An elegiac novel charts the life seasons of an Irish healer who weathers hardship, profound loss and the encroachment of modernity.
Mariah, born in the Burren, a wild corner of County Clare, lives in her native cottage until her death, at 96, in 1954. She never experiences electricity, running water, central heating, telephone, radio or movies. The novel is woven from Mariah’s anecdotes and recollections as told to the author, her distant cousin. She comes from a family of healers who practice herbal cures derived from ancient Celtic lore—not, as the priests accuse, Satan. An ash tree near Mariah’s house, charred and hollowed by lightning, becomes her sanctuary from childhood on. She sees ghosts, including that of a starveling, who becomes her playmate. Her only love, a young Scottish engineer whom she meets at the Anglo-Irish landlord’s ball, drowns, the victim of a rejected suitor’s jealous rage. She devotes herself to caring for her parents and brothers and undertakes a seven-year stint as the manager of a village pub, where her no-nonsense attitude tames the rowdy regulars. Maria’s memory is an omnium-gatherum of Irish superstition and legend, including the doom of a woman who hears the church bell of a mythical, submerged village. The family (except for the dog) narrowly escapes the Black and Tans. Mariah outlives her bachelor brothers, Brian and Robin (a third brother, the only sibling to marry, emigrated to Australia), and, despite failing eyesight, continues to walk the fields, practice her cures and relish nature’s poetic justice.
Of particular interest to aficionados of all things Irish, this unsentimental evocation of an ordinary life in forgotten times deserves a wider readership than it is likely to receive.