The story opens in 1916. The world is at war, Irish freedom fighters have just staged an armed rebellion in Dublin, and the three characters we first met in Her Secret Rose are deeply unsettled. The world famous poet, WB Yeats, “having come to 50 years” has decided it’s high time he was married and, by coincidence, the 1916 Rising has just made a widow of the love of his life, Maud Gonne. Maud’s thoughts are more political than personal. She is frantic to get to Ireland to join the freedom fighters there. While her daughter, Iseult, now 23 years old and as beautiful as her mother was at that age, longs for love, escape, and artistic achievement.
As three talented mavericks try to redeem their past against a background of escalating war and revolution, can they rise to what they truly need from each other? This novel is narrated by Rosy Cross, a working-class Irish woman, who’s spent her life investigating the involvement of these people in the infamous murder of her sister.
This is another snippet from my work in progress, Dancing in the Wind. If you’d like to receive a monthly extract, and contribute to the writing of this book, check out my Patreon Fiction Membership.
Until next time, happy reading!
Josephine sets a roast chicken among the vegetables and bread, making all cheer. “Dearest Josephine. We are not going to ask how you have performed this miracle. Willie, dear, would you honour us”?
“New potatoes, fine meat, great God, let’s eat!” Willie recites the old country saying, as he takes up the carving knife and fork and begins to slice the chicken breast.
Iseult crosses herself, and laughs. “Amen”!
Everyone but Delaney laughs too. “Proper blessing for supping at the corner pub, that”.
“No offence was intended, Miss Delaney”.
“Oh Delaney!” Iseult is exasperated. “I am Catholic and I am not offended”.
“Really?” Willie says. “I thought, Maud, that you had outgrown the faith you took to marry?”
“I am not Moura, Willie. It was my own decision.”
“Iseult agrees with me that it is of small importance whether one calls the great spirit forces the sidhe or the saints.”
Iseult, sardonically, “As long as one doesn’t call on the Church of England”.
Maud, raising her glass, “Indeed!”
“Aye!” Says Delaney. “That’s one we can all agree on.” She raises her glass and all but Iseult raise theirs to meet it. Willie is halfway through joining the toast when he sees that Iseult has no intention of joining in. He falters, uncertain.
“Aye!” says Shaun, imitating Delaney’s brogue, to please Iseult but Iseult is intent, noticing Maud noticing Willie’s uncertainty.
Seán starts to sing:
Who was it led this noble band
And what has been their fate?
Was chivalry shown to them at last?
No! Worse than ’98!
Empty wine bottles stand among crumbs, the rags and bones of the stripped roast chicken.
Seán is asleep, straddling his mother’s lap, Maud’s chin touching the crown of his head.
Delaney strokes Seán’s head, her eyes on Maud’s face. Iseult rests her head on her mother’s shoulder.
Maud – “Willie, dear, give us a poem before we stumble off to our beds”.
“A poem to inspire,” says Delaney.
“A poem to dream on,” says Iseult.
“Perhaps I shall try the new one..?” He is tentative.
“Easter 1916?” says Maud. “Have you improved it?”
“You didn’t like it.”
Maud, without hesitation, “No Willie, I don’t like it”.
Willie folds his arms, the look of a creative who knows how to handle criticism: listening but self-protective.
“Oh Moura, there are so many beautiful lines,” says Iseult.
“Yes, oh yes. As there are in any poem he writes. But it’s not worthy of you, Willie. Because it’s not worthy of the subject”.
Hearts with one purpose alone
through summer and winter seem
enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream…
Maud shoots her a vicious look, turns back to Willie. “It’s not what it should be: a living thing our race will treasure and repeat, such as a poet like you should give our nation. Should give our nation. A poem that will avenge the martyr’s material failure by pointing up the spiritual beauty of sacrifice.”
“Where you see spiritual beauty others see a wanton destruction of life and property?
“Property? PROPERTY? There speaks Lady Gregory!
“It was actually you I thought of, Maud, when I wrote of the stone”. Willie is low-voiced, doing his best to be defensive.
“True sacrifice has never yet turned a heart to stone. It is through sacrifice that man is raised to God. Only three years ago you were lamenting that Romantic Ireland was dead and gone with Mr O’Leary in the grave. Now it’s “Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart”?
That’s an allusion to your own disappointment, not these martyrs who have made Romantic Ireland live again who have raised the Irish cause again to a position of tragic dignity”.
“You’re entitled to your opinion, of course”.
“But it’s not opinion, Willie. You could never say that MacDonagh and Pearse and Connolly had sterile, fixed minds. Each served Ireland, which was their share of the world, that part they were connected to, with a vivid energy”! As Maud gets to the crux of the critical smackdown, she is now speechifying to the entire room, “As for my husband, Major MacBride entered eternity by the great door of sacrifice”.
Maud, continues, “Whatever he was in life, there was a terrible beauty to his death”.
“O, may the soul of an Englishman be lost for every hair on his noble Irish head,” says Delaney.
Iseult pushes back from the table, explosively, “Stuff and nonsense”.
“Oh you!” Delaney says. “Have you no heart”?
“Stuff!” Iseult takes Delaney by the shoulders, shakes her with rage. “And nonsense”!
“Iseult!” Maud is shocked. “What on earth do you think you are doing?”
Iseult looks around like a cornered animal, sees everyone is shocked, lets Delaney go,
“Apologize to Delaney. AT. ONCE”.
“No matter, no matter.” Delaney dusts herself off. “That poem has us all upset”.
“Do you think I have no painful memories of my husband, Iseult? I too feel stunned at the savage brutality of it all. I know it is difficult but this is the last way to deal with the sordid past. We must keep down impotent rage or despair. Your brother’s destiny is at stake”.
Willie looks on helplessly at the emotions he has unleashed. Seán stares with wide-eyed delight at the drama.
“Seán’s father died for Ireland. Your brother will bear an honoured name. We remember nothing else”.
“Nothing else,” repeats Iseult, as she turns and very slowly and deliberately, without looking at any of them, leaves the room.