By Benedict Kiely
The story is the reminiscences of an Irish woman now married to an American and living in Detroit. It tell of the events in Northern Ireland 30 years previously. Lofty, a Protestant, and a young convent girl are involved in the subtle beginnings of a romantic relationship.
This is nipped in the bud by the political situation. They have innocent meetings in an island park. Lofty has given the girl six bullets as a frivolous token of his affection. But in the midst of an unstable political situation this is not taken lightly. One day a butcher who is a member of a Protestant group, sits on the girl’s special bench in the park and tells her about Lofty’s political affiliations.
Their meeting constitutes a breach of conduct for the boy and a betrayal of Catholicism for the girl. The bullets emerge as a symbol of how politics enter into personal life when both the girl and boy are brought to the police station and confronted with them. When the sergeant says “case is closed” he is saying this young relationship is terminated. The story ends with a striking portrait of the park, once a tranquil place, it is now, 30 years later, a wasteland, benches and swings smashed by soldiers, the terrain destroyed by bombs.
“Remembering her, I walked, the last time I was in the town to revisit Bluebell Meadow. The bridge over the millrace was broken down to one plank. Rank grass grew a foot high over most of the island…. The children’s swings and all the seats were gone,smashed some time before by reluctant young soldiers from North English cities doing their national service. Repair work had been planned but then the bombings and murders began.”
By kind permission of Mrs Frances Kiely, through the Jonathan Williams Literary Agency.
The title story deals with the stresses that sectarianism and political conflict impose on a simple loving relationship between two people who have little sense of the animosities that are inherited in a troubled and divided society.
‘‘Bluebell Meadow’’ displays the author’s attachment to the pastoral—Ireland’s hills, meadows, streams are almost characters—but the tide distantly gathers. A young woman, thinking young thoughts in a flowered park, is approached by the local butcher. She is Catholic; he is master of the Orange lodge, center of hard-line Protestant activism. With a grimness masked by heavy paternal condescension, he warns her off her boyfriend, a member of the B-Specials, an auxiliary Protestant police force. The warning is for his sake, not hers: going with a Catholic will ruin his prospects. ‘‘Dear Sacred Heart,’’ she reflects, ‘‘it was a cheery world.’‘
New York Times
“But too often, as too often in life, there is no escape. In the excellent “Rich and Rare Were the Gems She Wore” an elegant Dublin girl, Fanny, spends a day with a slickly handsome American major on wartime leave. He expects a certain outcome to their day together, but Fanny knows no middle ground between virginity and complete perdition. A good Catholic girl, she ends the day crying in bed with her rosary, while her major finds consolation elsewhere. In “Through the Fields in Gloves” a middle-aged man feels so trapped and depressed by life with his morbidly obese wife and half-witted sister that he becomes unhinged. And in “Bluebell Meadow” a Catholic highschool girl and a Protestant boy are attracted to one another, but being well-behaved young people and solid members of their communities they are soon talked out of their flirtation. Their story is not a personal tragedy-they never even get to know each other well enough to fall in love-but it indicates, in its subdued and understated way, a national tragedy: they, and thousands like them, will never know one another, never even know what they might be missing.”
Brooke Allen in New Criterion, June 2004
TYPE OF PUBLICATION
From A Cow in the House, And Nine Other Stories