ALICE CURTAYNE THE BIG SYCAMORE, by Joseph Brady (Gill, Dublin, 16s.) THIS simple-seeming. factual tale of an apparently ordinary Irish family covers a period from the middle of the nineteenth century to the pre sent day. Its studied simplicity and deliberate artlessness are proof of great competence in genre-writing.
As the family which is the subject of this intimate study is well-known in Ireland. due to their distinguished achievements, the change of name seems hardly necessary. Ours is a small country and the disguise in this case is gossamer thin.
The two highlights of the book are Maurice's courtship of Kate, a charming idyll told with classic finish. and the first-hand account of events in Croke Park on "Bloody Sunday".
The most lovable
IN a community of attractive characters, who are all alive,
the most lovable is Kate, who isspowerfully drawn, again with the disarming diffidence and simplicity that belie the skill, She was the big-hearted wife and mother. who took meticulous care of her one-armed teacherhusband and six children.
After her marriage. she set up a drapery cum hardware cum grocery shop in the village of Letterlee, where her husband was school-master. She also acquired a small farm.
Her business success was directly due to her force of personality and to the comfort so many experienced through mere contact with her magnanimous spirit: The shop was a clearing house for all items of news ranging from local gossip to world affairs. It was more in the nature of a clubhouse than a mart. People came in, not so much to purchase goods, as to hear the latest.... The purchase of a halfpenny box of matches entitled the customer to sit for an hour on a bag of meal and engage in a political discussion, or have a wisecrack with any chance caller.
IT was business of such a personal A kind that Kate could rarely be spared from it. Every customer wanted to speak to her, as in most
cases it was not so much a case of making a purchase as of asking advice, or confiding family troubles.
Women who came a long way on Sunday morning for early Mass and Holy Communion were fortified with tea in the kitchen before they started the journey back. Every customer of the shop got a Christmas present. Her intriguing character had a thousand facets. Only she could milk the difficult cow, to whom, as she milked, she would invariably sing: "I stood on the bridge at midnight".
She who had begun life as a postulant in a convent would banter her husband for being what she called "an old Puritan". She gave her sons lessons in French and German.
Her kind of prayer
THE law of her being was self
sacrifice: first to rise in the morning and last to bed; night nurse as well if a child became restless; expending the same loving kindness on a sick servant as on one of her children: never expecting the hired man. or the domestic, to work as hard as herself. Instead of spending a long time in prayer. she made the service of others a kind of prayer. She did not know the meaning of self-indulgence. Holidays were a necessity for everyone except herself. She took her recreation on the wing as she toiled and moiled: the glow on the faces of contented children; the sun on the dewdrenched fields as she went for the cows; the blackbird singing from the hazel copse.
It is the "Kates" of Ireland who authenticate whatever claim to spiritual propulsion tho country may have.