Poverty and the Church-led attack on Celtic traditions force 1950's Irish farmers into exile--in a rich, poignant if occasionally heavy-handed novel (first published in 1986 in Ireland) from Keane, who writes a column for the New York-based Irish Echo. In rural Dirrabeg, farmers work hard cutting turf and raising a couple of cows or pigs, but it's not easy keeping up much less getting ahead, especially when relatives are in desperate need--but as Donal Hallapy reassures his wife before taking hard-to-spare fuel and groceries to his sister and her children, ``We never died a winter yet.'' One bright spot in the year is the ``Wren'': stepdancers and musicians--including Donal, who plays the traditional goatskin drum, the ``bodhr†n''--travel around in costume collecting contributions that pay for an all-night ``wrendance.'' The authoritarian parish priest in the town of Trallock, however, considers the wrendancers not just drunker pagans but competitors for money and loyalty; he resolves to crush the old customs--as well as an excellent but unorthodox rural teacher and a couple of budding romances between single men and married (though long-abandoned) women. What ensues is not only a struggle between Catholic and pagan but also between classes, between town and country. Trallock emerges as an oppressive place without privacy or compassion. Ultimately, ironically, villagers like Hallapy--as well as sympathetic priests--find their only chance for dignity in emigration to the enemy country, England. A thorough, pained, loving account of a lost world--with the novel itself an act of cultural survival.