LAST OF THE DONKEY PILGRIMS by Kevin O’Hara

LAST OF THE DONKEY PILGRIMS

One Man’s Journey to Discover His Roots
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Skillful piece of travel-writing from O’Hara, who walks around the coast rather than ride in the cart, “because I want to view old Ireland from donkey level” (or maybe he just can’t command the cart?).

It is 1979. O'Hara is a young man semi-fresh from Vietnam, an American in Ireland with an idea: take a donkey and a cart around Eire’s circumference. This notion comes to him in a pub, and some in attendance suggest “he’d be much like those wise men who climbed Faerymount one clear night in June, all in hopes of catching the rising moon in a burlap bag.” His aunt Cella is less poetic: “I think you're a half-boiled eejit!” But not really, for all and sundry think his adventure is pretty fine—and it is. Short of funds, O’Hara figures he’ll be a seanachie, who gets the 3 Bs (bed, bath, and beer) by telling stories. Actually, since newspapers across the country are following his progress, it’s celebrity that gets him a welcome most nights, though one woman tells him through the farmhouse door, “I don't care if you’re John the Baptist proclaiming ‘the Good News,’ you simple gomeral! Now, get, or ye’ll be gimping off, I promise.” It is a slow and marvelous journey under dove-gray skies and beside forlorn Norman towers, through the “hollow bright fog” of sun and mist, reeling from the collywobbles of a bad bottle of stout, along a pilgrim’s path of holy wells and beehive cells. Everywhere there are intimate local vignettes and good wishes: “Now, safe home, and may a gallery of saints protect you” are the chosen parting words of a morning.

It took newcomer O'Hara 25 years to compose this poke at Ireland’s edge, time for the events to become burnished. His writing is all the better for it; like the Irish fog, it's both glowing and lightly pushed by an unacknowledged melancholy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-765-30983-1
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2003