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Currently, I am reading a memoir written by Karen Armstrong, an ex-nun. The title, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of the Darkness, gives a pretty good idea of the mood of the book and of the writer’s struggle to come to terms with her difficult time spent in a convent and the years of readjustment that followed her decision to leave. Over all, it is a very interesting, well written, but somewhat depressing memoir. Normally, I would find this to be a perfectly acceptable and engrossing book to read. However, it is hard to relate to the life of a highly intellectual, angst filled ex-nun when I am currently being haunted by the group of likable, eccentric friends I very recently met in the fictional town of Ballybucklebo in 1960’s Northern Ireland.

"An Irish Country Doctor" from us.macmillan.com

My interest in Ireland, has led me to read many books about the country, both fiction and non-fiction. During my frequent visits to the local Borders bookstore, I have on numerous occasions, come across a particular book that both attracted and repelled me since it was first released in 2004. Patrick Taylor’s An Irish Country Doctor promised an escape into an Irish countryside of the past, while at the same time threatened to be one of those ‘didley-yah’ books full of exaggerated “Oirishness” that promote a fantasy of a quaint Ireland that either no longer exists, or never really existed in the first place. Often these books are full of stereotypes that are insulting to the Irish people and can be so corny that they make me cringe. So, over the years I have held this particular book in my hand, looked at the cover design with it’s painting of an idyllic Irish countryside, read the description of the story… and set it down for fear it was another of the many books out there trying to cash in on the Irish-American love of the fantasy of  a quaint Ireland and its quaint inhabitants.

Well, sometime in December, I was between books and looking for some light, easy reading to get me through the bustle and stress of the Christmas holiday season. Just back from Ireland, having closed on Rose Cottage, I decided to “chance my arm” on Patrick Taylor’s book. The upside of owning an Amazon Kindle, is that the purchase of a book is as easy as the click of a button, so within a minute of deciding to read An Irish Country Doctor, it was in my hand.

An Irish Country Doctor, tells the tale of a young man, Dr. Barry Laverty who, fresh out of medical school in Belfast in the mid 1960’s, moves to the fictional little village of Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland, to fill the spot of assistant in the small rural practice of Dr. Fingal O’Reilly. As you can guess, the story is chock-full of interesting and eccentric characters not the least of which is Kinky Kincaid, the doctor’s housekeeper, who hails from County Cork, and is not only an excellent cook (and provides many of her recipes at the back of the book) but she is also fey… a bit psychic. As you might expect the writing is full of Northern Ireland and Cork colloquialisms and even peppered with a few Irish words and phrases for your enjoyment! Dr. O’Reilly, Himself, is a bit of a curmudgeon who has learned over the years, how to deal best with the characters in the town, while never sacrificing excellent, 1960’s ‘modern’ medical care. Due to the era and the rural location in Ireland, Dr. O’Reilly enjoys a lofty standing in the community that would no longer be granted to the town doctor, but provides an interesting background for the story. An Irish Country Doctor is a bit of a romp through an Ireland that no longer exists with a group of quirky, likable characters who manage to come to life through the simple narrative. And best of all, Patrick Taylor manages to tell his story without resorting to the kinds of Irish stereotypes and gimmicks I was so sure I would find in this book. There are no major plot twists here, no feelings of impending doom or even a lot of excitement and anticipation that would make a person want to skip ahead to see what happens. But this book creates a strong visual impression and provides characters that get under the skin and seem real. While reading I kept getting the feeling that these people, especially Dr. O’Reilly and Kinky, were just outside my field of vision and, though I could not actually see their faces, if I were to just look over my shoulder quickly enough, I would catch a glimpse of them. By the end of the book I truly did feel as though I had taken a pleasant, little holiday in the town of Ballybucklebo, and was sad the holiday had come to an end.

However, much to my delight, during the six years that I had been picking up and putting down Patrick Taylor’s book, he had been busy writing three… count them THREE… sequels! Well, the last book is more of a prequel, which focuses upon the housekeeper, Kinky’s, youth in County Cork and explores her mystical visionary gifts that are only touched upon in the first three books. With the help of my ‘magic’ Kindle, it was an easy matter of purchasing and reading one book after the other in sequence providing me with a marathon immersion into the 20th century Northern Ireland town of Ballybucklebo and eventually, Kinky’s childhood home of Béal na mBláth in County Cork.

This is not heavy reading, or even exciting reading. But if you’re looking for a pleasant escape during these cold, often dreary winter days, into a fictional place in Ireland and want to make friends with some likable, and a couple not so likable, characters, I recommend these books… as long as you are prepared to share your home for a time with a group of ‘ghosts’ who make it quite difficult to move on to deeper more serious reading!

For more information on the books, An Irish Country Doctor, An Irish Country Village, An Irish Country Christmas and An Irish Country Girl, as well as a bit of the interesting background of the author, Patrick Taylor, who happens to be a doctor himself, check out his website at: http://patricktaylor.ca/index.html

…and for an added treat, when you are browsing the website, go to the Home Page and click on the link in the blue text that says “Celtic singing” and enjoy the lovely voice of his daughter singing the Irish tunes, “My Lagan Love” and “Bonny Portmore”!

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