An Irish Country Welcome is a charming entry in Patrick Taylor’s internationally bestselling Irish Country series.
In the close-knit Northern Irish village of Ballybucklebo, it’s said that a new baby brings its own welcome. Young doctor Barry Laverty and his wife Sue are anxiously awaiting their first child, but as the community itself prepares to welcome a new decade, the closing months of 1969 bring more than a televised moon landing to Barry, his friends, his neighbors, and his patients, including a number of sticky questions.
A fledgling doctor joins the practice as a trainee, but will the very upper-class Sebastian Carson be a good fit for the rough and tumble of Irish country life? And as sectarian tensions rise elsewhere in Ulster, can a Protestant man marry the Catholic woman he dearly loves, despite his father’s opposition? And who exactly is going to win the award for the best dandelion wine at this year’s Harvest Festival?
But while Barry and Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly and their fellow physicians deal with everything from brain surgery to a tractor accident to a difficult pregnancy, there’s still time to share the comforting joys and pleasures of this very special place: fly-fishing, boat races, and even the town’s very first talent competition!
Welcome back to Ballybucklebo, as vividly brought to life by a master storyteller.
An Irish Country Welcome will be available on October 6th, 2020. Please enjoy the following excerpt.
Day and Night Love Sang
My heart at thy dear voice
Wakes with joy, like the flow’r
At the sun’s bright returning!
Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly leaned back in his chair at the packed Ballybucklebo Bonnaughts Sporting Club hall. Not a sound could be heard but the soaring voice.
Flo Bishop, standing behind the microphone on the small stage, let her magical contralto caress the notes of Camille Saint-Saëns’”Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from the opera Samson and Delilah. The song was better known in English as “Softly Awakes My Heart.” As she sang, her eyes were fixed on those of her husband, Bertie Bishop, who, after he had helped his wife onto the stage, had joined O’Reilly’s table. The man’s eyes were overflowing with adoration, and O’Reilly clearly recalled how some months ago, when his brother Lars had helped Bertie draw up his will, Bertie had told the two men how he had fallen in love with the sixteen-year-old Flo McCaffrey at a cèilidh in a church hall many years ago.
O’Reilly let the notes flow over him and marvelled at the purity of sound coming from the throat of the rotund wife of the equally spherical Councillor Bertie Bishop. Bertie was one of the prime movers behind using the Ballybucklebo Bonnaughts Sporting Club on Saturday nights for social events like ballroom dancing, hops, and cèilidhs. Bringing the two already tolerant country communities closer together in Ballybucklebo seemed important given the recent outbreak of sectarian troubles, some violent, that had been going on across the six counties for more than a year. Tonight, Saturday, July 5, 1969, the Bonnaughts were hosting the first of what was hoped would be a regular series of talent contests.
Bertie’s lips were moving, and O’Reilly knew the man was silently mouthing along.
Oh, bide here at my side!
Promise ne’er thou’lt depart!
O’Reilly glanced around the table, struck suddenly by the other love stories there. Kitty and he had celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary two days ago. She caught his eye and smiled. It would have been a longer getaway, but he had promised to attend here tonight.
Was it really thirty-eight years since a young Dublin medical student had fallen for a Nurse Kitty O’Hallorhan from Tallaght and in 1935 had left her to pursue his all-consuming interest in his work? She’d taken herself off to Spain during the Civil War to work in an orphanage and he’d lost track of her. Thanks to his partner, Doctor Barry Laverty, he and Kitty had met again, and the long-cherished embers of their love had burst into fresh flames. Barry sat across from him now, holding the hand of his wife, Sue. Five years ago, he’d been besotted with Patricia, a young engineering student who’d won a Cambridge scholarship, left Ulster, and broken Barry’s heart. He’d been devastated, but some months later had fallen for Sue, paid court, and married her. Now they were expecting.
As winds o’er golden grain
Softly sigh roving by . . .
Next to Barry was his former classmate, the surgeon Mister Jack Mills, who sat close beside his fiancée, Doctor Helen Hewitt, although O’Reilly knew the engagement was still a secret. When would they make their plans public?
The party was completed by Lord John MacNeill, Marquis of Ballybucklebo, and his sister, Myrna. Both were widowed and O’Reilly wondered if they were thinking of their lost loves, perhaps moved, as he was, by the obvious bond between Bertie Bishop and Flo.
He returned his gaze to Flo, took a pull on his pint of Guinness, placed it on the table, and stuck his pipe back in his mouth. He thought of the aria’s final words, but in the original French, which his father had insisted he and his brother Lars learn and which O’Reilly had polished with some French cruiser officers while serving in Alexandria on HMS Warspite during the war:
Ah! respond to Love’s caresses,
Join in all my soul expresses!
Flo stood for a few seconds, then bowed as deeply as her considerable waist would allow.
Bertie was on his feet, hands ready to clap, but before the applause could begin, O’Reilly, with his basso voice, finished the aria with Sampson’s reply:
“Dalila! Dalila! Je t’aime!”
Bertie said with a smile, “That’s my line, Doctor.”
The room erupted. Not with its usual racket—say for a well-sung Irish song or neatly performed sean-nos hard-shoe dance—of whistles, foot stamping, and cries of, “You done good, you-girl-ye.” No, tonight the audience responded with all the decorum that would be accorded a professional opera singer. Flo Bishop was given a standing ovation and the hand clapping was deafening.
O’Reilly looked over to the contest’s judges, Father O’Toole and the Reverend Mister Robinson. From the way the men were grinning at each other, they were not going to have any difficulty deciding the winner, even if she was one of the event organisers. So far tonight a cèilidh band had played, Alan Hewitt had sung Irish songs, six girl dancers from the Dympna Kelly School of dance had skipped and jigged, and even O’Reilly himself had performed a rousing sea shanty—and there was only one more act to come.
The applause gradually died, replaced by the scraping of chair legs on the floor as people retook their seats and the dull hum of renewed conversations. A single voice that O’Reilly could not identify remarked above the murmuring, “—and Rod Laver beat John Newcombe in Melbourne in the men’s tennis finals the day.”
O’Reilly watched as Councillor Bertie Bishop helped his wife down, hugged her, and Ulster reticence be damned, planted a firm kiss on her lips before letting her accept the congratulations of some of the nearest members of the audience.
Her place onstage was taken by a carroty-haired buck-toothed young man. “All right, youse lot. Settle down. Settle down.” He waved his right hand, palm down. “Crikey, Flo, but you done very good. Very good indeed. You was sticking out a mile.” There was awe in his tone. “You have the voice of an angel, so you have.”
Flo blushed and inclined her head.
Since Bertie had made Donal a partner in the Bishop Building Company in May, willing the company to him when both Bishops died, the Bishops and the Donnellys were on Christian-name terms. Indeed, Bertie now treated Donal like the son he’d never had.
“I’ll say that again,” Donal said when a semblance of quiet had returned. “Voice of an angel.”
“Aye, Mrs. Bishop has that,” yelled Dapper Frew, Donal’s best friend. “And you, you bollix, Donal Donnelly, you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I hope you’re not planning to sing nothing.”
“Get on with what you’re going til say. There’s folks here with their tongues hanging out for a jar.”
Donal Donnelly, carpenter by trade, architect of schemes for separating people like bookies and gullible English tourists from their money, was tonight’s master of ceremonies. As was to be expected in a place like Ballybucklebo, there was much good-humoured ribbing between audience and MC. Donal cocked his head sideways, looked askance at his friend, and said, “Dapper? Away off and chase yourself, you buck eejit.”
“But Dapper’s right about one thing. Well, two things actually. It’s true I couldn’t sing in tune if my life depended on it, and with this crowd it might. And it is time for us to take a wee break before I introduce the last act. So, chat nicely among yourselves, stretch your legs, and youse all know where the bar is.” Donal hopped down and the noise level rose.
O’Reilly joined in the general applause and as people began moving about the room, he called, “Bertie, bring Flo over here so we can congratulate her.”
John MacNeill said, “Hear, hear.”
As the couple approached, the men at the table stood as was proper when a lady joined the company.
O’Reilly pulled out his chair. “Have a pew, Flo.”
Before sitting, Flo made a curtsey and said, “My lord. My lady.”
O’Reilly and Bertie remained standing while the other men took their seats.
Above the background noise of voices Barry overheard Dapper Frew saying to Donal Donnelly, “Do you think them Yankees will get that there Apollo 11 up til the moon this month and a fellah out ontil the surface?”
“Nah,” said Donal. “The moon’s a quarter of a million miles away. They’ll use special effects, like til make a film in Hollywood. It’ll be the best con trick pulled ever.”
Dapper laughed. “Takes one til know one.”
Copyright © 2020 by Patrick Taylor
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