about what happened and it is recounted just to show the power of the Saints, and especially your St. Bridget who comes out with flying colours.

  Now there was this old, not to say ancient friend who some would, and many did, refer to as Mr Ireland himself. A well built man of charm and intelligence from a prominent professional and farming family well reputed in their rural parish. And whom I had not met for this many a long year gone past. But whom I had remembered was reputed all over Dublin city as one of the great swordsmen of his time. And it was no surprise to anybody that with his ready smile and generally jovial nature, he was a great excitement for the women and they especially for him. And it would be no exaggeration to say that your Mark I, and II, women, were they around at the time would have beat a path to his door ready to wait on him hand and foot, washing, drying and mending his socks be they got as green from wearing as a shamrock. And wasn’t it equally a fact that your man throughout his vigorous youth was obsessed ecstatic by any likely looking lass. Not unnatural enough you might say. Well now much of your grunting and groaning of ecstasy has with the years gone past floated away like music out on the ether. And your man Mister Ireland himself was left a father of more children than he cared to count, and they were fully grown up now, and members in good standing of the Irish nation. And he himself was getting on a bit. Just that little extra long in the tooth, slightly greyer in the head, stiffer in the limbs. But by god still stiff where he’d more than occasionally continued to want to be. And his lust for the women wasn’t fading in the least. Now when semi retirement time came from the stimulating occupation of breeding race horses, didn’t he with his huge nest egg buy himself a little cottage in the far west where contentedly betimes he would go and where betimes there’d be a hooley or two and your singing and dancing in the town’s local pubs. And were betimes too with Ireland’s growing world wide reputation for grand music there’d be coming along from foreign places a likely lass or two whom by a small kindness he might courteously inveigle to come back to the hospitality of his cottage to there be entertained in the cosy safe surroundings infused with your wellbeing and togetherness that comes from having a deep serious discussion about the Irish weather.

  Now then. Where’s the miracle in all that, you’re asking. But I’d ignore the question and detour here to have take note all men edged a little bit past their prime. For your grey headed Mister Ireland out in the pub most evenings would have to wait for the young lasses to choose their willing partners before they even deign give him a tumble. But such was your man’s charm together with his patient persistence with more of your courteous kindness and assistance, that enough of the young ladies sought his jovial accommodating company. And there soon were one or two of the young ladies who became firm platonic friends. A fat lot of good that did him, you’re saying. However, wasn’t there one particular young attractive Germanic lady who more than anything else wanted to get married and have children. And she said to your totally and absolutely atheistic Mister Ireland that someone had told her of a St. Bridget to whom such a request of a husband and family might be made and her recent year or two of anguish be ended. Now your Mister Ireland threw his head back with a burst of laughter, sure what Saint had he ever beseeched could even tell him the month it was in the year never mind finding a husband for her. Nevertheless as she was about to return to Germany, he’d be more than happy to escort her up over the hill beyond to where there was known to be a St. Bridget’s Well. And where, why not, you can write out your request on a scrap of paper and throw it into the waters and at least dream of your request being granted. And your man Mister Ireland a pagan disbeliever from the age of his
puberty thought what the hell, here is a Saint who was once a Celtic pagan goddess, while your young German girl was sending in her entreaty why not himself write out on a bit of paper his own petition and flick it into the water along with hers? At least to himself, and being that he was asking could he be delivered soon of a piece of arse, it would be a good old laugh and a miracle to boot.

  Now a month went by and then two and finally a stormy autumn afternoon a letter came from Frankfurt, Germany from your young lady which your Mister Ireland read with wide eyed amazement if not disbelief. Lo and behold didn’t your Fraulein get picked up hitch hiking the day after the visit to the well and three weeks later got married to a prosperous engineer and wasn’t she now sitting comfortable in a bijou residence in the best part of town and pregnant as she wrote. And didn’t she say further words full of appreciation for St. Bridget and that she sincerely hoped he had also got what he had requested in his petition that he had tossed into the well. And didn’t Mister Ireland sit reading with delight this letter in his cottage and as it was growing dark and the night brought with it greater gales lashing up against the coast and shaking the land, himself thought it the ideal time to sit down in front of the glowing turf fire and answer your German girl’s letter. Sure on this very day wasn’t it his birthday commemorating more years on this earth than he presently cared to count. In the cold wind and lashing rain he’d taken his usual six mile hike up over the nearby mountain and had a raging appetite. And being a great wine connoisseur wasn’t he cooking himself a bit of a gourmet dinner and he had cooling for himself outside on the doorstep a bottle of champagne to accompany the plate full of smoked salmon he had sliced and surrounded with choice bits of shelled lobster caught that day not more than two hundred yards away down in the depths off the coast. A great thick slab of your best sirloin steak also awaited to be grilled over the fire. To be washed down with a grand booming burgundy decanted on the sideboard. To his previous platonic German lady he had in brackets already appended to his letter:

  “Wish you were here to join me in my little lonely party. But meanwhile more power and praise be to St. Bridget, and it is well for you, and I still fervently hope the highly unlikely wish I want granted happens to me one of these days.”

  And for the sentiment that was in it, he had on his record player the great Irish tenor Frank Patterson singing ‘Abide With Me’ and ‘Ave Maria’. And he was really enjoying composing his communication in this musical atmosphere of piety. But let me tell you, before he fully answered and got to the last word of his letter expressing his delight with her developments and the bestowment upon her of the favour asked of St. Bridget, suddenly there was a ferocious thunderclap, the whole cottage shaking and the lights went out and Frank Patterson’s singing stopped and the sitting room was plunged into darkness, as were the few lights that were usually visible in the town two miles away. He lit several candles around the room and continued to write his letter on the board over his knee, describing the wax blob which had just fallen on the paper as being from an ecclesiastic candle he’d bought specially to burn during dinner if he ever had the good luck to find another girl as pleasant as she had often been to cook for and have dinner with. Then he was interrupted in his reminiscing by what he thought were gusts of wind shaking the door. But then as he continued to listen, he realized the thumping was a knock. And he got up from the fireside from where he was writing his letter and went over to the door to open it, thinking aloud that bejesus god almighty who’d be out on the highway and calling on me on a night the like of this.

  Now remember, in the West and during a storm, Ireland is one hell of a wild and lonely place, and you wouldn’t be outside having casual visitors on a night as the one raging outside where the salt from the sea spray breaking on the cliffs beyond was tasting on your lips. But forever generous and willing with his hospitality like anyone in the West would be, without caution he undid the latches and slowly opened the door as the gale and rain swept in. And by the faint light he could see nothing. Then came an almighty flash of lightning directly above in the sky which hit the steeple of an isolated small Protestant chapel down the road. And there revealed in the deluge coming down, as your man was straining peering out from the door of the cottage, was a figure in a yellow sou’wester, with a shepherd’s crook and a backpack on the back and stout walking boots on the feet and a foreign sounding soft melodic female voice.

  “Forgive me sir for troubling you. I am lost. And I look for The Seaside Hotel I cannot find. I am apologising for disturbing you but perhaps you could direct me. I would be so grateful. I am Swedish.”

  “Come in, come in out of the rain, for god’s sake and don’t be standing out there in the gales, thunder and lightning. Swedish or not.”

  “Thank you. But I do not wish to disturb you.”

  “Disturb me. Nonsense. Come in. And welcome.”

  Your grateful Swede, raindrops cascading down her exquisite face, smiled a relieved smile of thanks and hesitated no further over this unexpected invitation to enter into the dry warm fireglow and candlelight of the cottage. Now we won’t go too deeply into your man’s age of that of the young Swedish girl. Suffice to say she was a slender blonde of medium height with soft lustrous grey blue eyes, and he was certainly old enough not only to be her father but even old enough to give her the benefit of grandfatherly protection should she need it. But also suffice to say that as your Swede stood there surveying a grinning Mr. Ireland there was another lightning flash overhead and thunderclap that made it sound as if the roof of the cottage had just exploded off. And your man Mr. Ireland opened his arms as the girl jumped forward in fear as the rumble of the thunder echoed back from the surrounding hillsides.

  Well now your man Mr. Ireland, although he could believe his ears, he couldn’t really believe his eyes, and was ruddy well delighted out of his mind at the golden haired apparition he now released from his protective arms. And he was grateful to have some company, however brief, on a stormy night, which even as he stood there thinking of the present wonderment, was increasing in ferocity. And while excusing himself to take a pee, he did in fact in the water closet, give himself a belt on the forehead with the heel of his hand to make sure this was still his own brain thinking in his old grey head on this the top end of this body. But sure enough, as luck was now rapidly having it and returned from the water closet, there she was removing from her shoulders the dripping wet backpack. And off came her hat. And then her sou’wester. Then her thick Aran Island sweater revealing two braided long golden locks of hair now hanging down her back nearly to her hips. Her hands and knuckles were red-blue with cold.

  Now there was no trace of Man Fighter Mark I, II or for the matter of that Mark III or IV in your young girl, as your man Mister Ireland led her across the room to the glowing turf fire. And as she smilingly stood there with the sudden whooshes of wind gusting up the chimney your man quick as a flash had in off the doorstep the bottle of champagne and with a ceremonial pop, filled and was handing your Swedish beauty a glass. Which she took gratefully enough and by god downed in one delighted gulp. And then in the warmth she removed another sweater. Which left your man’s mouth suddenly salivating with shock. For in the cerulean blue cotton shirt she wore he could see the distinct outline upon her chest of exactly the ideal of all the breasts, the image of which he had ever had the temerity to conjure up in his dreams. And not that his own good Irish mother had ever deprived him. However, and notwithstanding, didn’t your man Mister Ireland find he suddenly had a horn on him that would not only whip your Irish donkeys out of sandpits but would lever an African elephant up out of an Irish bog. And by god, so as not to inhospitably intimidate or alarm your poor Swedish stray just in out of the storm, your man had to sit down in a hurry. For over these past nearly three years of recent celibacy and to those ladies he was dying to fuck, he never once showed any of them anything but courtesy, kindness and consideration. And thanking him for his flattery these same young women with equal courtesy,
kindness and consideration declined his invitations to bed.

  Now then. The hotel your sweet young beauty was looking for was but a mere two miles away on the sea road, half of which by now was sure to be washed away by the ocean waves. But your man had his boots, a torch and his own sou’wester and didn’t he know a shortcut of only a quarter of a mile to the hostelry by footpath over the nearby hill. And so as your young lady had now caught her breath the temptation to tell a lie was desperate. But he did not yield. For it had long been his forthright honesty that the ladies had always come to love about him best. So despite the rain, lightning and lashing gale he was without subterfuge about to offer to accompany her over the hill to her hotel. However at least he felt he deserved the pleasure of a little delay, and anyway your splendid Swede was already saying in her wonderful Elizabethan voice,

 
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