From Irish-American writer Mahoney (The Early Arrival of Dreams, 1990): a remarkably perceptive and engaging account of contemporary Irish women. Mahoney--who, with strong family ties to Ireland, spent a year in high school there--returned in 1991 to investigate what she believed to be the changing role of women in a country where divorce and abortion are illegal and women are defined strictly in relation to men. As a woman who runs a pregnancy counseling service in Dublin reminded her, ``The Irish Constitution refers to women only three times and in a restrictive and paternalistic fashion.'' But with a woman recently elected as the country's president--an election one Irish analyst described as ``psychically comparable to the collapse of the Berlin Wall''--and with the growing challenge to harsh antiabortion laws, as well as with Ireland's membership in the EEC (whose high court guarantees equal rights to all), Mahoney felt that change was at last coming. She alternated her investigation between Dublin and the village of Corofin, where she lived in a splendid but isolated old castle. In the village, she spent time in the pub run and owned by the MacNamara family--a family that reflected the old realities as well as the new: Francis, like many older men the author met, was a lonely bachelor; nephew Willi had an ex-wife in England, plus two illegitimate children in the village; and heavy-drinking, 30-ish Annie had been forced by her parents and the Church to give up her child, born out of wedlock. Back in Dublin, Mahoney met with lesbians; attended meetings of the Legion of Mary; talked to a feminist poet; and interviewed Irish President Mary Robinson, who noted that the old Irish mind-set of ``worrying uncertainty and self-deprecation'' is being replaced by ``a more positive sense of Irishness.'' A memorable portrait, by a natural storyteller and scholar, of a wonderfully eloquent and expressive people on the cusp of change.