Sean Fermanagh Trumps McCourts of Limerick

Posted By: December 05, 2005

Sean Fermanagh Writer Trumps The Mc Courts Of Limerick

Irish-Americans — both those born in Ireland and those
born in the United States — will love “Barefoot in
Mullyneeny” by Bryan Gallagher of County Fermanagh
(HarperCollins Publisher. U.K. 2005).

Bryan Gallagher is as good as Frank Mc Court — and he
doesn’t have the poormouth or the dirty mouth of the

A retired school principal, Gallagher writes beautifully —
with obvious affection but without undue sentimentality —
about growing up in Mullyneeny, in the parish of Derrylin
,near the Cavan border, on the shores of Lough Erne. As he
says in his introduction, “It is from its shores and
the surrounding countryside that most of my stories come. I
spent my childhood among these people and I have never
really left. It is my feeing that among the fields and
streets [roads] where you grow up, there your spirit will
always live. And there you will leave it when you die.”

That for me, who grew up in the neighboring parish of
Kinawley, called to mind William Wordwrorth’s “spots of
time” — special places that make such an indelible imprint
that their mere recall instills the soul with joy, maybe
even  grace.

The 48 Short Stories  in this book are indeed short. Only
three are over 10 pages and the others are just a few
pages. So one can dip into them leisurely and at one’s own
pace, without losing the plot so to speak.

Not only is Gallagher as good (well,maybe,almost as good)
as Frank Mc Court, but he clearly has more of a classical
ear than Frank’s kid brother, the redoubtable Malachy.

In his book, ”A Monk Swimming”, Malachy recounts how as a
kid he used to think that the words in the Hail Mary,
“amongst women” were really “a monk swimming”.

Well in his short story, “Oremus”, Gallagher recalls how
even at the age of six and a half years he was a
“precocious” reader and had read the “Roman legends about
the twins Romulus and Remus”. At the same time he had
learned to be an Altar Boy and to give the responses in
Latin (before Vatican II allowed the Mass to be said in
English). On the first morning he served Mass by himself,
he noticed that the priest kept bowing to the altar and
saying “Oremus” (let us pray), so little  Bryan kept
responding “O Romulus”.

One of my favorite stories is “Clerical Error”, because it
brought back memories of mighty football clashes between
Kinawley and Derrylin.

A new parish priest had become upset by what he regarded
was  the poor standard of Gaelic football in Derrylin, so
he announced at Sunday Mass he was going to bring a team of
college boys to teach the natives how to play: “They will
demonstrate the finer skills of Gaelic football he said.
The following Sunday the college boys arrived by bus, a
thing unheard of in the Forties. They were immaculately
togged out in proper football kit. Tall and lithe, they ran
down the stony lane to the field fisting the ball to each
other, taking great athletic leaps in the air and solo
running with insolent ease.

Awaiting them were the men of the Harps. They had arrived
on bicycles, still dressed in their Sunday suits. Many wore
caps, and they were now togging out behind the whins that
grew on the bank of the small river that flowed round the
foot of the field. Off came the caps, then the upper-body
clothing, coat, waistcoat, tie, detachable collar, shirt,
vest. Some of them looked curiously like pandas, with
sunburnt arms and necks contrasting with their fish-white
bodies. Then it was on with the jersey, and immediately
back on with the cap as if it were a protective talisman.

Legs that had not seen daylight since the previous match
were revealed as the long johns came off, and behind the
knees there was frequently a rich delta of alluvial dirt.
Many wore their everyday socks supported below the knee by
suspenders. These were the men slowed by years of hard
physical work but underneath the white skin, corded muscles
rippled and they exuded an air of silent menace.

They didn’t run on to the field. They walked, with the air
of men who have an important parochial duty to perform,
like taking up the Sunday collection. The crowd was the
biggest ever seen at a local football match. They welcomed
their heroes with wild yells. The excitement was
tremendous. It was clear to all except the priest what was
going to happen.”

Suffice to say,  those “college boys” were given a lesson
in “country” football, Derrylin-style.  It would have been
the only time in history that Kinawley would have supported
Derrylin!  Ah, those were the days: “T’was a joy then to
be alive. But to be young was very heaven”, as Wordsworth
put it best.

In the 40’s and 50’s in Fermanagh, a school teacher was
called “Master”. Bryan Gallagher is still a master — a
master of the Short Story. This is a little gem of a book.

“Barefoot in Mullyneeny” can be purchased for $25 (plus
$10 for airmail postage and handling ) from :

Gregory Carr, Bookseller
Read Ireland
392 Clontarf Road,
Clontarf, Dublin 3, Ireland
Tel & Fax: +353-1-853-2063
email: or


Father Sean Mc Manus is the president of the Capitol Hill-
based Irish National Caucus.