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       An Irish Country Courtship, p.1

           Patrick Taylor
An Irish Country Courtship

  To Dorothy


  Once more I must pay tribute to my friends, without whom this book would be but a shadow.

  To Simon Hally, who nurtured O’Reilly from his first appearance in Stitches: The Journal of Medical Humour.

  To Carolyn Bateman and Paul Stevens. No author could ask for more superb editorial skills.

  To Patricia Mansfield Phelan, copy editor par excellence.

  To Alexis Saarela, who works as an unsung heroine in publicity.

  To the artist Gregory Manchess for his superb rendering of the cover, and to Irene Gallo for yet another lovely concept.

  To Tom Doherty, without whose faith in my work this and its predecessors in the series might never have seen the light of day.

  To my British agents, Rosie and Jessie Buckman, who are tireless in selling foreign rights.

  To Natalia Aponte, who acquired An Irish Country Doctor for Tom Doherty and Associates and who now, as my agent, has resolutely championed books three, four, five, and six.

  And to Doctor Tom Baskett, now of Halifax, Nova Scotia, but who in the sixties was a fellow student of Queens University Belfast Medical School. He confirmed my belief in how a twin delivery might be conducted in the patient’s home.

  I offer you all my admiration and my deepest gratitude.


  If you are reading this you may be new to the Irish Country series or you may be reentering the little village of Ballybucklebo in County Down, Northern Ireland, at the turn of the years 1964–1965. Welcome to the world of Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, young Doctor Barry Laverty, and their redoubtable housekeeper, Mrs. Maureen “Kinky” Kincaid.

  I hope you will enjoy your time here in their company and among the villagers, to say nothing of Arthur Guinness, a dipsomaniacal Labrador; Lady Macbeth, a homicidal white cat; and the remarkable women in the lives of the two doctors, Caitlin “Kitty” O’Hallorhan and Patricia Spence.

  I don’t want to keep you from the story, but if you could spare a moment to permit me a few words of explanation I would be grateful.

  Since the appearance of the first book in the series, An Irish Country Doctor, many readers have written and often they have posed some pertinent questions. The most frequent of these are: What is Ulster, and how is it related to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? How were rural GPs of the time paid? How different were the way of life in rural Ireland and the practice of medicine forty years ago from the way things are today? Where exactly is Ballybucklebo, and who was Doctor O’Reilly? Is the vernacular of the characters true to life, or are you, Patrick Taylor, not entirely at ease with the English language? And finally, how do you pronounce “Siobhan”?

  That last is easy. In Irish, s preceding an i or e is pronounced sh, and bh is pronounced as a v. The a is long, so Siobhan is “shivawn.”

  If you want the preceding questions answered before you delve into the story, you can find the answers on page 425, along with some comments on grammar and syntax. In addition, you will find a glossary of unfamiliar words and expressions on page 439.

  And that’s enough from me. Doctor O’Reilly and the usual suspects are waiting and are eager to greet old friends and meet new ones. Please have fun together.


  Cootehall, Boyle

  County Roscommon



  1 A Crowd Is Not Company

  2 Nothing but to Choke a Man

  3 Flee from the Cruel Madness of Love

  4 Tired with the Labour of Far Travel We Have Come unto Our Own Home

  5 I’m More Than a Little Sick

  6 Put the Car Away

  7 To Comfort All That Mourn

  8 My Kingdom for a Horse

  9 No Man Gets a Full Meal

  10 We Have Drunken of Things Lethean

  11 Your Name upon the Soft Sea-Sand

  12 My Bones Are Out of Joint

  13 And Green-Ey’d Jealousy

  14 Tread Safely into the Unknown

  15 Thaw Not the Frost That Binds

  16 Hυρηκα (Eureka): I Have Found It

  17 How Blessed Is He Who Leads a Country Life

  18 Shoot Folly as It Flies

  19 To Hear Him Crow

  20 I Wish He Would Explain His Explanation

  21 Thy Waves and Storms Are Gone Over Me

  22 Have Seen a Glorious Light

  23 Dangerous to the Lungs

  24 A Faithful Friend Is the Medicine of Life

  25 Dance ’til Stars Come Down from the Rafters

  26 Ill News Hath Wings

  27 Shorten and Lessen the Birth Pangs

  28 Willing to Pull His Weight

  29 In a Handbag?

  30 Yet Meet We Shall

  31 Considerably Worried and Scratched

  32 Things Fall Apart

  33 Dreamless, Uninvaded Sleep

  34 Earnest Advice from My Seniors

  35 To Have a Friend Is to Be One

  36 Each to His Choice

  37 The Schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

  38 You Have Sown Much, and Bring in Little

  39 On the Kingdom of the Shore

  40 To These Crocodile’s Tears They Will Add Sobs

  41 Let Me Be Dress’d Fine

  42 Come to Our Own Home and Rest

  43 More Beautiful Than Thy First Love

  44 Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (or The Car Boot Lid)

  45 Are Said to Understand One and Other

  46 They’re under Starter’s Orders

  47 But One Receiveth the Prize

  48 He That Bringeth Glad Tidings

  Your Questions Answered



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  A Crowd Is Not Company

  Barry Laverty—Doctor Barry Laverty—stood in a jam-packed drawing room where the sound level was as intense as the racket of riveting guns in Harland and Wolff’s shipyard. Over the noise of many conversations the gramophone blared.

  How much is that doggie in the window?

  Barry smiled and squeezed Patricia Spence’s hand. Having her back home in Ulster was wonderful even if she had left it to the last minute to get here. He looked at her deep brown eyes, bent to her, and tried to make her hear. “Somebody really likes Patti Page. She made that one a hit in 1953. I was thirteen.”

  Patricia shrugged.

  So did Barry—and he smiled. Bertie and Flo Bishop’s 1964 version of their annual Boxing Day hooley was not a place for more than shouted small talk, and if Patricia hadn’t heard Barry, so what? It wasn’t as if she’d been disinterested when he told her how much he loved her, how he wanted to start planning their future here in Ballybucklebo. Och, well, a couple more hours of this wouldn’t matter, and then he would have her to himself and could tell her exactly what was on his mind. And damn it, this was a party.

  “I don’t suppose,” he shouted into her ear, “Bertie thinks much of the Beatles or the Dave Clark Five, but I thought he might have a recording of Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman.’”

  She raised an eyebrow.

  “I’d ask him to play it for you.” He squeezed her hand again. Her return was feeble.

  Barry sighed. Was he boring her? He couldn’t put his finger on it, but this morning she had seemed different from the laughing girl who’d headed off three months ago to study civil engineering at Cambridge University. She was more distant. More detached. He shook his head. She’d still be tired from travelling, that was all.

  He looked around for space, somewhere he could talk to her, ask her if everything was all right, but it seemed the entire population of Ballybuckl
ebo and the surrounding townland was in attendance. It was de rigueur to come to this party. No one refused an invitation from Bertie, and indeed Barry was pleased to have been asked after only six months as an assistant to Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly. Being here was a mark of how well he was fitting into the little community in the north of County Down. Being accepted by the villagers was important. He’d only six more months to go until he became a partner in the practice.

  Patricia inclined her head toward the door. Her raven hair fell away from her neck in a rippling wave. By watching her lips he thought he could understand what she was saying. “Let’s see if it’s quieter next door.” She tugged his arm and began to force her way through the throng.

  He followed Patricia into the hall, loosening the knot of his tie. He reckoned the anteroom to hell was probably kept at the same temperature. It was less noisy, but they were brought up short by a knot of people.

  Barry recognized the carroty thatch of Donal Donnelly. He was fond of Donal, the first denizen of Ballybucklebo Barry had met last July while on his way to his interview with Doctor O’Reilly. Julie Donnelly, née MacAteer, stood beside her husband, who had a tress of her hair firmly clasped between his right thumb and forefinger. Not for the first time, Barry was struck by the beauty of her long, cornsilk locks.

  “I’m for having none of it. The brass neck of the man.” Donal abruptly released Julie’s hair, and the scowl on his usually cheerful face seemed odd at a party. “I’m for telling him to run away off and chase himself, so I am.”

  “But Donal, it’s only a few snaps.” Julie sounded calm.

  “Huh. For everyone to gawp at? I’m not having it, so I’m not.”

  The couple had been married for three weeks, and if this was going to develop into a spat Barry would rather not become involved. But it was too late. Donal swung to him.

  “We’ll ask Doctor Laverty, so we will.”

  “Ask me what, Donal?”

  “Do you see thon man over thonder?” He pointed back into the lounge to a tall, slim, immaculately coiffed individual of about thirty who wore a red velvet jacket and was smoking a cigarette held in an ivory cigarette holder.

  Barry nodded. He was aware of Patricia standing at his shoulder.

  “He’s a cousin of Bertie Bishop, so he is. Big photographer, like. Has a studio up in Belfast.”

  “Like Van Buren’s?” Barry asked, remembering the society photographer who took photos of couples at formal dances. They also did graduation portraits. His mother was very proud of one of Barry in his academic robe.

  “I’d not know about that, sir. I’m not much of one for having my snaps took, but thon eejit wants Julie to pose for him.” Donal bared his buckteeth. “It’s not on, so it’s not. Does he think she’s the Venus de Millisle?”

  “Milo, Donal. Venus de Milo. Millisle’s a village on the Ards Peninsula down past Donaghadee.”

  “Aye. Like enough you’re right.” He glowered at his wife. “But she’s not posing. Not for nobody.”

  Barry stole a glance at Donal’s wife. He could understand why Bertie’s cousin wanted her to model. She looked even more stunning than usual. Perhaps it was because—as only she, Donal, Barry, and O’Reilly knew—she was pregnant again.

  “What kind of poses?” Patricia asked.

  “Ask Julie,” Donal snapped.

  Julie smiled. “Mr. Hunter introduced himself, admired my hair, and asked if I’d think about letting him photograph me.”

  “Next thing she’ll be in Spick and Span or Men Only, one of them smutty magazines,” Donal said.

  “It’s not like that, Donal,” Julie said patiently. She turned to Patricia for support. “Mr. Hunter says one of the big English shampoo companies is having a competition for their next shampoo girl. He thinks I could win it.”

  “You might well,” Patricia said. “Your hair is lovely.”

  “I’ve said no.” Donal stood legs astraddle, arms folded over his chest. “I’m saying no more.”

  “Donal,” Patricia said, “I’d like to hear a bit more about this.”

  Donal sighed and inclined his head. “Go on then,” he said to Julie. “You tell Miss Spence.”

  “He’ll pay me ten pounds each for two sessions. He’s only interested in my hair. He’d pay for hairdos too.”

  Donal put one hand against his chin. “Ten pounds?”

  “Yes. And if I get into the last five when they start the judging, the company guarantees fifty pounds, even if I only come in fifth. It goes up the better you place. If I come in first, they’ll pay me five hundred pounds and I’ll be on all their advertising and on their labels. I might even get to do a TV ad.”

  “Five hundred pounds?” Donal nodded to himself. “That’s a powerful wheen of do-re-mi, so it is.”

  It’s more than Donal would make in a year, Barry thought.

  “That’s all well and good,” Donal said with a frown. “But nobody does nothing for nothing. What’s in it for him?”

  “If my photos win, he gets a prize too and a contract to take pictures for the company,” Julie said. “That’s only fair.”

  “It is. You should both think about it,” Patricia said, “but it must be Julie’s decision.”

  Donal shook his head. “Not at all. She’s my wife, so she is.”

  “It’s Julie who’s going to be photographed,” Patricia said firmly.

  Donal looked from Patricia to Julie, back to Patricia, then turned to Barry. “I’m blowed if I know what to say, Doctor. What do you reckon?”

  The name’s Laverty, not Solomon, Barry thought. And yet wasn’t resolving dilemmas as much a part of rural medicine as treating coughs and colds, sniffles and sneezes? “I think,” Barry said, “I’d be inclined to leave the choice up to Julie.”

  “Would you, sir? Honest to God?”

  “Yes. I would. Cross my heart.”

  Donal frowned. “I’ll need to think on that for a wee while, sir.” He brightened. “And I’d need a jar to help me.”

  “You’ll see Patricia’s right,” Barry said.

  “Aye. Likely. Thank you, sir.” He turned away, then back. “Can I get you and Miss Spence one while I’m at it?”

  “No thanks, Donal.” Barry glowed. In Ulster the offer to get somebody a drink was a sure sign of fellowship.

  Donal set off, pulling Julie by the hand. “’Scuse me, Cissie,” he bawled at a heavy woman in a floral dress.

  Barry guided Patricia past where Cissie Sloan stood talking, not to, but at, Alice Moloney, the dressmaker, as well as Mrs. Brown and Gertie Gorman. He thought Gertie looked very well for a woman who had delivered a breech baby only ten days ago.

  Alice, on the other hand, looked—he struggled to find a good term—ashen. Mind you, she had only just begun treatment for her anaemia. It was probably a trick of the light.

  He made a note to pop around to visit her in the next week or two. He liked that aspect of practice here, seeing patients not because they had called, but because you had a notion they might need you. Doctor O’Reilly had taught him that.

  This party was not the place for impromptu consultations. He would definitely go to see Alice, but not this week. Patricia was only home for a few days. Tomorrow O’Reilly had agreed to hold the fort so Barry could run her down to her folks’ place in Newry, and he was hoping she’d be back up in time for him to take her to the New Year’s Eve dress dance at Queen’s University. He’d ask her—once he got her on his own.

  Barry noticed that Donal, with a pint in hand and Julie by his side, was now in deep conversation with the velvet-coated Mr. Hunter.

  “Patricia,” Barry said, “you’ll be going back to Cambridge soon. Why don’t we nip up to Van Buren’s? I’d love to have your portrait.”

  “I’ll see, Barry. I’m … I’m going to be a bit busy.”

  Barry frowned but decided to let the matter drop until later. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea of having her picture on his bedside table to wake
to every morning.

  They went through the door and into the hall where Mr. Coffin was explaining something to his friend Constable Mulligan.

  The undertaker munched on a sweet mince pie. “Oh yes, Malcolm, I assure you there is quite a bit of alcohol in embalming fluid.”

  And by the way Mr. Coffin was swaying in him too. At a party in August, Constable Mulligan had slipped the undertaker a mickey. He’d got a taste for the vodka in his tea, and now Mr. Coffin had forsaken his allegiance to the Pioneers, a teetotal organization. The poor man had rhinophyma, a condition of the sebaceous glands of the nose, and his nose seemed even more bulbous and scarlet than it had been when Barry first met him. It was unfortunate that the music suddenly brayed, “Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer …”

  Barry grinned, smiled at the two men, and moved toward the bar in the kitchen. Where there was drink to be had, the odds were good that there also would be Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly.

  Even before Barry had steered Patricia through the door he heard his senior colleague. O’Reilly was declaiming in tones that must have stood him in good stead when HMS Warspite, the battleship he’d served on in the war, was smashing her way through the Mediterranean gales, “There’s not enough in that glass to give a gnat an eyewash, Willy Dunleavy. Top it up.” O’Reilly stood in front of a counter where Willy Dunleavy, publican of the Black Swan, known to the locals as the Mucky Duck, served his customary function, ably assisted by his chubby daughter, Mary.

  Laugh lines fanned from the corners of O’Reilly’s deep-set brown eyes. His untidily trimmed black hair hung in shaggy fringes over his cauliflower ears. He scratched the side of his bent nose. No respecter of formality, he stood there, the sleeves of his now collarless striped shirt rolled above his elbows. The red braces that held up his tweed pants were taut across his ample stomach.

  O’Reilly accepted the brimming glass of John Jameson and Son’s Irish whiskey. “And a glass of—?”

  “White wine,” said Kitty O’Hallorhan, who stood near O’Reilly.

  “You heard that, Willy?” O’Reilly yelled.

  The senior nursing sister from the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast waved at Barry, who waved back.

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