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A Week in Summer

by Maeve Binchy

(Maeve Binchy was born in Dublin, worked as a school teacher, Irish Times columnist, and then as a novelist. Her books, which have been translated into over forty languages, have been adapted for stage, film and television. A feature film of her novel ‘Tara Road’ was released in 2005. She lives in Dalkey, Co Dublin, with her husband, the writer Gordon Snell. Maeve has been attending the Merriman Summer School since 1968. ‘A Week in Summer’ is a short story commissioned by the Merriman Summer School as part of the bi-centenary celebrations marking Brian Merriman’s life and work in 2005, 200 years after his death. Maeve Binchy’s short story, which she read aloud, is about an American couple who came to Lisdoonvarna looking for peace and hoping for a chance to rejuvenate their marriage. They are plunged into the world of the Midnight Court and, even more importantly, of the hundreds who attend the Merriman Summer School regularily.They find plenty to admire and entertain and eventually something to change their lives.)

    Do you know what I think should be banned outright. Those advertisements for Cruise Holidays for mature people. You get this suave man in a dinner jacket, hair lightly streaked with gray, looking into the eyes of a woman who has draped a pashmina stole around her slim firm shoulders against the night breezes as they stand on deck together. There is a hint that they have been at it like knives all afternoon and that they can’t wait for the Captain’s cocktail party and gala dinner to be over so they could be at it all over again.
    Are there people like this?
    Is this what people aspire to and therefore DO? Or is it just a fantasy dreamed up by an advertising agency to sell holidays to the middle-aged? Something that will leave the rest of us unsettled and unhappy?
    In any event it’s not important, it’s not relevant to us. We have never had a holiday. Not even when the girls, Mel and Margy, were children.
    Brian used to say in his farming days, “Find me a cow that doesn’t need to be milked for three weeks and THEN we’ll have a vacation.”
    And when the bottom fell out of the dairy cattle market, as it did ……for Brian anyway ….. he was into growing corn in Illinois and flax in North Dakota. And in those days you couldn’t take a vacation either because there was always something to be planted or watered or reaped or saved.
    And when the bottom had fallen out of flax and corn…… for Brian anyway….. he studied mathematics and became a Math teacher.
    Other teachers had vacations. In fact people were always saying they met teachers on vacation. But not Brian, because there were papers to mark, or courses to do, or slow children to help, and he liked going up to the attic and writing little bits of poetry which he never showed to anyone…but, anyway what with all this …..hey presto, the vacation was soon over!
    Oh, I have worked for ever at the same thing.
    Like my mother before me, I bake things.
    I used to work as a patisserie chef in a big hotel but then, when I met Brian, I had to think up something a bit more mobile. Something that could move easily when he did. So I make cakes and casseroles and pies and deliver them to people’s homes.
    I had to be ready to get up and go to the next place so it was good to have a craft, or trade, or skill, whatever you might call it, to take with us. People everywhere wanted to eat, and lots of the younger women couldn’t cook. You’d be surprised how many deep dish apple pies I made in their own pottery dishes. They even pretended to their husbands that they cooked it themselves. I had to be very careful about the time that I delivered.
    Now I know could have taken a vacation on my own. I agree. There was nothing to stop ME from going to Europe or on a cruise or to the Grand Canyon. But that wasn’t the point.
    I just wanted to travel with Brian, and he just didn’t want to go anywhere at all. It wasn’t just to SAY that I had been somewhere, I’m way too old for that. My customers who bought the deep dish apple pie or the lamb stew wouldn’t think more of me if I said I had been on a cruise to Alaska or a train through the capitals of Europe.
    No, I wanted it for me, for Brian and me. Something to remember and look back on. During the long evenings when we were on our own
    Mel and Margy were away a lot, there was always something for them to do during the summer holidays when school term was finished. There was this camp and that camp, children loved camp. AND because we had moved so much and so often, and Brian had so many careers, we thought it best for the girls to go a residential school. Give them more stability and they would be able to keep their friends.
    And heavens they had SO many friends. A lot of these friends had parents who were much younger than we were.
    WE are conscious of being older parents. I mean Brian was 40 when we married and I was 38, we didn’t want to be too geriatric. All parents live on different planets to their children they say, and Lord I’ve seen enough of it in the houses where I deliver food.
    But older parents - that’s a solar system even further away.
    And anyway why SHOULD the girls come and hang out around our home what with Brian always so worried about everything, big lines of worry etched into his forehead, and me always up to elbows in pastry dough. Not much fun with us.
    And I remembered, back to my own childhood, I didn’t want to hang around my house when I was young either.
    And of course I COULD go away with a lot of my girl friends, all right we are all in our fifties, but we think of ourselves as girls. We always will.
    But I don’t WANT to spend our hard-earned money on a vacation with them. I want to be with Brian. I love Brian. I always have, since the first day I met him with his dreams and poetry and hopes of changing the world.
    It didn’t MATTER that he didn’t earn much of a living, or that nobody rated him very highly. He was the man I wanted, always has been.
    I can just see him in a tuxedo, like the men in the advertisements. I can see us spending long afternoons in a bedroom, a cabin, a sleeping car compartment. Wherever.
    I can see us exchanging a knowing glance that says there will be more of that later on. I’m not sure WHY I can see this so clearly, but somehow I can.
    And Brian needs it even more these days.
    You see he has just been suspended from his school.
    It’s August now, and he hasn’t any position for September when the school year starts.
    A man of 57 without a job.
    And all because he had to speak his mind.
    And what’s more, speak it at the Parents Teachers Association.
   It was the occasion for congratulating the school for doing so well, and concentrating on the positive side of things. But my Brian had to choose the occasion to tell people that he did not think the war in Iraq was a just war.
This, in a community that had lost two men already on active service in the Gulf War.
    They didn’t even wait until next day to tell him that his services would no longer be needed.
    The Head came round to the house and said he was sorry, feeling was running too high.
    “I’ll only teach Mathematics in future,” poor Brian had promised.
    “Too late,” the Head had said..
    It hit Brian very hard. He didn’t want me to tell the girls.
    “I don’t mind you knowing that I’m an all-time loser,” he pleaded, “but I don’t want my daughters to know this. Not yet.”
    But Mel and Margy would HAVE to know, come September, when Brian wasn’t returning to school, I told him.
    “Hey, honey,” he said, “They’re not really all that interested in what I do or don’t do.
    Just give me time Kathleen, just give me a little time, I know I don’t deserve it but I can’t breathe properly. This would give me breathing space.”
    I don’t know why I said it but I did.
    “Right,” I said. “I’ll trade you, we have a vacation together, just one vacation and then I’ll give you time.”
    And he smiled a horrible smile as if there was nothing behind it. As if he were an empty head.
    All the life and colour had gone from his face.
    “And maybe you’d have a check up at the doctor too?” I suggested.
    “Don’t move the goalposts Kathleen, a week in summer. You to organize it. That’s the deal, that’s the trade.”
    He looked wretched. He didn’t want a holiday
    I loved him to bits. Maybe a kinder person would say forget the holiday .
    But somehow, I thought it would be the making of us.
    “A week in summer, that’s the deal,” I said, and we linked little fingers the way kids do.
    He never asked where we would go, he made no suggestions.
    His face was gray, his mind was miles away.
    Brian was more of a shadow than a man.
    So I did it all. I found his passport. I checked our savings account to see how much we could spend. I went to the Snappy Seniors Travel Agency to discuss dates and venues with one of their Vacation Buddies.
    His name was Chester, he was chief Vacation Buddy in this branch, and he would have been a happy camper, no matter where he had been sent on vacation.
    There wasn’t really time, we agreed, for a cruise, if all we had was a week in summer. And anyway, I confessed, Brian wasn’t cruise material, he didn’t own a dinner jacket and he might get bored.
    Bored on board ship? Chester was unbelieving.
    But he had other suggestions.
    A cultural tour of four European cities using a luxury coach as transport.
    For all that he liked writing poetry, Brian wasn’t all THAT interested in museums and art galleries.
    I couldn’t see him standing in line in Paris and Bruges.
    Culture didn’t loom large in his life.
    Would he like a beach holiday then if he was anti-culture. A place where the ladies went topless.
    I told my new Vacation Buddy, Chester, that Brian was not ANTI culture, just that four cities of it in one week and a lot of coach-speeding effortlessly along autostradas and auto routes might not be his thing.
    He hadn’t been well; he needed cheering up.
    Disney World, and theme parks were suggested and refused by me. Not that kind of cheering.
    And one by one I rejected learning to snorkel, Bridge for beginners, cooking in Spain, and the Gardens of Andalucia.
    Chester was beginning to despair. Never had he met such an Unsnappy Senior.
    “What would you like Madam, suppose it were up to you?”
    “But it’s not up to me, he’s had a shock you see, he’s not well. It’s HE who needs the holiday.”
    “But suppose it WERE you, what would you choose then?” Chester hated admitting defeat, it wasn’t what Vacation Buddies DID at Snappy Seniors.
    I paused to think.
    Suppose Brian would like anything I chose, what would I select.
    “I’d like to go ancestor hunting,” I said eventually. “You know, looking in old graveyards and parish records.”
    Chester was immensely cheered.
    “Right, where are his people from?”
    “No not HIS people, mine. Brian’s father came from a village in Russia that’s no longer there.”
    “Most places are still there in some form,” Chester said, reprovingly.
    “No truly, the whole population of the village left and came to the United States. It’s     MY roots I’d look for. A long way back, but I’m sure there might be something.”
    “So where’s that then?” Chester was so relieved that he might actually be going to sell a holiday, after all the stuff I rejected.
    “Ireland,” I said. “My people were Collins from Ireland. I don’t know where.”
    “Lets go hunt,” Chester said, with the infectious enthusiasm that had seen him rise to become Chief Vacation Buddy in this branch.
    He tapped at the computer for a while and came back to me beaming.
    “Originally, Limerick,” he said triumphantly. “But then they were driven out by the     Anglo-Normans and went to West Cork. So which area do you want to start in?”
    “When were they in their hey day ?” I asked.
    “Limerick, I think. They were Lords of the Barony of Conello then.”
    “Let’s try Limerick,” I said .
    He was good, Chester was. He didn’t want us to stay all the time in a city looking up people hundreds and hundreds of years back.
    If my husband had been ill, if he was a little difficult, hard to please and in shock, he said this wasn’t the restful kind of holiday he needed. Maybe we should think of the neighbouring county, County Clare. There were lovely drives around the Burren, and unusual plants to see, castles to look at, and we could see porpoises and dolphins out in the Atlantic Ocean on days when we weren’t looking up my roots.
    And there would be nice, comfortable hotels and good food. Build him up it would.
    At Snappy Seniors they wanted us to be happy, it meant a build-up of Repeat Business.
    I felt guilty talking about Brian behind his back. He was such a good man who only wanted the best for everyone, and now he was looking like an empty shell.
    And no matter how hard Chester and I tried, nothing was going to put a smile on his face and life back in his soul.
    The girls came home for two days before heading off for camp.
    “You look awfully old Dad,” Mel said.
    ”I AM awfully old Mel,” Brian said.
    “Not so much old as confused,” Margy corrected her.
    “Oh, I AM confused too Margy,” Brian agreed.
    Our two daughters seemed pleased that they had identified everything correctly.
Brian didn’t talk much about the holiday because he didn’t talk much about anything really.
    He sat there staring ahead of him.
    When the day came he packed obediently and came with me to the airport as if it were yet another supermarket visit.
    No enthusiasm, no hope, nothing but a deal done, a trade agreed, a promise kept .
    I had told my customers that I would be away for a week.
    “A week in summer,” I said, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
    “Ireland? That’s nice,” they said, without conviction. They would really have preferred me to stay where I was, making passion fruit pavlovas on their family china for summer parties.

    Brian was very quiet on the plane.
He pretended to read the airline magazine, but I noticed that he never turned a page.
And then we were in Shannon Airport, it was a bright sunny day, the fields were small and green. The road signs were in two languages, the rented car was small.
Brian wasn’t listening when they asked us who wanted to drive, so I said I would.
I learned about the wrong side of the road and to beware leaving gas stations, or at roundabouts. And we set off.
The other drivers on the road were….well….. interesting, I suppose you’d call it.         They never indicated or anything, they just pulled straight out in front of you. But once you got used to that…
I gave Brian the maps and the brochures, but they sat on his lap.
And in the middle of this lovely early-morning countryside I felt no joy of someone on day one of a vacation.
I got no feeling of having come home to my roots.
I got no indication that this holiday would be the great breakthrough for us.
The long cramped sleepless night on the plane and these narrow windy roads were beginning to take their toll.
“Tell me something about Lisdoonvarna,” I said with that false cheerfulness
that I just hate in others.
I could hear the tinny insincerity in my voice.
I must have listened to a thousand of these non-conversations between husband and wife.
The kind that ended up either as “Yes dear, Yes dear,” or, even more distressing,
“Hey, what do you know about anything?”
Brian and I were never going to be like that.
We had fought to get married.
My family thought he was a slow starter with his head in the clouds.
His family thought I was I bit too brittle and hard-nosed for them. They didn’t care about the fact that I supported him and put the girls through school. No, they would have liked a poet or a weaver or some damn thing.
But that had never mattered to Brian or to me, we rose above it.
We had so much going for us for years.
But as we drove through the beautiful County Clare countryside I thought that all we had going for us might have just kept on going and gone away.
He opened a brochure and read to me obediently, like a child at school, about the spa wells and the curative water and the restorative baths. And there was a matchmakers festival in September.
“Pity we’ll miss that,” I said as a joke. “We might have found the loves of our lives.”
“Nobody would blame you for leaving me, Kathy” he said, “Nobody at all.”
I was busy trying to negotiate the gigantic lycra-covered arses of cyclists which were taking up the whole road. It wasn’t the moment to tell him that I had never loved anyone else and never would.
At the hotel they were very nice and welcoming. Cups of tea, congratulations on our having managed the drive there, first day in a new land.
“You’ll have a great week, the weather looks up and you were so lucky to get the cancellations,” the receptionist said.
Chester hadn’t mentioned any cancellations.
I was puzzled. Perhaps somebody hadn’t liked something about the hotel.
Brian hadn’t heard of any of it. I hid my frown of worry. But the girl chatted on happily.
“The nicest couple in the world they are, they normally come here every year and stay for the whole week, but this year they’ve gone to Australia, they were most apologetic but the chance came up, you see, and what with being in the nineties and everything they thought they should go now in case it might be more difficult later.”
I felt a pang of sharp envy for these people and an unreasoning sense of jealousy.
In their NINETIES for heavens sake, and had gone to the other side of the earth. We were in our fifties and a week in Ireland was nearly killing us.
We could never fill their shoes.
“Have a great rest now after your long trip,” we were being urged, “And then you’ll be in fine form for the Failtiú.”
The Failtiú? What exactly was that?
She said it was the Irish for welcome. That sounded familiar, though why people were going to welcome us was beyond belief. But it wasn’t us it turned out, it was a Summer School of some sort. Everyone went to the Failtiú, the receptionist said reprovingly. Sure well, we didn’t want to be difficult but what WAS it exactly .
She thought it might be a couple of glasses of wine and maybe some finger food.         We’d have a great time.
I looked at Brian’s grey empty face and doubted it, but thanked her very much.
We went up and unpacked and lay beside each other in the big cool bed.
The unhappiest couple in the Western World and it was nobody’s fault, really.
That was the terrible thing.
I sort of slept. I must have, because I dreamed of Margy and Mel when they were toddlers and they were asking me what was going to happen in life, and I was telling them it would all be great. I woke and found Brian sitting in a chair. His eyes were open but he wasn’t looking at anything.
It was six o’clock in the evening and outside the window people were heading down the road in the late afternoon sunshine.
They were old and young, men and women, they walked in twos or threes or on their own or in laughing groups. Heading towards the Spa Wells on a summer’s evening to have a couple of glasses of wine and finger food. “Come on,” I said. “We don’t want to be late.”
“Late?” he was astounded.
Anything was better than a long night looking at each other with nothing left to say.     Soon I was out of the shower and choosing which dress to wear. Some of the men walking down the road wore collars and ties, some had open shirts. Some of the ladies had cardigans some had smart suits, flowery dresses and some were in jeans.
It looked fairly free and easy.
“I don’t know whether we should go to this thing Kathy, we haven’t been invited.”
“Oh come on, Brian,” I said. “Didn’t you hear the lady at the desk. Everyone is invited.”
“We may have to pay,” he sounded anxious.
“So, we pay,” I said.
It was going to cost 120 euros each, we discovered, to sign on for the week.
A bit expensive for a reception, all right, but I looked at the brochure. There were all kinds of things, lectures, poetry readings, bus trips, dancing lessons, seminars, debates.
And the main thing was it would be a distraction. We wouldn’t be left on our own, facing each other with nothing left to say, and admitting the emptiness of our lives.
All right so it wasn’t tuxedos and leaning on the rail of the a ship.
But a lot of these people had fairly gamey eyes, you got a sense that there might be a fair amount of jumping about in this lot. If not now, well in the past.
They had all been coming here for years and years apparently.
For decades now these very people had been coming here in their droves, dancing in squares and roaming the countryside. They liked it so much they booked in again every year.
It was all about some poet apparently, dead for hundreds of years, but people brought him back to life every summer.
Everyone was very friendly, they told us all sorts of things, like where to go for a swim, where to get cheaper lobster, like which translation of this poem to read. The poem wasn’t even in English for heaven’s sake, but there seemed to be a rake of translations and everyone recommended a different one.
People were full of advice about everything.
They said we should drive out and see the Burren, but not to pick the flowers, or maybe to go to Doolin and get a boat to the Aran Islands, or to go to places we had never heard of - Ballyvaughan, Ennistymon, Lahinch, Corofin; they tripped off the tongue.
There were people speaking in the Irish language but they told us we’d know it in no time after a few Irish lessons in the mornings.
And so we listened to the Opening of the School, and a lecture then, and discovered that the theme was all about marriage.
They could have had something less brutally relevant, I thought, but kept a bright smile as if I hadn’t a worry in the world over the institution of marriage and how it seemed to be panning out in our lives.
And then there was dancing.
Mainly we couldn’t do it at all because there were complicated things much more intricate than our square dancing. Caledonian Sets, Ballyvourney Sets, way, way beyond us.
But apparently we could learn all that too, special dancing lessons every day by the end of the week we would be whirling with the best.
And there WERE a few waltzes so eventually Brian and I took to the floor like everyone else. Everyone in the hall sang the words.

    “My mother died last Springtime when Irish fields were green,
The neighbours said her funeral was the finest every seen.”

    Brian listened in amazement.
“Some topic for people to dance to,” he said.
But at least he as smiling and I hadn’t seen that for a while.
And so it went on for the week.
We went to poetry readings and lectures, we learned the construction of the Irish language at one seminar, and about the courts of Munster Poetry at another. We tried to keep up with these horrifically fit dancing instructors, and soon we had our own eight and were swinging each other round in great style.
We had conversations way into the night with poets, politicians, professors and polka dancers.
If they asked us what WE did, which was rarely, I told them I baked for people in their own dishes and Brian said he wrote poetry and had been doing some teaching on the side. Everyone seemed to think this was a completely reasonable thing to do. Nobody asked was there money on it, or what he had published recently, or what was his real job or his ten year plan.
I may have been imagining it, but I thought that, as the days went on, there were less lines etched on his face and his eyes were brighter.
People kept assuring us that they were pacing themselves.
They urged us to pace ourselves too.
This, I think, had to do with not staying up until six o’clock in the morning singing which was a danger.
And not starting to drink after the dancing class and forgetting to stop all day which was another danger .
And we heard amazing amounts of gossip.
Things that happened some years back when certain people had not been so wise as they are now, or had more energy than they had now.
And there was a story that at one summer school a man had lost his false teeth and asked rather sheepishly at reception had any been handed in. He was discreetly given a set in an envelope, and when they didn’t fit was told that all the other sets which had been lost and found had been claimed.
Once upon a time another man had made so many perambulations to the rooms of different ladies that he never actually knew which was his own room, and when he went to pay his bill, there was nothing to pay because the hotel had assumed he was a no show and had re-let it.
There was a marvellous woman who told us that it usually took her until November to recover from her indiscretions every year in the third week in August.
Another woman said regretfully that everyone was very old and staid and settled now, it was a pity that we hadn’t met them in their hey day.
They looked very much in their hey day to us. A great roaming band of people old and young, serious drinkers and wearing total abstinence pins. Fit as fiddles or bent over canes. Long retired or in their first job.
Some went to every lecture in the programme, took notes and asked questions.
Others adjourned to bars, golf courses lunches in crafts shops, or to have healing baths in the centre where ropes suspended from the ceiling had helped to haul thousands out of the mineral salts over the years.
They talked on any number of subjects, the nature of evil, the rights and wrongs of an interpretative centre, the joys and problems of being part of a United Europe, the wisdom or lack of it in having a celibate clergy. And because of the theme, we discussed marriage at length, and whether it was possible to have an equal partnership and what did equal mean, and could it last for ever and should it last for ever. My head was in a whirl.
And as for Brian Merriman himself! They all talked about him so familiarly I would not have been surprised to hear that he was up at the Roadside Inn singing songs and that we should hurry in case we missed him.
It was a mystery, at home we didn’t have gatherings like this.
Or maybe we did and Brian and I had never come across them.
These people had come from all over the country and even further afield each year for this celebration. Their conversation was full of “Do you remembers?” and “Aren’t you looking like a two year old.”
I forgot all about looking for my roots. There wasn’t time anyway.
The Collins family tree would have to wait for another visit.
The man who ran the summer school was actually called Collins, Bob Collins, a very nice man, approachable - that’s when he was free. But he was always talking to someone very important like a politician or an ex- prime Minister of Ireland, a jolly man in a pink shirt or an ex-president who had a holiday home down the road.
Really, if some of the social climbers I make carrot cake for back home only KNEW the high society we are mixing with here. They would be pea green with envy.
Well, anyway, I did get to talk to him and told him that I was a Collins too, and was wondering where should I start to research the clan.
And he gave me all kinds of places to start, but, of course, there wasn’t one moment left to do any of it.
“Kathleen Collins? You have the same name as Brian Merriman’s wife,” he said to me. I don’t really believe any of this fate or coincidence thing, though you’d be surprised how many of my clients back home consult psychics. They’re always talking about them .
That evening Brian suggested that we go out for an hour and watch the sunset.
I wish I could tell you how unusual this was in our lives.
If ever I suggested a sunset he would say bleakly “So the sun goes down and it comes up again, that’s what happens.”
Now he had heard of a place where you might see dolphins or porpoises anyway, and this other poet he had met told him it was a great place for the soul, so maybe we might go there?
It was called Fanore he said and he pointed it out to me on the map.
The same map that he hadn’t even the interest or energy to pick up a few short days ago.
I looked at him and saw that and there were no lines in Brian’s face. He was relaxed and happy.
If he had been wearing a tuxedo and leaning against the railing of a cruise ship he couldn’t have looked better.
I decided not to tell him about my name being the same as Brian Merriman’s wife, in case he thought it was fancy, or that I was trying to justify the holiday, or something like that.
So though it’s my instinct to prattle on, I just patted his hand and looked out at the Atlantic Ocean.
“You’re very restful, Kathy,” he said, “I feel I could tell you anything, even something so mad you won’t believe it.”
Tell me, “I said,” without an idea of what he was going to say.
“I think we were led here in some way,” he said. “I think I am the re-incarnation of Brian Merriman.”
My heart sank.
I thought he was getting better, the depression was lifting, the clouds were parting and instead he has coming out as clinically mad.
“The what?” I asked.
“You know, Kathy, the way they say things don’t really die, they come back again. I have come back again. Its as simple as this.”
He beamed at me like a complete mad man.
“How EXACTLY a reincarnation?” I asked with a deathbed smile, hoping I didn’t sound too like Nurse Ratchett in “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.”

    “Well, don’t you see?” his eyes blazed happily in the sunset. My name is Brian Merman, his wife was Kathleen Collins, we have had exactly the same career, married at the same age as he did, they had two daughters like we do, he was a flax farmer, and won prizes for growing it, I did too, in Dakota, remember? And of course he was a teacher like me and, most of all, here’s the whole centre of it, most important he wrote poetry.”
I nodded dumbly.
Was this the time to tell him that when his grandfather had come to the United States from the village in Russia, Merman was as near as he could come to pronouncing the family name?
No, it was probably not the time. Anyway I wouldn’t have got a word in.
He was going on and on, they were born exactly two hundred years apart, yet they had followed the same path. The first Brian Merriman had been impatient about clergy and the establishment just as my Brian had been. It had to mean something.
Something amazing. Something very significant.
I had thought it terrible when he appeared to be suffering from depression. Why hadn’t I left him the way he was?
Now he was manic and mad and hallucinating and thinking he was a long dead poet who wrote in a different language, someone he had never heard of before last Saturday.     And there was worse ahead.
Brian Merriman had died two hundred years ago this very year. That’s what this was all about.
Did my poor Brian now think this was his fate too?
Had he actually given up on his life on account of these coincidences?
Had he brought me to this beautiful place to say goodbye?
THIS was what had happened as a result of all my scheming and planning and plotting with Chester the Chief Vacation Buddy at the Snappy Seniors Agency.
I hadn’t helped him at all I had actually managed to rot his mind.
“Well Brian,” I said, with a heavy heart, “You know there are a lot of ways of looking at things.”
“Of course there are,” he agreed eagerly. “And if we hadn’t come here, I would never have known it. When HE died, the first Brian Merriman, that is, there was only a few short lines in the newspapers about him, and he might well have thought that he didn’t amount to much, but think, think, Kathy, two centuries later there are hundreds and hundreds of us celebrating him, reading his poetry, debating his ideas, celebrating his life and times.”
He had not looked so happy for months, he hadn’t looked so young and hopeful for as long as I could remember.
He said now that he was going to show people his poetry, he wasn’t going to keep it hidden.

    It had been the sign he needed, something to prove to him that he wasn’t worthless.
His arm was around my shoulder his face nuzzled my cheek in a way it hadn’t done for some considerable times. The gamey look of a Merriman was in his eye.
What the hell, I thought, I know what’s changed him, he met a marvelous mad band of good-natured, lively people who lived life to the full, always had and always would. If he thinks he’s the reincarnation of some guy who walked these roads two hundred years ago, then I’m going to let him think it.
I would write a post card to Chester before we left.
I would tell him that the record in Snappy Seniors was unbroken: there would be repeat business.
We would indeed come back here again next year.
Well of COURSE we will.
I only know four figures of one Clare set, there is much still to learn.
Brian has read only one translation of Cuirt an Mhean Oiche.
We have only skimmed the surface of Clare music and got the barest essentials of dolmens, holy wells and lunar landscape of the Burren.

Imagine leaving all these people and not knowing how their lives turned out.
It’s more than flesh and blood could bear.

    And anyway, this coming back as a butterfly or something else is a perfectly decent theory.
Buddhists believe it, and they are gentle people.
And just as there are strong women in the famous poem, I have met many strong women here, surely one of them will get a summer school going on MRS Merriman, on Kathleen Collins, quite possibly my ancestor.
I might be her reincarnation too.
And if she makes me as happy as her husband as made Brian, the descendant of those who left a Russian village many years back, then, we won’t be doing badly at all.


Clare Literature