The Hour of Death. (A folktale)
The old people used to say that in the olden times everybody knew the exact time when he would die.
There was a man who knew that he would die in autumn. He planted his crops the previous spring, but instead of building a fine fence around them, all he did was plant a makeshift hedge of a few rushes and ferns to guard the crops. It so happened that God (praise be & glory to him!) sent an angel down on earth to find out how the people were getting on. The angel came to this man and asked him what he was doing. The Man told him. “And why haven’t you a better fence than that makeshift to protect your crops?” asked the angel. “It will do me,” said the man, “until I have the crop stored. Let those who succeed me look after their own fences. I’ll die this autumn”. The Angel returned and told the Almighty what had happened. And from that day on, people lost foreknowledge of the hour of death.
(Edited & translated from the Irish by Sean O’Sullivan)
In the introduction to this fantastic collection of short stories from Ireland, William Trevor states that “The Modern short story may be defined as the distillation of an essence. It may be laid down that it has to have a point, that it must be going somewhere, that it dare not be vague.” He then goes on to say that art has its own way of defying both definitions and rules and that neither offer much help when examining the short stories of his homeland. Born in Mitchels-town, County Cork in 1928 he has spent a lifetime imbibing the spirit of Irish storytelling, whether told as a means of communication or as entertainment, placing him in the ideal role of editor of this anthology. The Oxford Book of Irish short Stories manages to encompass within its pages tales that would have been told at the hearthside, through to writers as varied as Oliver Goldsmith, Maria Edgeworth, James Joyce, Liam O'Flaherty, Bernard Mac Laverty and Desmond Hogan.
But I will concentrate on a writer recommended to me by Mel of The Reading Life.
Gerald Griffin (1803-1840) was an Irish novelist, poet and playwright. Born in Limerick (Ireland) the son of a brewer. In 1823 he went to London to work as a reporter for one of the daily papers, only later turning to the writing of fiction. One of his most famous works is 'The Collegians', written about the murder of the Colleen Bawn - the name under which the novel was performed as a stage play - in 1820. In 1838, he burned all of his unpublished manuscripts and joined the Catholic religious order "Congregation of Christian Brothers" at The North Monastery, Cork, where he died from typhus fever.
The Brown Man, is a tale about a beautiful girl living in abject poverty who unwittingly marries a demon type creature. He takes her home to what he says is his estate, but which turns out to be a wild bog and his palace which is nothing more than a clay hovel. After they go to bed, he gets up & leaves, she only feigning sleep is aware of this. This happens again on the next night, so on the third night she follows him & sees him in a churchyard sat at an open grave eating…. I’ll leave the tale there, just adding apart from the horror aspects of this tale, there runs a wonderful sense of humour of which here is an example….
“It was a very fine morning in those parts, for it was only snowing and hailing” the whole tale is told with this same dry & slightly skewed humour which makes it a joy to read.
This is just a couple of tales from this book and as it says on the flyleaf, “The roots of the modern short story in Ireland are firmly embedded in the soil of the past, and in this wonderful anthology echoes and influences pervade individual stories to enrich our understanding of a unique literary tradition.”