An irish country girl, p.1
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       An Irish Country Girl, p.1

           Patrick Taylor
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An Irish Country Girl

  An Irish

  Country Girl


  Only Wounded

  Pray for Us Sinners

  Now and in the Hour of Our Death

  An Irish Country Doctor

  An Irish Country Village

  An Irish Country Christmas

  An Irish

  Country Girl


  A Tom Doherty Associates Book

  New York

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations,

  and events portrayed in this novel are either products of

  the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


  Copyright © 2009 by Patrick Taylor

  All rights reserved.

  A Forge Book

  Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

  175 Fifth Avenue

  New York, NY 10010

  Forge® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

  ISBN 978-0-7653-2071-1

  First Edition: January 2010

  Printed in the United States of America

  0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  To Dorothy


  Although my name may be on the cover and spine, no book is the product of a single individual.

  Natalia Aponte, my agent and friend, made a suggestion over lunch that got me thinking about and finally writing An Irish Country Girl.

  Tom Doherty of Tom Doherty Associates had the faith to allow me to follow my instincts.

  Carolyn Bateman, my friend and editor, has read every word I have ever written. Without her skill and deeply professional advice, my sentences and paragraphs, plotlines and characters would be but shadows of their present forms.

  Paul Stevens of Forge polished the final manuscript and made it shine.

  Patricia Mansfield Phelan once more copyedited my work with her usual meticulous attention to detail.

  Irene Gallo of the Forge art department created the concept, and the artist Gregory Manchess rendered the illustration that became the cover.

  Sarah Howard, née Taylor, instructed me, literally, in the arcana of the tarot.

  Dympna Bird’s skill in the Irish language gave my characters’ words the authenticity that I could not have provided. Corkman Dave Hyde corrected my misapprehensions about the game of road bowls.

  To you all, I offer my most heartfelt thanks.


  Near the end of An Irish Country Christmas, Mrs. Kincaid, housekeeper to Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly of Ballybucklebo, bids farewell to her employer, his young assistant, Doctor Barry Laverty, and O’Reilly’s lady friend, Kitty O’Hallorhan. It is a snowy Christmas Day in 1964, and they are leaving to attend an open house being held by the Marquis of Ballybucklebo.

  Mrs. Maureen Kincaid, “Kinky” to her friends, has earlier welcomed a group of youthful carol singers into the hall of the doctor’s house. What transpires next as she gives the youngsters hot drinks and sweet mince pies is where this work, An Irish Country Girl, starts. It is Kinky Kincaid’s story.

  All of this will make perfect sense to readers of the Irish Country novels who have already encountered Kinky, Fingal, Barry, and the village of Ballybucklebo. But if this is your first venture here, it will be uncharted territory, and a few words of introduction are called for.

  The first three books in the Irish Country series are set in 1964 in County Down, Northern Ireland, in the small village of Ballybucklebo. They concern the adventures and misadventures of Barry Laverty, a brand-new medical graduate who has accepted a temporary assistantship to the unorthodox Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly. The young man and his mentor tend to their patients, many of whom are as eccentric as their senior medical advisor. Because O’Reilly is who he is, the two doctors also spend a considerable amount of energy solving the problems that arise in the everyday life of the village.

  O’Reilly is fifty-six, widowed, a single-handed practitioner, a big man of distinctly odd attitudes, blasphemous, crusty—and a fine physician. His household consists of the demonically possessed white cat, Lady Macbeth; the dipsomaniac, Wellington boot–stealing black Labrador, Arthur Guinness; and the solid, reliable housekeeper, Mrs. Maureen “Kinky” Kincaid.

  Having said that, some explanation is also needed for the readers who have come to know Doctors O’Reilly and Laverty, the village, and its inhabitants, because this book is different. But let me first thank you for your loyalty to Ballybucklebo. And please don’t worry. Now that An Irish Country Girl is finished, I have begun work on the next Irish Country tale, which is set in familiar territory and peopled by the usual suspects.

  Because this story is a departure, old friends and newcomers alike may be interested to learn how An Irish Country Girl came to be. For almost a year, one of my characters kept after me to try to answer a single question: how did she develop her most unusual trait? By the time I had the solution, I knew I had to tell Mrs. Kincaid’s story, the one you are about to read.

  I base my characters on people I have known, but I never simply describe one person. Instead I take a physical characteristic here, a personality trait there, a speech pattern from elsewhere. When I was a young doctor doing locums for rural Ulster GPs, I met several housekeepers, remarkable women all. Kinky grew from them.

  When she first appeared in An Irish Country Doctor, Kinky was in her mid-fifties, much smarter than people thought at first sight, a Cork woman—and fey.

  Don’t laugh. Some Irishwomen do have “the sight.” My grandmother did, and I believe that, even after thirty-five years working in medical research. How else could she have sat up and announced, “Maggie’s dead”? Her younger sister lived fifty miles away. Thirty minutes later the telephone rang. Maggie had died at almost exactly the moment Granny had made her pronouncement.

  Kinky’s ability to see things persisted in the sequels to An Irish Country Doctor, and I began to wonder how she was given the gift. That was the question that nagged.

  Eventually I remembered another of my housekeeper friends from my early days in practice. She had a marvellous way of recounting stories from Irish mythology, a subject that has fascinated me since childhood.

  This friend came from Ballydehob (Mouth of the Two River Fords) near Skibbereen (Place of Little Boats) in West Cork. I have only to close my eyes to hear her saying in her rich brogue, “Now, Doctor Taylor, dear, in the telling of English stories you’d have begun, ‘Once upon a time,’ so, but in Ireland we say, ‘And it is what it was . . . ,’ or ‘And this is what he said . . . ,’ or ‘It is what she did.’ We do use them sometimes in the middle of the tale too, so.” And off she’d go weaving her magic. When she spoke she held me in thrall.

  She often spoke of the Dubh Sidhe* (doov shee), the dark faeries, and in particular the Bean Sidhe (banshee), the woman spirit whose keening foretells a death. One story in particular concerned the Saint Stephen’s Day Ghost, or Taidhbhse (thevshee), who appeared on not one, but two Boxing Days.

  Kinky came from a farm near the five-road-ends of Beal na mBláth, also in County Cork. What, I asked, might have happened there in the 1920s as an Irish girl named Maureen O’Hanlon grew to womanhood, fell in love, began to meet the denizens of the other world, and saw the Saint Stephen’s Day Thevshee, not once, but twice?

  Might that be how Maureen “Kinky” Kincaid was given the sight—or was it because she already had the sight that she was able to experience all that she did?

  You will find out if you read on.


  Cootehall, Boyle

  County Roscommon


inky, of course, is bilingual, speaking both Irish and English. When she uses Gaeilge (Irish) here, she tries to work pronunciations and explanations into the narrative. However, that sometimes interferes with the flow of the story, so I have included a glossary as a backup (see p. 299).


  “Run along, make your calls, and enjoy His Lordship’s hooley,” said Mrs. Maureen Kincaid, “Kinky” to her friends, as she knelt in the hall and sponged Ribena black-currant cordial from a small boy’s tweed overcoat. “I’ll expect you all back by five, sir, not a minute later. I’d not want the Christmas dinner to be spoiled.”

  Her employer, Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, said over his shoulder, “We’ll be on time, I promise, Kinky.” He strode off accompanied by his guest, Caitlin “Kitty” O’Hallorhan, and his young assistant, Doctor Barry Laverty.

  Kinky shut the front door after them. She imagined that over the excited voices of the children she could hear footsteps crunching through the freshly fallen snow as Doctor O’Reilly led his little party to his big old Rover for the drive to Ballybucklebo House and the marquis’ 1964 Christmas Day open house.

  It was warmer in the hall with the door shut. Just as well with a dozen chilled little carollers inside drinking hot black-currant juice. She straightened up, inspected her handiwork, and smiled. “There you are, Dermot Fogarty. Good as new, so.”

  “Thank youse, Mrs. Kincaid.” The eight-year-old bobbed his head. “If I’d got my new coat dirty, my daddy would’ve killed me, so he would.”

  She tousled his hair. Not for the first time she thought how harsh to her ears the County Down accent sounded, especially when she remembered the softer brogue of her own people down in County Cork.

  She’d grown up there on a farm near Beal na mBláth and had left as a slip of a girl of nineteen to come north in 1928. That had been thirty-six years ago. She shook her head. It seemed like no time at all.

  “Here.” She refilled Dermot’s mug, feeling the heat in the delft and inhaling the scent of the black-currant juice. “Try not to spill any more.”

  “Thank you, Mrs. Kincaid.”

  “Anyone else?”

  Several voices replied, “No thank you, Mrs. Kincaid.”

  The kiddies were crammed into the hall and overflowing up the broad staircase of Doctor O’Reilly’s house at Number 1 Main Street, Ballybucklebo, County Down.

  “Then eat up, and drink up, and let’s be having a bit of hush.” They were quiet now, filling their faces with Kinky’s homemade sweet mince pies and hot juice. She beamed over them. She liked children, would have loved to have had some of her own, but that hadn’t been meant to be. She smiled sadly to herself.

  She probably could have found another fellah here in Ulster, but och, he’d not have been the Paudeen Kincaid she lost so long ago. She saw herself in the hall mirror and thought she’d not been a bad-looking lass when she’d been with Paudeen. Her silver hair, which she wore in a chignon now, was chestnut then and had flowed in soft waves to her shoulders. It was the worry about him one Saint Stephen’s Day that had started the turning of it.

  She’d been a slim girl then. Now, she knew she could afford to lose a couple of stone, although doing so wouldn’t get rid of her three chins. But it was hard not to sample her own cooking, and she did love to cook. She always had, ever since Ma had showed her how all those years ago.

  She shook her head, and sure if the years had passed, hadn’t they been good ones ever since she’d come here, first as housekeeper to old Doctor Flanagan and later on, in 1946, to Doctor O’Reilly when he took over the practice? And hadn’t looking after those two bachelor men been a satisfying job, and almost the same as rearing chisellers?

  Doctor O’Reilly, learned man that he was, would not get out of the house without egg stains on his tie if she wasn’t there to sponge them off or make him change it. He often called his Labrador, Arthur Guinness, a great lummox. Sometimes, she thought with affection, the pot does call the kettle black.

  “Pleath, Mithis Kincaid?” A child’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

  She saw Billy Cadogan, a boy who suffered from asthma. He’d been a patient of the practice since Doctor O’Reilly and Miss Hagerty, the midwife, had delivered him ten years ago. “Yes, Billy?” He looked smart in what must be his brand-new cap and bright red mittens.

  He held up his mug. “Pleath, Mithis Kincaid, can I have a totywee taste more? Ith cold thinging carolth round the houtheth today, tho it ith.”

  So, she thought, she should have known that Billy was the one lisping when they sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

  Before she could answer, Colin Brown chipped in, “Billy’s right; it would founder you.” Even today he was wearing short pants. His bare knees stuck out from under his overcoat, and his left sock was crumpled around his ankle. Colin was the lad who had single-handedly, as the innkeeper at the recent Nativity play, caused the mother superior to faint. Colin spoke again. “My Da says it’s as cold as a witch’s tit today, so he does.”

  Kinky frowned, then seeing the seriousness on the boy’s face, realized that he was merely repeating what he had heard his notoriously foul-mouthed father say. “And what would you know of witches, Colin Brown?” she asked.

  “Oooh,” said Colin, “witches is oul’ wizenedy women with wrinkles and warts on their green faces. They have black cats, they wear pointy hats and black dresses, ride around on broomsticks on Halloween night . . . they cast spells, and . . .”—he frowned—“and . . .” Then a smile split his face and his words came out in a rush. “And they get together in ovens.”

  “Colin means ‘covens.’ ” That was Hazel Arbuthnot. She was Aggie Arbuthnot’s twelve-year-old daughter. She had lustrous black hair, just like her mother. For a moment, Kinky wondered if Hazel had also inherited the family trait of six toes. No doubt Cissie Sloan, Aggie’s cousin and the most talkative woman in the village, would know.

  “That’s right, Hazel, covens.” Kinky heard the other children laughing at Colin’s discomfiture. “And there’s no need to laugh at Colin. He nearly got it right.”

  The giggling subsided.

  “And some witches do cast evil spells and sour the milk, or make the crops fail or animals die—”

  “Oooh.” Several voices were raised, and Kinky heard sharp in-drawings of breath.

  “—but some are good witches.” She paused to let that sink in.

  “Good witches?” Eddie Jingles asked. He’d had pneumonia two weeks before Christmas. He was better now, but his mother, Jeannie, had very sensibly wrapped him up in boots, thick trousers, a heavy anorak, a green scarf, and a blue-and-white-striped wool toque. “I never knew there was good witches. Are you having us on, Mrs. Kincaid?”

  Kinky scowled at him, then let a smile play at the corners of her mouth. “Why would you think I was making it up, Eddie Jingles?”

  Eddie blushed and lowered his head. “Sorry.”

  “Now,” she said, “how many of you believe there are good witches? Hold up your hands.”

  Jeannie Kennedy’s hand was the first to go up, then Micky Corry’s. Those two had been Mary and Joseph in the Christmas pageant earlier that week. The last hand raised was Colin Brown’s, but Kinky had expected that. Colin had a mind of his own.

  “Good. So we’re all in agreement then?”

  “Yes, Mrs. Kincaid,” a chorus of voices replied.

  “I’m glad to hear it.” She lowered her voice and let her gaze wander over the group, looking this one, then that one, right in the eye. “Because my own mother was a good witch, so. My very own mother, and she got it from her mother, my granny.”

  “Does that make you a witch too, Mrs. Kincaid . . . since your mammy was one?” Colin had his head cocked to one side, his eyes narrowed. “You’ve no warts on your nose, like.”

  “Don’t be impudent, Colin Brown.” She put her face closer to his, flared her nostrils, and widened her eyes. “Or I’ll turn you into a tooooadstool.”

  The communal
oooh” was much louder.

  Seeing the look on Colin’s face, Kinky softened. “I’m only pulling your leg, son, so, for I’m not a witch at all. I couldn’t turn you into anything.” Even if I did get the sight to see the future from my mother, Kinky thought, but that’s none of their business. “And if I was . . . if . . . I’d be a good witch and lift spells or smell out bad witches or cure people with herbs or find water wells—”

  “With a hazel twig?” Billy Cadogan interrupted.

  “Or a Hazel Arbuthnot,” Colin said, then sniggered and stuck his tongue out at Hazel.

  “Less of that, Colin, or I’ll not tell you any more,” Kinky said.

  “Sorry,” Colin said. “I’ll houl’ my wheest. Honest.”

  “You do that, so,” said Kinky. She let a silence hang, and hang, until Hazel said, “Pay him no heed, Mrs. Kincaid. He was just acting the lig. I don’t mind. Go on, please tell us more.”

  Several other children added, “Please . . . please.”

  Kinky smiled. The sight wasn’t the only thing she’d got from her family, and that was a story in itself. Her Da, God rest him, had been a famous seanachie, a storyteller, and Kinky Kincaid, when given an audience, liked nothing better than to spin a good yarn.

  “So, it’s a story you want?”

  “Please.” She saw the expectation on the rosy-cheeked faces.

  “Very well,” she said. “Take off your hats and coats and hang them there, now.” She indicated the hall coat stand. “Then go on up to the lounge. The fire’s still lit from this morning, and it’s warm. Doctor O’Reilly won’t mind, seeing it’s Christmas Day. There aren’t enough chairs for you all, so some will have to sit on the floor. Mind you’re careful with your mugs of juice as you go up the stairs, now. Leave a chair for me, and don’t be annoying the animals. Arthur Guinness and Lady Macbeth do be upstairs.”

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