Dah Duit (Hi) and welcome

An Irish literature reading list from Oxford World’s Classics

By Kirsty Doole

With today being St Patrick’s Day, we’ve taken the opportunity to recommend a few classic works of Irish literature to dip into while you’re enjoying a pint (or two) of Guinness.
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
Joyce is one of the most famous figures in Irish literature, and Finnegans Wake is infamous for being one of the most formidable books in existence. It plays fantastic games with language and reinvents the very idea of the novel in the process of telling the story of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and his wife Anna Livia, in whom the character of Ireland itself takes form. Around them and their dreams there swirls a vortex of world history, of ambition and failure, pride and shame, rivalry and conflict, gossip and mystery.

A Tale of a Tub and Other Works by Jonathan Swift
This was the first major work written by Jonathan Swift. The author explains in a preface that it is the practice of seamen when they meet a whale to throw out an empty tub to divert it from attacking the ship. Hence the title of the satire, which is intended to divert Hobbes’s Leviathan and the wits of the age from picking holes in the weak sides of religion and government. The author proceeds to tell the story of a father who leaves as a legacy to his three sons Peter, Martin, and Jack a coat apiece, with directions that on no account are the coats to be altered. Peter symbolizes the Roman Church, Martin (from Martin Luther) the Anglican, Jack (from John Calvin) the Dissenters. The sons gradually disobey the injunction. Finally Martin and Jack quarrel with the arrogant Peter, then with each other, and separate.

The Playboy of the Western World and Other Plays by J. M. Synge
In The Playboy of the Western World, the action takes place in a public house, when a stranger enters and is persuaded to tell his story. Impressed, the admiring audience thinks he must be very brave indeed to have killed his father, and in turn the young tramp blossoms into the daring rollicking hero they believe him to be. But then his father, with a bandaged head, turns up seeking his worthless son. Disillusioned and angry at the loss of their hero, the crowd turns the stranger, who tries to prove that he is indeed capable of savage deeds, even attempting unsuccessfully to kill his father again. The play ends with father and son leaving together with the words “Shut yer yelling for if you’re after making a mighty man of me this day by the power of a lie, you’re setting me now to think if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse maybe to go mixing with the fools of earth.”

Dracula by Bram Stoker
One of the greatest horror stories ever written. This is the novel that introduced the character of Count Dracula to the world, spawning a whole host of vampire fictions in its wake. As well as being a pioneering text in horror fiction, it also has much to say about the nature of empire, with Dracula hell-bent on spreading his contagion into the very heart of the British empire. Fun fact: Bram Stoker’s wife, Florence Balcombe, had previously been courted by Oscar Wilde.

The Major Works by W. B. Yeats
W. B. Yeats was born in 1865 and died in 1939. His career crossed the 19th and 20th centuries, from the Romantic early poems of Crossways and the symbolist masterpiece The Wind Among the Reeds to his last poems. Myth and folk-tale influence all of his work, most notably in Cathleen ni Houlihan among others. The importance of the spirit world to his life and work is evident in his critical essays and occult writings, and he also wrote a whole host of political speeches, autobiographical writings, and letters.

The Wild Irish Girl by Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan)
This is the story of the son of an English lord, Horation, who is banished to his father’s Irish estate as punishment for gambling debts, he adopts the persona of knight errant and goes off in search of adventure. On the wild west coast of Connaught he finds remnants of a romantic Gaelic past a dilapidated castle, a Catholic priest, a deposed king and the king’s lovely and learned daughter, Glorvina. In the process he rediscovered a love for the life and culture of his country. Written after the Act of Union, The Wild Irish Girl (1806) is a passionately nationalistic novel and an essential novel in the discourse of Irish nationalism. The novel was so controversial in Ireland that the author, Lady Morgan, was put under surveillance by Dublin Castle. There is a bust of Lady Morgan in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the plaque mentions that Lady Morgan was “less than four feet tall.”

In a Glass Darkly by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
This dark collection of five stories was said by none other than Henry James to be “the ideal reading… for the hours after midnight”. Indeed, J. Sheridan Le Fanu himself had a reputation for being both reclusive and rarely seen in the daytime. His fascination with the occult led to his stories being truly spine-chilling, drawing on the Gothic tradition and elements of Irish folklore, as well as on the social and political anxieties of his Anglo-Irish contemporaries.

irsty Doole is Publicity Manager for Oxford World’s Classics.

The Prodigious Roddy Doyle Is the Celtic Tiger of Irish Literature

By Allen Barra

One of Ireland’s best writers—certainly its best known—talks about James Joyce, John Ford, ‘Father Ted,’ and bringing Jimmy Rabbitte of ‘The Commitments’ back in a new novel.
Roddy Doyle, the most popular Irish writer of his generation, was born in 1958 in Dublin. He is the author of 11 novels (the latest of which is The Guts) seven children’s books (including the well known Rover Adventures series), three novellas, several plays and screenplays, and a swarm of short stories (one of which, “New Boy,” was a 2008 Academy Award-nominated short film). A stage version of his first novel, The Commitments, is currently having a successful run on London’s West End.
We caught up with him last month at the Empire Hotel in New York, where he was doing publicity for The Guts, which has already won the [Bord Gais Energy] Irish Book Awards, the only award supported by all Irish bookstores.
In your story collection, The Deportees (2007), Ray Brady, an employee of the Minister of Arts and Ethnicity, attempts to devise a test to determine the extent of one’s ”Irishness.” The story is called “57% Irish”—what percent are you?
A hundred.
In the story, Brady borrows a few things from his mother to test himself on, including her Irish Tenors CD, a Darina Allen  (TV’s “the Irish Chef”) cookbook, a tape of the Pope’s mass in Galway, and a tape of The Commitments (Alan Parker’s 1991 film made from Doyle’s first novel). Was that actually kind of your own ironic comment on how you’ve become part of modern Irish culture?
I kind of put it in for a joke. It’s one of the big Irish films, and I don’t mean that as a boast, and a lot of people know it by heart. I’m very lucky in that regard.
The Commitments was published, or rather self-published, by you in 1987. Why did you wait 27 years to check in on Jimmy Rabbitte?
Actually I went back to Jimmy in 2001 in The Deportees—I gave him a wife, Aoife, and four children. In 2012 I decided to make him the main character in The Guts. He’s older, of course, as are his children, and he has a dog …
And cancer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more … let’s say, upbeat—novel about someone with cancer.  What made you decide to give Jimmy cancer?
I had a good friend who died of cancer some years ago, and I’ve had other friends who have fought cancer. I heard the phrase a lot—“fighting cancer.” I wanted to see if Jimmy in his middle age had it in him to fight cancer and how his sense of humor would help him in this fight.
And rock ’n’ roll, too?
There’s always been a great rock  ’n’ roll feel to your books, and in your latest novel, The Guts, Jimmy Rabbitte stages a rock festival. You’ve got some names for bands—are they real or made up?
Which ones do you mean?
Here’s two: Queens of the Stone Age, The Gutter Twins …
Yeah, they’re  real. Too good to be made up.
How about The Half-Breds?
Made up.
A couple of questions about opinions expressed in your books and whether they belong to you or your characters—one of the characters in The Guts, I think it’s Jimmy Rabbitte, says that a friend fell asleep watching Downton Abbey and “what a load of shite that was.” Do you share your character’s dislike for the show?
I think it’s safe to say he and I agree on that one.
In The Dead Republic (2010) Henry Starr goes back to Ireland, working for John Ford while he makes The Quiet Man. His judgment on the film, “It’s shite, but it’s beautiful.”  Does that speak for you as well?        
Yeah, I suppose so, though I think I like it a bit more than Henry does.
Somewhere in that book Henry remarks that Ford was very good at “giving Americans the history that they wanted.” Did he do something similar with The Quiet Man?
Very much. I suppose that of all the Irish-American images of Ireland that The Quiet Man is the best representation of what Ireland was. Whatever is wrong with it, whatever doesn’t ring historically true about the time, it’s still one of my favorite films. Also, it was a way for me to get Henry back to Ireland in the book.
It was written by an Irish-American [Frank Nugent] and directed by one [Ford]. It’s a glorious piece of work because he was such a brilliant director and Maureen O’Hara is just plain glorious. The movie could easily have been a disaster.
For Irish-Americans, finding the Ireland of that period is like finding the Holy Grail. What is it like for the Irish to see The Quiet Man?
It’s tough because when Americans or anyone else come here, we have to live up to that image. It was filmed in a real village, Cong [in the west of Ireland, straddling the borders of Counties Mayo and Galway]. There’s a monument there to the movie. The pub they used in the movie is still there, with two huge TVs—one running only The Quiet Man and the other showing football or horse racing.
Okay, so you cut John Ford some slack. But how about James Joyce? You made some famous comments some time ago about your dislike of Ulysses. Has that changed?
I’ve got nothing against Ulysses. I said that almost ten years ago, to be funny but somewhat serious. It’s a brilliant novel—I’ve read it twice and if I didn’t enjoy reading it, I wouldn’t have read it again. But some people took it as if I had spat on the Koran or something. And after all, he could have used an editor.
But what was your serious point?
That Joyce has stopped being about literature and is almost a religion to a lot of people.
Would you say that’s happened to Yeats as well?
Sure, it happens to a lot of them. In Ireland, once they die they almost become saints. It’s happening now with John McGahern {who died in 2006]. A great writer, but he was human—brilliant and flawed. They all are. We all are.
A friend of mine in Ireland told me that there was a mention of you on a TV show, Father Ted.
It’s a brilliant show, very funny, about priests and their housekeepers living on an island …
Well, the character Father Maguire uses some mildly off-color language, and someone says, “That’s because he’s been reading those Roddy Doyle books again …”
That’s the coolest thing about me—I was named on Father Ted. My children think it’s the only cool thing about me.
The only cool thing? Don’t they care that all three novels in “The Barrytown Trilogy” (The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van] have all been made into successful movies?
No, in their world the only cool thing about me is Father Ted.
Speaking of profanity, you are supposed to have said that your style consists of “An awful lot of dialogue, an awful lot of gaps, and when in doubt say f …“
Yeah, well, I may as well own up. I mean, the evidence is there in the books and they’ll probably be my epitaph.
Since The Guts is connected by Jimmy to the Barrytown Trilogy, I guess we can now call it a quadrilogy?
Yeah, I guess that’s the term.
Is Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (which won the Mann Booker Prize in 1993) the only one of your novels that stands on its own?
Yes. I like to go back to old characters, to add years and new experiences to them. They seem new.
I loved the trilogy—I think it’s called “The Last Round-up Series” [A Star Called Henry (1999), Oh, Play That Thing (2004) and The Dead Republic ]—especially the way Henry, when he comes to America, seems to experience so much vital American culture. Jazz, in particular, when he becomes a bodyguard for Louis Armstrong. Is there any chance of having one or all of them made into movies?
We were very close to that, but the project went from hot to cold overnight. That’s how the movie business is, and you can’t sit and fret over it. You can only work with these things so long before the words start to swim in your head.
Who would you like to play Henry.
I haven’t thought about that recently.
I like Chris O’Dowd.
I like him, too.
Do you read your reviews?
Yeah, no … sometimes. I’m happy when they’re good, not happy if they’re bad, but then I get bored. I don’t get worked up about them. I do pay attention, but not all that much attention.  The only time I looked at a review on Amazon, the reviewer reminded me of Kathy Bates in Misery. I haven’t gone back there since.
When I talked to you several years ago, you gave me the names of some Irish writers you thought were first rate—Sebastian Barry, Colm Toibin. Can you recommend a few I may not have heard of yet?
Kevin Barry [whose novel City of Bohane won the 2013 International Dublin Literary Award]. Peter Murphy [whose 2011 novel John the Revelator was nominated for the Dublin Literary Award], and Claire Keegan [whose short stories won the Davy Byrnes Irish Writing award in 2009].
Is everyone in Ireland a writer or are those the only Irish we get to see over here?
As a man walking down the street in Dublin, it would never occur to me that anyone coming toward me was a writer.

Four hard men of the apocalypse

Frank Mcnally

An Irishman’s Diary about a decade of literary anniversaries
That Brendan Behan stamp, to mark the 50th anniversary of his death, may provoke an outburst of whataboutery among admirers of another Irish writer, Sean O’Casey, who will be just as long dead this coming September.
Sadly, An Post’s programme for the year has no mention of the O’Casey milestone. Maybe the philatelists thought they had him covered with the Irish Citizen Army centenary stamp, already released, although O’Casey’s founding membership of that army was short enough to support Behan’s quip about the first item on the agenda of any Irish republican group being the split.
I suppose O’Casey has a Liffey bridge named after him, the ultimate posthumous status symbol for an Irish writer. And the best of his plays and songs are still regularly performed 50 years after his demise, which is the best kind of memorial.
Indeed, many of them will get an airing in Dublin on Sunday week next, in honour of the other extreme of O’Casey’s life – his birth on March 30th, 1880.
To mark the 134th anniversary of that, as part of the half-centenary of the other, admirers, including his daughter Shivaun O’Casey, will present an evening of his music and writings entitled “A Song for the Green Crow”. The venue – where else? – is Liberty Hall. Tickets still available from the venue’s box office or at ctb.ie.
The 1960s must have been as hard on Irish writers as it was on international rock stars. Of the 12 featured on the famous pub posters, no fewer than four died in the middle of that decade, within about 3½ years of each other.
O’Casey (84) at least had a long life. But Behan (41), Brian O’Nolan (54), and Patrick Kavanagh (63) were each edited out of Irish literature early, in large part because of alcoholism. Aptly, all three martyrs to the drink are now commemorated with plaques in the footpath outside one of the Dublin pubs they frequented, the Palace, of which more shortly.
After O’Casey’s half-centenary (September 18th), the next will be O’Nolan’s in April 2016. And whatever form commemorations take then, there will hardly be a stamp, because he already got one of those during his centenary year, 2011.
The unveiling of that involved a rather pithy joke, unintended or otherwise, at his expense.
Back in 1959, in his Cruiskeen Lawn column, he had delivered an amusing rant about the “shocking incompetence of the Post Office branch in charge of stamp design and production”.
His ire, real or pretended, was over the designers’ failure to include the relevant dates (1759-1959) on a stamp marking the Guinness bicentenary. When it came to his own anniversary, therefore, An Post took no chances, including not only the dates but all three names by which the writer was known, his real one and the pseudonyms Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen.
No small achievement, on a stamp. But it so happened that, in his 1959 diatribe, Myles had also called for a better class of artist to be used henceforth by the postal authorities, and suggested mischievously that future stamps might depict more realistic scenes from Irish life, such as “a Feena Fayl big shot fixing a job for a relative”.
Thus, in what was either unthinking innocence or a counter-satirical masterstroke, An Post’s Myles stamp used a portrait painted by Micheál Ó Nualláin, a better class of artist, to be sure, but also O’Nolan’s brother. Touché.
Anyway, there are still two years to decide how the “Flann 50” should be marked. In the meantime, a byproduct of the centenary, the now-annual Mylesday commemoration on April 1st, is looming again.
Chief organiser John Clarke had a slight problem in planning this year’s instalment, namely that the date fell on a Tuesday – inconveniently for an event starting in mid-afternoon. There was a case for moving it towards a weekend. But being a purist, and to respect the fact that such a famous jester had seen fit to die on April Fool’s Day, Clarke decided it should stay where it was.
As usual, the venue will be the Palace Bar, starting at 3pm. Admission is free, but barstools – and space in general – will be anything but, so those hoping to sit are advised to come early.
The schedule of readings and performances is already fairly crammed.
But if you really want to, you might still be able to write yourself into the programme by contacting the organisers via 087-2414788 or at


We had hiked seventeen miles that stormy December day--the third of a
four days' journey. The snow was piled high on our packs, our rifles
were crusted with ice, the leather of our hob-nailed boots was frozen
stiff over our lamed feet. The weary lieutenant led us to the door of a
little house in a side street.

"Next twelve men," he said. A dozen of us dropped out of the ranks and
dragged ourselves over the threshold. We tracked snow and mud over a
spotless stone floor. Before an open fire stood Madame and the three
children--a girl of eight years, a boy of five, a boy of three. They
stared with round frightened eyes at les soldats Americans, the first
they had ever seen. We were too tired to stare back. We at once climbed
to the chill attic, our billet, our lodging for the night. First we
lifted the packs from one another's aching shoulders: then, without
spreading our blankets, we lay down on the bare boards.

For ten minutes there was silence, broken by an occasional groan, an
oath, the striking of a match. Cigarettes glowed like fireflies in a
forest. Then a voice came from the corner:

"Where is Sergeant Reilly?" it said. We lazily searched. There was no
Sergeant Reilly to be found.

"I'll bet the old bum has gone out after a pint," said the voice. And
with the curiosity of the American and the enthusiasm of the Irish we
lumbered downstairs in quest of Sergeant Reilly.

He was sitting on a low bench by the fire. His shoes were off and his
bruised feet were in a pail of cold water. He was too good a soldier to
expose them to the heat at once. The little girl was on his lap and the
little boys stood by and envied him. And in a voice that twenty years of
soldiering and oceans of whisky had failed to rob of its Celtic
sweetness, he was softly singing: "Ireland Isn't Ireland Any More." We
listened respectfully.

"They cheer the King and then salute him," said Sergeant Reilly.

"A regular Irishman would shoot him," and we all joined in the chorus,
"Ireland Isn't Ireland Any More."

"Ooh, la, la!" exclaimed Madame, and she and all the children began to
talk at the top of their voices. What they said Heaven knows, but the
tones were friendly, even admiring.

"Gentlemen," said Sergeant Reilly from his post of honor, "the lady who
runs this billet is a very nice lady indeed. She says yez can all take
off your shoes and dry your socks by the fire. But take turns and don't
crowd or I'll turn yez all upstairs."

Now Madame, a woman of some forty years, was a true bourgeoise, with all
the thrift of her class. And by the terms of her agreement with the
authorities she was required to let the soldiers have for one night the
attic of her house to sleep in--nothing more; no light, no heat. Also,
wood is very expensive in France--for reasons that are engraven in
letters of blood on the pages of history. Nevertheless--

"Asseyez-vous, s'il vous plait," said Madame. And she brought nearer to
the fire all the chairs the establishment possessed and some chests and
boxes to be used as seats. And she and the little girl, whose name was
Solange, went out into the snow and came back with heaping armfuls of
small logs. The fire blazed merrily--more merrily than it had blazed
since August, 1914, perhaps. We surrounded it, and soon the air was
thick with steam from our drying socks.

Meanwhile Madame and the Sergeant had generously admitted all eleven of
us into their conversation. A spirited conversation it was, too, in
spite of the fact that she knew no English and the extent of his French
was "du pain," "du vin," "cognac" and "bon jour." Those of us who knew a
little more of the language of the country acted as interpreters for the
others. We learned the names of the children and their ages. We learned
that our hostess was a widow. Her husband had fallen in battle just one
month before our arrival in her home. She showed us with simple pride
and affection and restrained grief his picture. Then she showed us those
of her two brothers--one now fighting at Salonica, the other a prisoner
of war--of her mother and father, of herself dressed for First

This last picture she showed somewhat shyly, as if doubting that we
would understand it. But when one of us asked in halting French if
Solange, her little daughter, had yet made her First Communion, then
Madame's face cleared.

"Mais oui!" she exclaimed, "Et vous, ma foi, vous êtes Catholiques,
n'est-ce pas?"

At once rosary beads were flourished to prove our right to answer this
question affirmatively. Tattered prayer-books and somewhat dingy
scapulars were brought to light. Madame and the children chattered their
surprise and delight to each other, and every exhibit called for a new

"Ah, le bon S. Benoit! Ah, voilà, le Conception Immacule! Ooh la la, le
Sacré Cœur!" (which last exclamation sounded in no wise as irreverent
as it looks in print).

Now other treasures, too, were shown--treasures chiefly photographic.
There were family groups, there were Coney Island snapshots. And Madame
and the children were a gratifyingly appreciative audience. They admired
and sympathized; they exclaimed appropriately at the beauty of every
girl's face, the tenderness of every pictured mother. We had become the
intimates of Madame. She had admitted us into her family and we her into

Soldiers--American soldiers of Irish descent--have souls and hearts.
These organs (if the soul may be so termed) had been satisfied. But our
stomachs remained--and that they yearned was evident to us. We had made
our hike on a meal of hardtack and "corned willy." Mess call would sound
soon. Should we force our wet shoes on again and plod through the snowy
streets to the temporary mess-shack? We knew our supply wagons had not
succeeded in climbing the last hill into town, and that therefore bread
and unsweetened coffee would be our portion. A great depression settled
upon us.

But Sergeant Reilly rose to the occasion.

"Boys," he said, "this here lady has got a good fire going, and I'll bet
she can cook. What do you say we get her to fix us up a meal?"

The proposal was received joyously at first. Then some one said:

"But I haven't got any money." "Neither have I--not a damn sou!" said
another. And again the spiritual temperature of the room fell.

Again Sergeant Reilly spoke:

"I haven't got any money to speak of, meself," he said. "But let's have
a show-down. I guess we've got enough to buy somethin' to eat."

It was long after pay-day, and we were not hopeful of the results of the
search. But the wealthy (that is, those who had two francs) made up for
the poor (that is, those who had two sous). And among the coins on the
table I noticed an American dime, an English half-crown and a Chinese
piece with a square hole in the center. In negotiable tender the money
came in all to eight francs.

It takes more money than that to feed twelve hungry soldiers these days
in France. But there was no harm in trying. So an ex-seminarian, an
ex-bookkeeper and an ex-street-car conductor aided Sergeant Reilly in
explaining in French that had both a brogue and a Yankee twang that we
were hungry, that this was all the money we had in the world, and that
we wanted her to cook us something to eat.

Now Madame was what they call in New England a "capable" woman. In a
jiffy she had the money in Solange's hand and had that admirable child
cloaked and wooden-shod for the street, and fully informed as to what
she was to buy. What Madame and the children had intended to have for
supper I do not know, for there was nothing in the kitchen but the fire,
the stove, the table, some shelves of dishes and an enormous bed.
Nothing in the way of a food cupboard could be seen. And the only other
room of the house was the bare attic.

When Solange came back she carried in a basket bigger than herself these
articles: (1) two loaves of war-bread; (2) five bottles of red wine; (3)
three cheeses; (4) numerous potatoes; (5) a lump of fat; (6) a bag of
coffee. The whole represented, as was afterward demonstrated, exactly
the sum of ten francs, fifty centimes.

Well, we all set to work peeling potatoes. Then with a veritable French
trench-knife Madame cut the potatoes into long strips. Meanwhile Solange
had put the lump of fat into the big black pot that hung by a chain
over the fire. In the boiling grease the potatoes were placed, Madame
standing by with a big ladle punched full of holes (I regret that I do
not know the technical name for this instrument) and keeping the
potato-strips swimming, zealously frustrating any attempt on their part
to lie lazily at the bottom of the pot.

We forgot all about the hike as we sat at supper that evening. The only
absentees were the two little boys, Michael and Paul. And they were
really absent only from our board--they were in the room, in the great
built-in bed that was later to hold also Madame and Solange. Their
little bodies were covered by the three-foot thick mattress-like red
silk quilt, but their tousled heads protruded and they watched us
unblinkingly all the evening.

But just as we sat down, before Sergeant Reilly began his task of
dishing out the potatoes and starting the bottles on their way, Madame
stopped her chattering and looked at Solange. And Solange stopped her
chattering and looked at Madame. And they both looked rather searchingly
at us. We didn't know what was the matter, but we felt rather

Then Madame began to talk, slowly and loudly, as one talks to make
foreigners understand. And the gist of her remarks was that she was
surprised to see that American Catholics did not say grace before
eating like French Catholics.

We sprang to our feet at once. But it was not Sergeant Reilly who saved
the situation. Instead, the ex-seminarian (he is only temporarily an
ex-seminarian; he'll be preaching missions and giving retreats yet if a
bit of shrapnel doesn't hasten his journey to Heaven) said, after we had
blessed ourselves: "Benedicite; nos et quae sumus sumpturi benedicat
Deus, Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus. Amen."

Madame and Solange, obviously relieved, joined us in the Amen, and we
sat down again to eat.

It was a memorable feast. There was not much conversation--except on the
part of Madame and Solange--but there was plenty of good cheer. Also
there was enough cheese and bread and wine and potatoes for all of
us--half starved as we were when we sat down. Even big Considine, who
drains a can of condensed milk at a gulp and has been known to eat an
apple pie without stopping to take breath, was satisfied. There were
toasts, also, all proposed by Sergeant Reilly--toasts to Madame, and to
the children, and to France, and to the United States, and to the Old
Gray Mare (this last toast having an esoteric significance apparent only
to illuminati of Sergeant Reilly's circle).

The table cleared and the "agimus tibi gratias" duly said, we sat
before the fire, most of us on the floor. We were warm and happy and
full of good food and good wine. I spied a slip of paper on the floor by
Solange's foot and unashamedly read it. It was an accounting for the
evening's expenditures--totaling exactly ten francs and fifty centimes.

Now when soldiers are unhappy--during a long, hard hike, for
instance--they sing to keep up their spirits. And when they are happy,
as on the evening now under consideration, they sing to express their
satisfaction with life. We sang "Sweet Rosie O'Grady." We shook the
kitchen-bedroom with the echoes of "Take Me Back to New York Town." We
informed Madame, Solange, Paul, Michael, in fact, the whole village,
that we had never been a wanderer and that we longed for our Indiana
home. We grew sentimental over "Mother Machree." And Sergeant Reilly
obliged with a reel--in his socks--to an accomplishment of whistling and

Now, it was our hostess's turn to entertain. We intimated as much. She
responded, first by much talk, much consultation with Solange, and
finally by going to one of the shelves that held the pans and taking
down some paper-covered books.

There was more consultation, whispered this time, and much turning of
pages. Then, after some preliminary coughing and humming, the music
began--the woman's rich alto blending with the child's shrill but sweet
notes. And what they sang was "Tantum ergo Sacramentum."

Why she should have thought that an appropriate song to offer this
company of rough soldiers from a distant land I do not know. And why we
found it appropriate it is harder still to say. But it did seem
appropriate to all of us--to Sergeant Reilly, to Jim (who used to drive
a truck), to Larry (who sold cigars), to Frank (who tended a bar on
Fourteenth Street). It seemed, for some reason, eminently fitting. Not
one of us then or later expressed any surprise that this hymn, familiar
to most of us since our mothers first led us to the Parish Church down
the pavements of New York or across the Irish hills, should be sung to
us in this strange land and in these strange circumstances.

Since the gracious Latin of the Church was in order and since the season
was appropriate, one of us suggested "Adeste Fideles" for the next item
on the evening's program. Madame and Solange and our ex-seminarian knew
all the words and the rest of us came in strong with "Venite, adoremus

Then, as if to show that piety and mirth may live together, the ladies
obliged with "Au Clair de la Lune" and other simple ballads of old
France. And after taps had sounded in the street outside our door, and
there was yawning, and wrist-watches were being scanned, the evening's
entertainment ended, by general consent, with patriotic selections. We
sang--as best we could--the "Star-Spangled Banner," Solange and her
mother humming the air and applauding at the conclusion. Then we
attempted "La Marseillaise." Of course, we did not know the words.
Solange came to our rescue with two little pamphlets containing the
song, so we looked over each other's shoulders and got to work in
earnest. Madame sang with us, and Solange. But during the final stanza
Madame did not sing. She leaned against the great family bedstead and
looked at us. She had taken one of the babies from under the red
comforter and held him to her breast. One of her red and toil-scarred
hands half covered his fat little back. There was a gentle dignity about
that plain, hard-working woman, that soldier's widow--we all felt it.
And some of us saw the tears in her eyes.

There are mists, faint and beautiful and unchanging, that hang over the
green slopes of some mountains I know. I have seen them on the Irish
hills and I have seen them on the hills of France. I think that they are
made of the tears of good brave women.

Before I went to sleep that night I exchanged a few words with Sergeant
Reilly. We lay side by side on the floor, now piled with straw.
Blankets, shelter-halves, slickers and overcoats insured warm sleep.
Sergeant Reilly's hard old face was wrapped round with his muffler. The
final cigarette of the day burned lazily in a corner of his mouth.

"That was a pretty good evening, Sarge," I said. "We sure were in luck
when we struck this billet."

He grunted affirmatively, then puffed in silence for a few minutes. Then
he deftly spat the cigarette into a strawless portion of the floor,
where it glowed for a few seconds before it went out.

"You said it," he remarked. "We were in luck is right. What do you know
about that lady, anyway?"

"Why," I answered, "I thought she treated us pretty white."

"Joe," said Sergeant Reilly, "do you realize how much trouble that woman
took to make this bunch of roughnecks comfortable? She didn't make a
damn cent on that feed, you know. The kid spent all the money we give
her. And she's out about six francs for firewood, too--I wish to God I
had the money to pay her. I bet she'll go cold for a week now, and
hungry, too.

"And that ain't all," he continued, after a pause broken only by an
occasional snore from our blissful neighbors. "Look at the way she
cooked them pomme de terres and fixed things up for us and let us sit
down there with her like we was her family. And look at the way she and
the little Sallie there sung for us.

"I tell you, Joe, it makes me think of old times to hear a woman sing
them church hymns to me that way. It's forty years since I heard a hymn
sung in a kitchen, and it was my mother, God rest her, that sang them. I
sort of realize what we're fighting for now, and I never did before.
It's for women like that and their kids.

"It gave me a turn to see her a-sitting there singing them hymns. I
remembered when I was a boy in Shangolden. I wonder if there's many
women like that in France now--telling their beads and singing the old
hymns and treating poor traveling men the way she's just after treating
us. There used to be lots of women like that in the Old Country. And I
think that's why it was called 'Holy Ireland.'"