Enough Christmas stories—52 in all—to last the whole year long, each one generously laced with classic Keane blarney (An Irish Christmas, 2000, etc.).
Keane, who died this past May, was something of a national institution in Ireland. As famed for the pub he ran in Listowel, County Kerry, as he was for his writing, he exemplified the tradition of the Irish storyteller and was a phenomenally prolific and popular author. His Christmas stories were especially prized, and he collects a great haul of them here. Most are simple, homely tales depicting the foibles of small-town (usually Listowel) life and the motley, somewhat roguish characters who live there. If Keane is to be believed, the average Irishman spends much of his life trying, with only modest success, to walk a straight line along the boundary that separates honesty from vice. Edgar Guff (of “The Course of Time”) is a good example: a drunkard and layabout, Edgar is shamed into repentance by eavesdropping on his own wife’s confession on Christmas Eve. Then there’s Mickey Dooley (“The Great Christmas Raid at Ballyhooley”), a local thief who was wounded in a heist and saved his reputation by blaming it all on the Black and Tans. Ned Muddle (“The Miracle of Ballybradawn”) is another scamp saved in spite of himself: a salmon poacher, he’s pursued by game wardens and can escape only by dropping in at church for Midnight Mass—for the first time in 15 years. But this isn’t only a rogues’ gallery: There is a touching portrait of the career of the parish priest Canon Coodle in “The Fourth Wise Man,” and we find occasional meditations on life in general (as in “Christmas Noses,” which offers a few observations on the nature of nasal congestion).
Corny, trite, and delightful: tales sure to delight anyone who has ever cried over a good rendition of “Danny Boy”—or passed out at a Pogues concert.