On one of my more recent trips to Ireland, I took a detour through County Waterford to visit Lismore Castle. Towering over the steep, wooded banks of the Blackwater, it was built nearly 900 years ago by an English prince, was once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh and has been the Irish seat of the Dukes of Devonshire since the eighteenth century. The castle is a fairytale sight but what caught my eye, given pride of place on one distinctly ancient and sturdy-looking wall, was a plaque. Said wall, it explained, replaced one that had collapsed ‘for no apparent reason’. No more, no less. I was, briefly, bemused; on reflection, quite the opposite. That precise phrase recurs, to pointed and poignant effect, in Troubles, J. G. Farrell’s sublime tragicomedy about the dying days of Ireland’s Protestant Ascendancy. As I sheltered from the rain, by now rather less soft than it’s fabled to be, in the lee of that notable wall, it struck me as the perfect summation of the entire Anglo-Irish predicament.
I was on a pilgrimage to Castletownshend, the West Cork crucible of a unique and celebrated writing partnership, appreciation of whose work is one of my infallible yardsticks of congeniality. When not quite into my teens, I noticed that my parents were unusually taken with a television series called The Irish RM, ‘based on stories by Anglo-Irish novelists Somerville and Ross’. Broadcast in the UK in the early 1980s, when the IRA was committing some of its worst atrocities on the mainland, it was an early and, perhaps, surprising success for the then new Channel 4. More beggar than chooser, I settled down to watch with them and was soon hooked on the galloping misadventures of Major Sinclair Yeates who, as the eponymous Resident Magistrate, arrives in turn-of-the-century western Ireland fresh from his regiment and appointed by the Lord Lieutenant to administer justice; or so he hopes.
No one ‘of Irish extraction’ is born free of
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