Passing through the pleasingly named town of Gort on my way to the Burren recently, I popped in to a second-hand bookshop and picked up a couple of Brian Moore books I hadn’t read: Catholics and The Doctor’s Wife. Everything I’ve read by Moore has been time well spent, yet most people I ask have not read him, and many have not heard of him.
Catholics (1972) is more novella than novel, around 80 pages long in my Penguin paperback edition. Work won’t allow a single-sitting read today, so I’m taking bites from it on my breaks. The title is straightforwardly descriptive: a young American priest is sent from Rome to a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, where old and new Catholicism square up against each another.
The young priest, Kinsella, has just landed on the island – the first time it hosted a helicopter – and meets with the presiding Abbot in a large parlour. Sitting on rough furniture carved by the local monks, with Atlantic light streaming in through a 13th-century window, they enact a ritual within rituals:
Kinsella smiled and carefully handed back the seal. The Abbot shut it in the tin box. ‘Cup of tea?’
‘Oh, no thanks.’
Irishly, the Abbot appraised this and, Irishly, decided the denial was mere politeness. ‘Ah, you will!’ the Abbot said. He called downstairs. ‘Brother Martin?’
‘Bring us a cup of tea, will you?’
‘Two teas,’ Martin’s voice rumbled from below.
That response Ah, you will!, and variations like Ah, go on and Sure you might as well and Would you not have a drop are so Irish that they have passed into parody – thanks in part to Mrs Doyle of Father Ted fame:
(Father Jack makes liberal use of the Irish minced oath feck in that clip; I wrote about its use and origins here.)
Also of interest in the excerpt above is the unusual adverb Irishly, which does a lot of work in Moore’s narrative commentary. It doesn’t appear in many dictionaries; Merriam-Webster defines it as ‘in a manner characteristic of the Irish’, while the OED extends this to encompass one salient aspect of Irishness:
In a manner characteristic or reminiscent of Ireland or the Irish. Also occas.: in a seemingly contradictory fashion.
Declining a cup of tea when really you’d like one (you may even ‘murder a cup’) certainly qualifies as Irishly contradictory – as does Mrs Doyle’s marvellous deployment of You won’t have a cup as another way of insisting on a cup.