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The Leaves on Grey

Desmond Hogan
Lilliput Press


But on one thing Liam's uncle was firm, the foolhardiness of the Irish Free State. 'A cabal of fools.' Nineteen-sixteen, he said was an idiot's outing, a party game for entrepreneurs, do-gooders, academic deviants and political hysterics. Suddenly on a beach in north Antrim Liam found himself defending the revolutionaries of 1916.

Men of honour, he said. Noble men. Men who aspired to the political unity of a country. Men who changed history. Men who founded a new state, as yet uncertain of itself, but born of such nobility of character and statement bound some day for great things. His uncle had shrugged. Under no circumstances would he ever surrender his Unionist kingdom to the Southern State. Freedom was priceless he said. Freedom from bigotry. Freedom from mind-boggling obscurantism.

The wind blew in, became harsh on their faces. The conversation ceased. They retired to cups of hot cocoa and a view of the sea, turbu­lent under a May storm.

Somehow the potential argument, confusion between Sarah, me and Liam disappeared in the advent of final examinations. One drank much orange. One lazed in the garden.

Sarah's mother invited us both to dinner one evening and we sat in the kitchen, eating on an old wooden table, without the sun secre­tive and deep with evening. Sarah's mother had cooked a dish of red cabbage and chicken and we ate peaceably. 'You have two boyfriends,' Sarah's mother said over the meal to Sarah, 'what an exciting time you must have.'

We drank tea in the parlour and the lady spoke of her polio clinic, her hopes for it, for raising money, for dedicating it to her husband's memory. There was a frail woodpecker-like quality about the woman, her face in evening sunlight looked even more sharpened and resolute.

'Basically,' she said, 'I wish to continue with what Gerard was doing, building a sanctuary one way or the other for the defenceless.'

Liam spoke a little about Galway, his home, the river, the convent, the orphans, his mother, the dead Russian woman with the face fine as red sandstone along the river Volga and the body firm as a river-going vessel. I spoke about my parents; my father, a well-known…