Dillon in the 1950s Eilís Dillon
The Bitter Glass

Set in the Ireland of 1922, The Bitter Glass is about a group of young people on holiday in the far west, cut off from the older members of their families and the fundamental crises they face in isolation and danger. The Irish Civil War is raging. Insurgent irregulars surround them. From within they are menaced by epidemic and death. Their inner strengths and inner weaknesses, prematurely exposed and ruthlessly tested, produce a complex pattern of plot and situation. This moving and exciting novel has a memorable depth of sympathy and understanding. And as Eudora Welty said, it is "written with a very sure and sensitive hand ... the world of Connemara was flawlessly conveyed."

The Bitter Glass, US edition..The Bitter Glass, Faber edition..The Bitter Glass, Ward River Press..The Bitter Glass, Poolbeg Press


"Here is a gem of a first novel by an Irish writer who knows how to remove all barriers between the readers and her characters." (New York Times Book Review)

"The Bitter Glass ... has a rounded excellence which comes from a mature technique and imagination of high quality. Without being in the least overwritten or sentimental, this is a most poetical book." (The Times)

"A remarkable novel, in a class by itself." (Homes and Gardens)

"A lovely, remote world of people and customs unforgettably described." (The Spectator)

"Written with deceptive simplicity and with a poet's eye and ear, The Bitter Glass is especially effective in its descriptions of Connemara." (The Washington Post)

"An excellent piece of work to me, full of reality, full of poetry, written with a very sure and sensitive hand. I was completely won by it. I thought the world of Connemara was flawlessly conveyed to a reader who might, or might not, have ever seen it in life. I was never more at home in a book." (Eudora Welty)

"Excellent, powerful and moving." (Fort Wayne News Sentinel)

"Exciting and intelligent and intensely human." (Church Times)

"The Bitter Glass is no mere fabrication. Miss Dillon comes close to life itself with its pain and its grief, its courage and its decency, its uncertainties and its strengths." (Marsh Maslin, S. F. NewsCall Bulletin)

"The story is set in the Irish country but the wisdoms transcend place. This is a perceptive book in which the interior struggles of the characters are highlighted, not swamped by the plot." (Houston Post)


Eilís Dillon Centenary 2020
An extract from
The Bitter Glass (1958):


Galway was like a different world. They all felt it, from the moment when they first caught sight of the sea and the train seemed suddenly to become smaller as it rattled over the last little bridge on its way into the station.
Standing at the window to look out, Ruth felt a huge wave of peace wash over her, carrying away on its ebb all the irritations and fears of the last weeks. She opened the window wide so that the unusually hot summer air flowed all around them. The others crowded behind her, as if they had never before seen the little inlet of the sea bordered with thatched cottages at the edge of the town. Only Colman Andrews, world-weary with his twenty-six years, did not move from his corner. Still he smiled at them tolerantly, as if he could understand their enthusiasm. Ruth turned and sent him a special look of affection, hiding her disappointment at his coolness. Then she said:
"Come and look, Colman. You can't see through that frosted glass window."
Slowly and indolently he unfolded his long legs. As he came across the rolling, swaying carriage, he stretched himself consciously to his full magnificent height. His chin came up. His hooded brown eyes lifted slightly at the corners. When he looked at a thing intently, he had a way of turning his head as if to emphasize or display his Greek profile. He was doing it now. Ruth's elder brother, Pat, watching him, held his breath. He thought as he had sometimes thought before how he would like to spring on Colman and drag him down and rub his face on the ground. Pat thought of it like this because himself was small, and at twenty-one he was not likely to grow any more. He shut his eyes and waited for a second. Of course when he looked again, Colman was reaching for Ruth's hand and saying with his usual charm:
"Now we'll all forget Dublin completely. This is a holiday. No one may mention the war. Anyone who does will have to put sixpence into a jam-jar and we'll give it to the poor when we get home."
"I'm not likely to contribute much," said Nora, Pat's other sister, rather drily.
Colman looked down at her indulgently. Nora took no notice. She was seventeen. With the characteristic lack of resistance of her age, already she accepted Colman as one of the family, not to be given any special attention. Pat wished he could achieve this attitude. Still he found himself warming a little to Colman again, as he always did, and he was no longer impatient with the admiration in Ruth's eyes as she looked at him.
Pat had to admit that Colman had several good points. He paid proper attention to Ruth. He was handsome and clean-looking. He worked reasonably hard. He was pleasantly wealthy, for there was no one else to inherit the leather business that his father owned. Colman's only sister was married to a prosperous wine-merchant and was rather grand. But dismally Pat saw the obverse of each of these qualities which should have reassured him. Colman's managing ways might easily turn into bullying after his marriage to Ruth. They had only become engaged three weeks before, and already Pat thought he saw signs of Colman's tendency to interfere with Ruth's activities. Then Colman's good looks gave him more assurance than was good for him. A crooked nose, thought Pat, might save his soul for him. Even his industry had an air of selfishness about it. And here Pat came to the real source of his uneasiness.
The year was 1922. When this party had left it, Dublin was divided into two bitter armies, one battering the other in the ruins of the Four Courts, both armies tired and hysterical after the long struggle which had begun in 1916. Each side was willing to die for a principle. On neither side did the leaders care a fig for their lives. All of them had come to terms with death six years before. One side was disillusioned and bitter, but willing to build up a new state on the ruins of the old one. On the other side were the die-hards who preferred death to dishonour, and who were utterly incapable of taking an oath of allegiance to an English king. So throughout Ireland the Civil War blazed up, Republicans on one side, Free Staters on the other, and poor Mother Eire wringing her hands between the two of them.
Although he was not actively involved on either side, Pat found it impossible not to be concerned with these violent issues. But Colman seemed to take no interest. He had said once, rather apologetically, that before her death his mother had made him promise to keep out of politics. But seeing his detached attitude now, Pat was inclined to think that the promise had been made to himself.
As usual, when he came to this point, Pat began to blame himself for judging Colman so harshly. He knew that he was hating the idea of handing over his favourite sister to a stranger. If it had been Nora, he would not have felt like this. But Ruth was innocent and sweet and sensitive. He wondered how Brian felt about it, but it never occurred to Pat to ask him.
Brian was the youngest of the four MacAuleys. He was deep in conversation with Joe Thornton, the last member of the party. They had turned away from the window and were talking about Ansaldo engines. Joe Thornton was two years older than Pat, though they were at the same stage of the medical course at the university. He talked to the sixteen-year-old schoolboy Brian with the courtesy of a countryman and without the smallest hint of patronage.
The train slid to a tired stop in the echoing, empty station. Colman was the first on to the platform, helping Ruth down the steps. Nora jumped clear of his outstretched hand and was on her way down along the length of the train in a moment. Pat and Joe began to pile the hand-baggage on the platform. A middle-aged porter approached. His cap was pushed back off his steaming forehead. His black hair, spiked with the heat, stuck up in front of the peak. He looked the whole party over with lively interest and then said to Pat:
"Ye're going out to Derrylea for the summer? Where's the mammy and daddy?"
"Coming along in a day or two. We're going on the Clifden train at five o'clock."
"Then ye'll put all that stuff in the parcel office. There's more in the van, I suppose?"
"That's right."
Now Nora was coming towards the group, carrying one handle of a broad basket. The other handle was held without effort by a tall, slender girl with blue-black hair. The porter hurried forward to help them, but he stopped dead when he saw the contents of the basket.
"Blessed hour!" he said reverently, "Two of them! Who owns them, would you mind telling me?"
"Aunt Margaret -- Mrs. Daly, that is," said Nora. "She's coming, too, in a few days' time."
The two babies in the basket grinned slowly at the porter as he admired them. Colman Andrews said, a little impatiently:
"Hadn't we better go at once, if we want to have tea before the train?"
He looked doubtfully at the babies and their nurse. Already angry that they had not travelled in the same carriage from Dublin, Nora said blackly:
"Sarah will come, too. I'll help her to carry the basket."
In a second, of course, Joe Thornton and Pat had the basket between them. Pat looked down at the babies and laughed with pure delight at the placid, miniature, identical heads, with their calm, bright eyes, accepting the world and everything in it without astonishment.
Joe leaned over with his free hand and stroked the little girl on the cheek. She grinned lopsidedly and rubbed her face against his finger like a cat.
Nora kept her place beside them as they came out of the station. Sarah walked easily beside Nora, with springy steps as if she were walking barefoot on a mountainside. As was usual with her, her feet moved in the rhythm of the song that was running in her head. Sarah's home was in Derrylea, and she was happy to be going back there for the summer. Still her eyes were never quite free of an ancient, hereditary melancholy, like a Byzantine madonna.
They found Ruth and Colman waiting on the broad, limestone steps outside the station. Since there had been a market in the morning, the air was loud with the clanking of donkey-carts on their way home. Seven of them were passing the station just then. Each carried on one shaft a mountainous old woman in her best brown shawl, on the other shaft a man in heavy grey homespun trousers, a white báinín jacket and a flat black Spanish hat, and behind them on the cart the empty buttermilk keg and egg basket, next week's groceries and an armful of hay for the donkey. They moved in a sort of train, each donkey nibbling at the hay on the cart in front of him. The women shouted to each other about the price of calves and the gossip that they had picked up at the market. Suddenly the leading driver lashed at his donkey with his ash stick. The whole procession broke into a bouncing, clattering gallop and streamed off up the hill out of the town.
Colman led the way up the street to the square.
"Cattle-market," he said, sniffing the air in disgust.
Ruth gave a little shriek of laughter. He looked at her inquiringly.
"You have such a good palate," she said.
She had been about to explain that the over-strong smells of the market recalled far-off holidays more perfectly and instantly than anything else could ever do. But when she saw his completely blank and uncomprehending expression, she stopped. She told herself that it was not very nice for a young girl to have a nostalgic attachment for the smell of cattle-markets. She reflected that she must learn to cover up these coarse tendencies, lest they might peek out without warning after her marriage to Colman and disgrace him. But she felt, too, a painful sense of restriction, of which she was instantly ashamed.
"I love the smell of the cattle-market," said Nora heartily, coming up behind them. "It reminds me of when we first came for our holidays to Derrylea. Do you feel it too, Ruth?"
"A little," said Ruth hurriedly, glancing sideways at Colman.
Pat saw that look, and hated it.
Just off the square they crowded into a teashop. It was long and cool, and at this hour of the day quite empty. At the far end of the shop they sat at white marble tables with black wrought-iron feet. The chairs were covered in black leather. The dark-brown papered walls and darkly varnished woodwork were sombrely pleasant after the hot glare outside. They had tea and Bath buns.
"Heaven!" said Nora, biting the end off hers.
Sarah did not sit at the table with the others, but drank her tea at the counter, with the excuse that she had to supervise the heating of bottles of milk for the babies. She was shy with the strange young men. Also, Ruth since her engagement had moved into a new category and Sarah was not yet sure what to do about it. She found herself unable any longer to call Ruth by her first name. She dared not say Miss MacAuley, because Nora would have been on to this in a flash, with embarrassing outspokenness. So at present she was warding off from moment to moment the necessity for addressing Ruth by name at all.
Just as she received her bottles, two men came into the shop together. The older of the two saw Sarah at once, and leaving his friend buying bags of buns, he came along the length of the counter to speak to her. In spite of the heat, he was wearing a tweed cap with a peak, and a trench coat. Even while they shook hands, his eyes darted over her shoulder and found the group in the dimness at the back of the shop.
"Ye came safely enough?" he said anxiously. "Ye saw no trouble on the line?"
"Not a sign of it," said Sarah, in a low voice. "Were ye expecting it?"
"There's two bridges down now," said the man grimly. "They let your train through first. Ye'd best be getting on as quick as ye can. Were ye thinking of taking the five o'clock?"
Sarah nodded.
"Well, be sure ye don't miss it or ye might be spending the holidays in Galway."
"My mother is expecting to see me in to her this evening," said Sarah in alarm. "When were you out home last, Ned? Did you see her?"
"I saw her this morning, and she's fine," said Ned soothingly. "Wasn't it herself told me ye were coming today, and damn glad I am to see ye got this far safe. There's no fear of ye if ye catch the five o'clock train."
The younger man had moved close enough to hear the last part of this.
"What are you saying to her, Ned?" he said, in an angry whisper. He laid a hand on Sarah's arm. "In two shakes I'd take her away with us. How do you know she won't tell the world what you're after saying to her?"
Sarah's eyes were fixed with fear. She made no attempt to shake the man's hand off. Ned said impatiently:
"Keep your shirt on, for the love of Mike. I didn't tell her anything. She's with the MacAuley youngsters. They're all going up to Derrylea on the five o'clock and I told her they shouldn't miss it. That's all. Look at them over there, as quiet and as harmless as a nest of field-mice."
"Who's the two strangers?" the other asked suspiciously, peering at the unconscious group around the tea-table.
"They're not strangers," said Ned. "The big fellow is Colman Andrews that's coming to Derrylea this last five years. And the little fellow is Master Thornton's son Joe, that you know since he was in petticoats."
"I didn't see him this while back," said the other, half-apologetically. "Well, she needn't go telling anything she heard." He glared threateningly at Sarah, but he took his hand off her arm. It was only then that he observed that she was holding a baby's bottle in each hand. "How many babies have ye at all?" he asked jokingly, as if he were trying to make amends for his roughness.
"Two," Sarah stammered. "Twins. They're in the basket, over."
"Ye'll be all right," said the man abruptly.
He marched out of the shop into the street. Ned said:
"You got a fright, Sarah, a-girl. Matt was made Commandant there after Easter and he's still kind of busy-like. But he's not bad behind it all. He's dead nuts on anyone that gives away information, and sure of course he's right."
Sarah leaned forward to whisper:
"Are ye going to blow up the Clifden line?"
"We are, God help us," said Ned. "We got wind of it that the Staters are going to bring men to Clifden. If they manage that, we'll be surrounded."
"The curse of God on yourselves and your war!" Sarah hissed with sudden venom.
"Ah, now, didn't he say ye'd be safe?" said Ned. "And sure, that means that no harm will be done until your train is gone over. Don't make me sorry I warned you."
"I won't, said Sarah. "I won't say a word."
Ned looked her over doubtfully. Then, with an impatient shake of his shoulders, he followed his Commandant out of the shop.


When she was back with the others, Sarah did not speak of her conversation with the two men at the counter. Brian seemed to be the only one who had noticed them, and he was not given to asking questions. Nora took one of the bottles and said:
"Bags I to feed Paul."
"All right."
Sarah was secretly pleased, though she would give no sign of her preference for the little girl. Now, as she held the soft, warm, little body on her arm she felt comforted, as if she and the baby were protecting each other. It was not that she was still afraid. She was angry with that Commandant Matt for frightening her, but most of all she felt the heavy responsibility of the knowledge of their danger. Sarah had small respect for the efficiency of these amateur, trench-coated soldiers, though she had to admit that in past engagements they had never shown themselves wanting in courage. Vaguely she felt that they had no right to call themselves an army at all unless they marched into battle in shining uniforms, four abreast, on some huge, dim field long prepared for them by remote gods of war.
When the babies were fed, they bought éclairs at the counter and came out again into the sunny street. They walked slowly towards Eyre Square. Already the heat of the day was less and a breeze from the sea was blowing the stench of the market away inland. Around the square, the grey limestone houses seemed to taper upwards in airy pyramids against the clear blue sky. Here and there, dejected-looking boys, dressed in identical homespun knickerbocker suits and caps, tended pens of forgotten, miserable calves. Hopelessly the boys watched the humming doorways of all the public-houses about. Each had a careless, cruel, forgetful father in there, pouring too much of the day's small profits in a long guilty stream of black porter down his throat. Each boy knew that in the dim evening he would be given a minute bag of bulls' eyes by way of compensation for neglect and as a bribe for a shut mouth. They bent their necks like the calves and dreamed of the coming times when they would be grown up and as wicked as their fathers were now.
"The donkeys and horses are taken away to a stable and fed," Pat remarked, "but the boys are left standing all day on the square. Why is that, Sarah?"
"I don't know, faith," said Sarah. "But the boys do be mad to come in to Galway. They'll have terrible boasting over the girls when they go home, telling about the fine times they had."
Half of the square was taken up with a tiny park, ringed with menacing black iron railings. Right by its entrance gate a row of side-cars was drawn up, horses and jarveys dozing comfortably. The foremost jarvey opened one eye and asked sleepily:
"Where would ye all be going?"
"To the station," said Pat.
The jarvey gave a little, happy laugh.
"Ye're no good to me, so," he said, and closed his eye again.
With one expert flick he knocked his battered black bowler hat forward on to his forehead. Then he dragged the skirts of his ancient frieze coat around him and seemed to fall instantly asleep. The horse blinked and proceeded with his plan of resting each foot in turn.
At the corner of the square a knowing-looking young man stood with one hand resting on the door of a long open car.
"A tanner a head to Salthill," he said hopefully. His accent was not the local one.
"I wish we had time," said Brian, in a low voice to Joe as they moved on.
"He won't make his fortune in Galway," said Joe drily.
The young man seemed to have come to the same conclusion. With an impatient movement he leaped over the shut door and drove noisily away.
Colman, suddenly hilarious, seized Ruth's arm and marched off briskly with her towards the station.
"Get a carriage for us!" Nora called after them.
Colman waved a hand and quickened his pace so that Ruth had to run to keep up with him. A long wisp of hair came loose from her honeycoloured bun and trailed down her back. She clutched at it once or twice and then abandoned it.
Joe and Pat put down the basket gently on the pavement and changed sides. The babies were asleep now, with that business-like expression of a healthy, hard-working baby. Watching them, the others all felt suddenly tired. Though they did not know it, Sarah's air of gloom had affected them. Also, Colman and Ruth, by their departure, seemed to have cut themselves off even more completely than they had done by their engagement.
"I wish we were in Derrylea now," said Nora, with a shiver.
Joe glanced at her quickly.
"We'll be there in two hours. That isn't bad."
Nora stopped dead.
"Couldn't we stay in Galway until tomorrow?" she said eagerly. "Sarah's Aunt Maggie will take in most of us."
Sarah nodded slowly. Her Aunt Maggie kept a big lodging-house near the docks.
"Which of us is going to tell Colman?" Pat asked without expression.
The hope that had fluttered Sarah's heart for a moment died down again. Nora said:
"Oh, bother Colman! I suppose he wouldn't like it."
Pat thought what a masterpiece of understatement this was. He chuckled as he envisaged Colman propped up stiffly in bed, while Sarah's Aunt Maggie sat on the foot until two o'clock in the morning, explaining beyond fear of obscurity exactly why she had no children. Aunt Maggie's memory was good, and the ancient words of her doctor had not been changed much with the years. She had never seen Colman, but Pat was sure that she would love him. He could imagine how she would throw up her hands and shriek that he was the finest man she had ever laid an eye on. Then she would walk all around him, and remark that the back of him was as good as the front, and test the stuff of his suit between her finger and thumb, and compliment him on his perspicacity in buying such fine strong shoes, and warn him always to use plenty of oil on his hair so that he would never go bald. She might even call in a neighbour or two and show him off to them. Colman would hate every moment of it. Savagely Pat wished that it could be brought about. He knew that Ruth would see Colman's impatience and he wanted to observe the effect of it on her.
Joe ended any prospect of further discussion by saying:
"It's almost ten minutes to five. We'd better hurry." As they lifted the basket again he added: "It would be silly not to go on now."
When they reached the station they saw that Colman was guarding the doorway of an empty carriage. It was being assaulted by a short, fat woman, whose brown shawl had slipped down off her thin red hair and hung slackly on her shoulders. Her girth was oddly increased at one side by the fact that she was carrying an egg basket on one arm, under her shawl. Standing behind Colman, Ruth was looking a little distressed, but Colman was laughing. As they approached they saw that the woman's face was red and damp with anger. Sarah recognized her, in consternation, as a neighbour of her own at home. She darted forward and spoke to her in Gaelic:
"Don't mind him, Cáit. There's no harm in him."
The woman whirled around and rattled out her grievance.
"First come first served, I told him, but he paid no heed to me. All day I'm in the market with my eggs and my chickens and the basket is full up this minute with tea and sugar and bread-soda and sweets for the children, and every kind of thing. As I came in the door there I thought to myself that in one-two minutes I'd be sitting back in the train like Lord Muck, with my boots off and the basket down on the floor beside me, and nothing to do all the way to Keel but to be thinking of all the messages I forgot to buy. And then this young blackguard here stands in my way and talks his grand language to me like the Pensions Officer, and won't let me get into the carriage." She gave a sudden little wail. "And now look at the bad manners of me, saying things like that about him in his hearing, so that anyone would think I was as ignorant as himself, God help me!"
"It's all right," said Sarah. "He doesn't understand Gaelic. But the others all do, of course."
Cáit had known Pat since he was a small boy. Still she was so flustered that she looked at him now as if he had been a stranger. He said quickly:
"There's room for us all. Give me the basket." He turned to Colman and said in English, trying to keep the anger out of his tone: "She's tired. Her sense of humour hasn't lasted through the heat of the day. You'd better help her up into that carriage as fast as you can."
Colman gave in at once, of course. Cáit's anger had evaporated, and now she had to be persuaded to climb into the carriage to which she had been laying siege only a few moments before. They got her settled in the best corner at last. Joe sat beside her and helped her to unlace her boots. His father had been the schoolmaster at Derrylea once, and Joe soon diverted her by telling her all the family news. She was overcome with admiration and delight when he told her that he was going to be a doctor.
"Though there's great sense in the old cures, too," she said earnestly.
By this time the others had all come into the carriage. The porter, oddly silent now, put in the last of the hand-baggage and jumped down on to the platform, banging the door loudly. Self-consciously, Sarah took the seat in front of Cáit, who now noticed the babies for the first time. She occupied herself thenceforward in instructing Sarah in a low voice on the care of babies, and in urging her to be very watchful of them so that they would be in good order when their parents would come. Sarah was well brought up. She listened politely and thanked Cáit for her advice.
At the other end of the carriage Nora was glaring at Colman.
"That was a mighty poor joke," she said. "Couldn't you even see that Ruth didn't like it?"
"Please, Nora!" said Ruth miserably. "Let's forget about it. It was all a mistake."
Nora snorted. Colman raised his eyebrows with an appearance of toleration, as if he hoped to make her feel small. He had already settled Ruth in the corner diagonally opposite to Cáit. As the train gave a preliminary shriek of pain and dragged itself out of the station, he turned his shoulder to the rest of the company and talked gently to Ruth, until she relaxed gradually. Pat stood up impatiently and leaned against the window to look at the passing scene.
The railway was built on an embankment here, so that it was high over the toy houses that encircled the potato market. The market was empty now, except for some children no bigger than birds, who ran and jumped around the weigh-bridge. For no reason that he could explain, Pat experienced a great emptiness as he watched their bird-like wheeling and circling. It made him feel like a mean, Oriental god. He turned down the corners of his mouth and closed his eyes until they were no more than slits. Then he relaxed hurriedly lest Nora might see, and know, as she often did, exactly what was in his mind.
They crossed the high, white, metal bridge over the River Corrib. After that they travelled along the river's edge, past pleasure-boats and swans and old yellow manor-houses. Then they left the river behind and came in sight of the mountains.
At Moycullen, eight miles out from Galway, the train stopped for ten minutes. Most of the women who got out here wore dark blue skirts instead of red. It was a subtle sign of their proximity to civilization. They wore black town stockings instead of homespun, and shoes instead of boots. They preferred plain hair-combs to the beautiful, high, tortoiseshell ones studded with diamant´ stones, worn by the women from the more remote places. Even their shawls were darker: one or two of them had the new ugly black, instead of patterned varieties of brown. They carried a special kind of basket of their own, with a hinged lid.
"Every one of them has money in the bank," said Cáit in a low, awed tone to Sarah.
Outside the white station paling, these dignified creatures climbed into the carts that were waiting for them and were driven off by their husbands and sons. For long minutes the train sat drowsily in the evening sun, while a young ticket-checker climbed laboriously in and out of every door. He seemed to be filled with a kind of melancholy excitement. He punched their tickets savagely as if he were killing them one by one. Sarah wanted to ask him a question but she could not discover how to word it without revealing that she had been warned of their danger. The checker was a stranger to her. He seemed to make a point of not catching any­one's eye. When he had gone she began to say to herself a little rhymed prayer in Gaelic, that she had always known:

"Oh Mary of Graces,
Mother of the son of God,
Keep us always
On the right road.
Save us all
From every evil.
Save us all
Both soul and body."

Presently the train moved on, with doors heavily slammed in the dusty silence. Now the railway went through marshy country, crossing many tiny bridges over streams and little rushing rivers. Here and there little side roads, sometimes no more than tracks, crossed the line on their way to the farms at the foot of the mountains. Most of the farms were placed with nice precision on the dry belt between the wet mountain above and the wet bog below. The little houses and their garden walls were brilliantly white-washed. Nasturtiums and wallflowers and fat pink cabbage roses glowed strongly against the white walls. Children and sheep-dogs ran out to stare at the passing train. They had time to examine it closely, for it was the most leisurely train in the whole world. It was almost half-past six by the time it reached Keel, thirty miles from Galway, and came to a sighing stop.


When they came out on to the platform Sarah stood very still. Only now did she understand how frightened she had been. She recognized it as the same feeling that she used to have at school when old Miss Gwynn would be bad-tempered, and her fierce eye, unnaturally round, would travel slowly along the rows of desks on the watch for the smallest hint of insubordination. Even now Sarah shivered as she remembered her. Miss Gwynn had died in the big 'flu four years ago. Sarah had danced with delight at the news of her death and had wished her in the next world a fine taste of what she had been accustomed to hand out in this. Then she had suffered from remorse and had told the curate about it in confession. He had made her pray for Miss Gwynn. She did as she was told, of course, but her heart was not in it.
From the moment of reaching the platform, Sarah had seen out of the corner of her eye that the three men who made up the entire staff of the station were gathered around the ticket-checker. The driver and fireman stood on the footplate of the engine to listen. No one took any notice of the passengers. Instantly Sarah knew what had happened but her feet would not take her towards them to make certain of it. The checker was gesturing grandly, fully enjoying his position of war correspondent. Now his voice floated along to them histrionically on the still air:
"Two spans of the bridge gone, I said, and he wants to know will there be a train tomorrow. Can a train fly? Can a train jump? Or maybe you'd like it to climb down into the River Corrib and paddle across and up the other side on to the track again?" He glared at the signalman who had asked the foolish question. "I'm telling you we're living in bad times, my boy. Two bridges down on the Dublin line and our own bridge swinging in mid-air like the hanging gardens of Babylon. And if I know anything about our God-fearing employers, we'll all be out of a job at the end of the week."
"Sure, they'll have to pay us, even if there's no trains," said the signalman hopefully.
The checker bent a solemn face towards him. "Where are you from?" he asked portentously.
"From Clare Island," stammered the signalman, and added after a second's thought, "Sir."
"Back to Clare Island is where you'd best make up your mind to be going," said the checker. "You can signal the crows off the barley. You can signal the basking sharks out in the sea. But you'll see no train to signal on this line for the next six months, or I'm the Archbishop of Tuam!"
The signalman looked as if he were going to cry. Pat and Colman walked swiftly down along the platform. The others followed more slowly.
"Did you say there are bridges down?" Colman asked sharply.
The checker turned to him with a tolerant, pitying superior eye.
"That's right, sir," he said. "You might have heard them saying it in Galway. We all knew about the Dublin line being busted before we left Galway."
"That explains why that porter was so silent the second time," said Colman to Pat. "He must have known then." He flushed suddenly. "We'd have heard this if we hadn't been distracted by the red-haired Connemara woman."
The checker gazed knowingly from one of them to the other, and then with great interest over the rest of the party.
"When we got as far as Moycullen," he said, "we heard that the bridge behind us on this line was gone. They say 'tis to stop the Staters from sending soldiers to Clifden. It's the big white bridge over the Corrib, sir, just outside Galway."
"You should have told the passengers at Moycullen," said Colman, wanting to blame him for something.
"We didn't see no cause for distressing the passengers," said the checker with dignity. "We're scheduled to go to Clifden, and to Clifden we'll go unless we get a belt in the puss from a bomb between this and then. Come on, hero!" He slapped the Clare Island man on the shoulder. "This is your last chance to signal a train until the war is over. Now, Station-master, give the word and we'll be off into the night."
The station-master looked a little troubled. He was a thoughtful-looking thin man of about fifty.
"I suppose since ye didn't stop at Moycullen ye might as well go on," he said. "Ye have a few passengers for Clifden, anyhow."
"We have, and goods," said the checker firmly. "And if it's all the same to you, I don't want to spend the rest of the war in Keel."
The Connemara people seemed to accept quietly the news of the disruption of their line of communication with Galway. Only one woman moaned a little about her daughter who was in hospital there. With a hopeless air she allowed herself to be soothed and she left the station walking distractedly among her neighbours.
Sarah held Cáit back from following them, for she knew that there would be room for her on one of the sidecars.
"I wish we had stayed in Galway," said Nora, as they all helped to unload the luggage. "Now the others won't be able to come."
"They won't be able to come even as far as Galway," Joe pointed out.
"I hate it," said Nora savagely.
"What?" asked Joe.
"The primitive life -- "
"Please don't grumble, Nora," said Ruth mildly. "We must make the best of it, that's all. Perhaps it won't be for long."
"And Derrylea is not so primitive," said Pat.
"It will be fun to be cut off from everywhere," said Colman, with a kind of false heartiness. "Almost as good as being on an island in a storm."
Only Brian had nothing to say. He went to stand on the footplate of the engine with the driver and fireman until the train was ready to pull out. At the last moment he jumped clear. He waved to them once as the train drew away down the line. Then, without returning to the group standing by the baggage, he went out through the little station building on to the road. He came back a moment later accompanied by a short, wiry man and a boy of eighteen or so, obviously father and son. These immediately fell upon the smaller luggage and began to carry it outside to the two sidecars which were waiting.
"We just got here this minute," said the man apologetically. "We were delayed on the road over. I said to Bartleen, there's the train, and the decent people will be standing there waiting for us..."
"It's all right, Roddy," said Pat. "We're only here a moment. Did you hear that the big white bridge was blown up soon after we passed over it?"
"The dirty blackguards," said Roddy, in a tone of outrage. "They won't stop till they have the whole country killed. The Staters that did it, of course. 'tis like what they'd do."
"The checker seemed to think that it was the Republicans," said Pat doubtfully.
"Did he now?" said Roddy softly. He pushed his old cap back on his forehead. "Good on them! Did you hear that, Bartleen? Ha! That'll give them Staters something to think about! That'll soften their cough, so it will!"
And he turned quickly and scuttled into the station, bursting into little happy chuckles as he went. Bartleen looked after him uncertainly as if he thought of following. He turned back, however, and began instead to load the sidecars with the baggage. The basket with the babies was hoisted up and placed behind the driver's back. Then Sarah climbed up on one side and Nora on the other, so that each could keep a hand on the basket. Pat and Joe took the other two seats. Ruth, Colman and Brian climbed on to the second sidecar. Bartleen helped Cáit, panting, up beside Brian. Then he climbed on to the box and arranged the baggage around his feet. Impatiently he glanced towards the station from which shrieks of excited laughter could be heard.
"'Twould be as quick to go to America as to Derrylea," Sarah called out derisively to Bartleen. "What's keeping your da at all?"
Bartleen blushed with shame at being made to look so foolish before the strangers. In sudden rage, he plunged down off his perch and charged into the station. The horses swished the flies away with their tails. Dust settled all over everything. Even in the midst of his irritation at the delay, Pat's nose wrinkled like a rabbit's to the smell of leather and horses, and the dusty smell of the dandelion flowers that grew tall among the rank grass by the roadside.
Ten minutes passed.
"I'll fetch them out," said Nora with determination.
"I'm thinking she's the only one that could do it," said Sarah, turning detachedly to watch her go.
On the other sidecar Colman was exclaiming angrily. Ruth's hand rested on his sleeve to restrain him as he burst out:
"This is the limit! I'm going in to fetch them all out by the scruff -- "
But just then Nora came marching out of the doorway of the little building followed by the two drivers. Roddy was looking sheepish, though he still gave off emanations of excitement. Bartleen was flushed with rage and humiliation.
"I'm sorry for delaying ye," said Roddy, as he climbed on to the box of his sidecar. "I was just telling the station-master that I'd be over with the cart tomorrow evening for the rest of the boxes. He's kind of excited, like, about his old railway bridge, you know, being blown up and all, and I had to give him very precise instructions before he took in what I was saying to him. Ah, well, I suppose it's a big day for him, and we mustn't be hard on him. Hup!" he roared to the quiet old horse.
Slowly they moved in procession out of the narrow lane, on to the long, bare, main road that looked as if it led everywhere and nowhere all at once. Away off before them the little group of women walking home moved in a cloud of dust. The horses' hooves and the metal-rimmed wheels of the sidecars ground heavily on the sandy road. The two drivers sat high and straight, with their feet braced against the footboards. The passengers were acutely uncomfortable, except for Sarah and Cáit, who had learned to ride on sidecars at an early age. The others kept their hold by a kind of surface tension. Presently the ribs of one side revolted with a long, piercing ache that seemed proof against all minor changes of position. For each of them, this pain became so important that they hardly saw the glorious red sunset drowsing over the long purple bog, nor the turning flash of wings as the horses' hooves disturbed flights of plover by the roadside.
Going downhill, Roddy flourished his whip and cracked it over his horse's back so that it broke into a lumbering trot. In the basket, the two babies' heads began to bounce up and down rhythmically on the pillows. Sarah shouted above the noise of the wheels:
"Easy on, there, Roddy! We'll be time enough!"
Roddy held the horse in for a while, but presently he forgot, and flourished his whip again, and sent the sidecar swaying and rattling along. Sarah stood up and leaned across to seize the reins.
"What in the name of God is on you, Roddy?" she shouted. "Do you think it's coming from a wedding you are, driving like you'd be full of poiteen? Hold him in, I'm telling you, or you'll do harm."
"I'm sorry, Sarah, a-girl," said Roddy humbly. "'tis the excitement about the bridge, I suppose."
"God forgive you, yourself and your excitement," said Sarah sharply.
She sat quietly then, watching Roddy for signs that he was forgetting himself again. But he did not, though his mind was clearly on wars and explosions and the in­toxicating pleasures of victory. Now and then he would give a little jerk, and his eye would light up. But in the moment of lifting his arm to make the horse join in the fun, he would recover himself and dangle his whip dispiritedly.
In this way they moved along at a decent trot, crossing the main road from Galway to Clifden, and along the dusty winding road towards the sea. When the sun had set a little breeze sprang up. It carried a wet flavour of salt and seaweed. To Pat's ears it seemed to carry too the sound of the long, rolling Atlantic waves, whose hurrying tips spread in and in among remembered rocks and over stretches of hard, golden sand. Down by the edge of the sea, a darker patch of shadow was the wood around Derrylea House. It was a dream house, an unreal house that until now had ceased to exist from autumn till early summer every year, because it was empty of people then. But this year Pat found that his idea of it had changed. Some time during the winter he had discovered that the aching voids of childhood had filled up and that he could see the whole round world at last. It had pleased him immeasurably to find that the world was none the less astonishing and exciting for his new vision.
A quarter of a mile from the house they stopped to put Cáit down at her own door. Children peered out of the lamplit doorway and whispered excitedly to see her home so soon.
"I'm heartily thankful to you, sir," she said courteously to Colman, in careful English. "Good night to you all, and the blessings of God on you."
"Good night, Mrs. Conneeley," said Ruth gently. When they moved on again she said: "Please, let's not talk for the rest of the way. This last bit of the road is the best part of the holidays."
Colman made no reply. Watching her still, intent face in the dusk, his own wrinkled in anxiety to understand her. However, for all his huge size, the journey had tired him. He huddled himself in his seat and endured its discomfort without a groan until the two sidecars turned into the stable yard of the house, and pulled up at the back door.

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