Blooming Marvellous

Share this

Sometime in the late 1990s, when I was staying in Dublin with my sister Marie Heaney and her husband Seamus, he was working on the introduction to a book called A Way of Life, Like Any Other, which I took to be a novel. I’d never heard of it, but the fact that Seamus was writing an introduction to this new edition seemed like an honour and signalled importance. First published in 1977, it had won both the Guardian Fiction Prize and the American PEN/Hemingway Award. How had I missed it?

Seamus gave me some pages of his introduction to read and I remember being much taken by the author’s use of the word ‘cleanly’ in a passage about acting as a carer for his father:

I had been nearly two years caring for my father and had some reason to be pleased with my work. His habits were again cleanly, his house and its treasures were in order . . .

It was so simple, yet it marked him out as someone at home with what the poet Eavan Boland called ‘that most fabulous of beasts, language’. The book’s title originated in a flippant remark Seamus had once made in a Czech restaurant, which was seized upon by the author who – of course, of course! – happened to be there. The whole situation was somehow reminiscent of one of Flann O’Brien’s delicious literary excursions poking fun at pretension. And appropriately the author’s name was Darcy O’Brien, a moniker given him by Marguerite Churchill, his movie-star mother (a fabulously crazed, joyfully wicked, sexy creation, who didn’t want anyone to think her son was common Irish. Jaysus, no.)

On New Year’s Eve 2001, the worst snowstorm in England and Ireland for years closed nearly all the airports, but somehow one flight took off from Dublin to Bristol with Seamus and Marie on it. They made it to my house through the snowy Mendips where the rest of my family were waiting and hoping, and then through the hazardously high drifts to St Michael’s church in

Subscribe or sign in to read the full article

The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.

Subscribe now or

About the contributor

Polly Devlin’s latest book is Writing Home, a sort of accidental memoir. She lives in London and sometimes teaches at Barnard College, Columbia University, in New York.

Share this

Comments & Reviews

Leave a comment

Customise this page for easy reading

Distraction-free
reading mode