The excellent Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories begins with a legend of the Fianna told by Lady Gregory, and ends with Gillman Noonan’s ‘Dear Parents, I’m working for the EEC!’ Benedict Kiely’s editorial cunning thus encapsulates Irish progress; though the hero of the latter story feels that materialism and bureaucracy have made him ‘a hollow man’. This is a mood representative of current self criticism in the Republic: Brendan Kennelly’s ‘Note to the Second Edition’ of The Penguin Book of Irish Verse invokes the shade of Patrick Kavanagh to save the country from, among other demons, ‘bumptious self-conscious modernism’. Hugh Leonard who, in becoming a successful playwright, rose above the wrong side of the blanket and of the tracks, reacts less gloomily in his autobiography when he sees a wider reflection of his own upward mobility:
Not long ago I was asked to open a fashion show in the stadium. There was an audience of six hundred, and among them I recognised faces I had not seen in a third of a century. Then they had belonged to urchins like myself; now they were light-years away from the dinginess and the scrimping: they drove cars, played bridge and had been to Spain in August.
Meanwhile, William Carleton’s nineteenth-century story, ‘Wildgoose Lodge’ suggests things more worth crying about than all the way to the bank. As Kiely says, it matches ‘the mood and background of our times’ – north of the border:
Another word,’ said the captain, ‘an’ you’re a corpse where you stand, or the