Friday, 18 September 2015


Andy Hamilton

He revs the engine, revs it so hard a plume of black smoke erupts from the exhaust and hovers menacingly in the still country air.
   “Come on to fuck…” he mouths at the stalled car up ahead.
Maurice is never late. “Punctuality and organisation,” he would often tell Catherine, “that’s the difference between me and that shower, the dole farmers”.
   He mounts the grass verge and maneuvers free, beeping the horn wildly as his jeep moves past the stranded Ford Fiesta. In the rear view mirror, a young man leaps from the car, waves a fist in the air and gives Maurice the finger.
   “Save it for your wife,” Maurice says out load, working the gears quickly from first to fifth as the young man dissolves into a horizon of hedge and county road.
   “Shite,” says Maurice, catching sight of the digital clock on the dashboard. How has this happened? Where had the morning gone? As the jeep roars past 100 kilometres per hour, he searches his mind, trying to pinpoint where the time had been lost. He had woken on time, a little early even, plenty of time to finish the milking, feed the cattle and then have breakfast himself. That was the morning routine. Milk the cows before you feed them; it concentrates their minds and encourages them to milk quickly. And the cattle always eat first, as an encouragement to himself. He could see his breakfast, laid out as usual on the kitchen table as he removed his wellies and left them to stand in the shadow of the back door. One boiled egg and the heel of a brown loaf, freshly toasted on the griddle of the range.
   “You’ll give him a good price,” Catherine had said, as she got his cap and the good jacket from the front hall. “He’s a neighbour. He’s a good man.”
   A good man, thinks Maurice as, he turns into the mart and brings the jeep to a halt. A good fucking man. He’d have gone under years ago but for the socialists in Brussels. Paid to do nothing, fields left idle with crops of thistle and ragwort and the big cheque in the post from Europe each December.
   The desperate bellow of a frightened heifer brings Maurice back to himself. He looks at his watch.
   “Shite,” he says, unbuckling his seatbelt quickly. “Shite, shite, shite.”
   A vague ache begins to creep across his forehead as he climbs the cast iron stairs, moving as quickly as he dares without seeming to rush. As he reaches the large open doorway, beads of unwelcome sweat have gathered on his temple.
   “Mossy,” nods a dour farmer, smoking in the doorway.
   “How’a’ya,” gasps Maurice.
   “Your spot’s above,” says the farmer, pointing to an empty space in the centre of top terrace with the butt of a half-smoked Major. “We weren’t sure ya were coming.”
   “Good man,” says Maurice, hurrying inside.
   A good man, Maurice thinks, as he makes his way to his spot high in the concrete coliseum. There are no good men here.
Maurice always sits in the same place in the mart, on the highest terrace, directly across from the auctioneer. No one ever sits beside him. From this perch, he can see the other farmers rise and fall with every bid. He can see their worries and fears, when they are ready to sell and when they need just a little bit more. He can see the auctioneer and he makes sure the auctioneer can always see him. Over the years Maurice has bought low and sold high. He has never taken a dud animal from any man, never paid more than was absolutely necessary.
   But now, as he settles onto his familiar patch of grey concrete, something feels different. Squinting, he spies his neighbour on the opposite side of the mart, loitering outside the auctioneers hatch. Best not make eye contact. It would only complicate things. Make things… difficult somehow.
   A good man, the words enter Maurice’s head uninvited. He brings his hand to his forehead and presses softly. Why had Catherine said that? What is it to her what this fake-farmer gets for his one decent animal?
   Over the years, Maurice and Catherine had developed a number of unspoken rules. Breakfast at nine, dinner at three, wellies to the back door, shoes and the good jackets to the front. Things had been better since they moved into separate rooms. With the possibility of children long since gone, he enjoyed the simple convenience that came with the guest bed. There was no more shouting. Nothing unnecessary, nothing difficult.
   A good man. The words revolve in Maurice’s head, pushing his headache one way and then the other. He closes his eye. A good man…a good man… a good man… Has he touched her?
   “Can you not hear me?” a male voice finds Maurice.
   “Wha?” replies Maurice breathlessly. He turns and sees a young man sat beside him on the cold concrete. “What did you say?”
   “Is it yourself?” says the young man.
   “What? Do you know me?”
   “I know you, but I’d bet you don’t know me. You’re Maurice Murphy. Right? A brilliant farmer. Top class. That’s what they say. Top class. King of the mart.”
   “What… how do you…”
   “Sure doesn’t every farmer in here know you. What have you your eye on today?”
   “Sure you’re hardly here for the company and the lively conversation. Not from the likes of us anyway.”
   “I’m just here for a look,” offers Maurice, his head now throbbing freely. “Nothing here today worth buying.”
   “Is that right?” says the young man. He takes a packet of Marlboro Lights from the breast pocket of this jacket. “Smoke?”
   “No,” says Maurice. “And you can’t either. You’ll have to go as far as the door, or at least close to it.”
   “Fuck that,” says the young man. “I’ll do what I like. Who’s gonna stop me? These fuckers? Ha!” He taps the butt of the cigarette against the closed packets and then lights it with an oversized Zippo. He exhales. An impossibly large cloud of smoke fills the air. “That’s what we’re like,” he continues. “Isn’t it? Men like you and me. If we want something, we get it. We just take it.”
   “Listen,” says Maurice, rubbing his temple. “Just quiet down? Will you? And don’t blow any-a that smoke in my direction.”
   “Ha! Would you look at in,” says the young man, pointing as a two-year-old bull is led into the ring. “That’s him. That’s the neighbours bull.”
   “What?” says Maurice. “How do you…”
   A ruffle of noise circles the mart as the auctioneer begins to crackle out over the loud speaker.
   -A fine animal-a fine beast-who will start me at three hundred?-three, three, three, three, three-I’m bid three- who will bid me three fifty, fifty, fifty, fifty…
   The young man leans close to Maurice. “He’s a good man, your neighbour.”
   -We have four fifty-can someone give me five, five, five, five-           
   “Stop it,” snaps Maurice. He searches the crowd for a sight of his neighbour, but the smoke is too thick. He closes his watering eyes and lifts his hand blindly to the auctioneer.
   -Five hundreds-we have five hundred from the top table-can anyone give me five fifty for this beautify animal-five fifty, five fifty, five fifty, fifty, fifty…  
   “I can see why she likes him,” the young man whispers.
   “You shut your mouth,” says Maurice. “Shut your mouth or I’ll box your nose for you. I’ll wipe that smile right off your face.”
   -Six hundred!-we have six hundred-let someone give me six fifty-six fifty, six fifty, six fifty, fifty, fifty, fifty…
   “That’s it! That’s the Maurice Murphy I know. No one takes anything from you. No one.”
   “I don’t want to hear another word from out your mouth, or God help me.” Maurice pulls his fingers together to form a fist. “God help me.”
   -Seven fifty-Holy Moses-can anyone give me eight, eight, eight, eight…
   “You’re right,” says the young man, blowing one last cloud of smoke into the air around Maurice. “You have work to do. Maybe if you buy that animal, maybe then she might love you again.”
   The words strike Maurice. Heavy and dark, the mart begins to circle around him, like leaves caught in a November wind.
   - Nine hundred euro-come on lads-is there anyone will give me nine fifty, anyone?
   Maurice clutches the cold concrete. He closes his eyes. He breathes.

Friday, 19 June 2015

In conversation with... Colin Barrett

The Atlantic seaboard is a magnetic for the imagination. A place where thoughts and ideas crash on the weather worn shore and disperse in a spray of creative energy. It's something in the wildness of the place, the poetry of the Hiberno-English and the feeling of an almost righteous isolation. It's something that Colin Barrett knows well. Andrew Hamilton finds out more.
A lot happens in Glanbeigh. At the end of every lane in this West of Ireland town lies a life and a story worth knowing. They are tales shaped by love and loss, revenge and hope - stories that scratch at the surface of the conscience mind, somehow demanding to be written and read.
Glanbeigh is the creative home of Colin Barrett. The fictional Mayo town has formed the rich breeding ground for his breakthrough collection of short-stories 'Young Skins' and helped Barrett catapult himself to the head of an emerging breed of exciting new Irish writers.
"When I started writing about Glanbeigh and writing about that world and the characters who inhabit it, that work always seemed like my strongest work. It seems to have an intensity and a focus that my other work didn't have. Of course I was writing other stories [not set in small town Ireland] but not everything I write gets published. I tried different things, I experimented, but it just didn't have the same energy that those stories have. They just seemed more alive," he says.

To read the interview in full click HERE

Friday, 1 May 2015

In Purgs

By Andy Hamilton

The blind man hurls a lopsided stone into the lake, unsettling the one legged heron in the grey shallows. Beside him on the wooden mooring, the man-on-the-street sits cross-legged, head bowed, enveloped by his dark trench coat.
            “There’s rain coming,” says the blind man, in a salivating monotone. He takes a second stone from his trouser pocket and examines it forensically between his worn fingertips. “I said… rain coming.” He swings his arm wildly, the stone spiraling carelessly onto an upturned log before finding the water with an unsatisfactory plop. “You’d best put on your cap. There’s a rain coming. I can see it.”
            “You can see it?” spits the man-on-the-street. “You?”
            “I can see the light changing. And I feel the warmth going from the air.”
            “Ha,” says the man-on-the-street. “You have no eyes to see and no sense to understand. Look, I’m already wearing my cap. See?”
            The blind man turn away from the man-on-the-street. “I can see no cap,” he says in a hushed voice. “I am blind.”

The blind man sits on the edge of the mooring, dangling his naked feet just above the grasp of the dark waters. He takes a small notebook from his coat, scribbles on a page, and returns it quickly to his pocket. Crawling on all four, the man-on-the-street scuttles behind him, breathing heavily.
            “What did you write?” he asks, wafting wet air into the blind man’s ear.
            “Nothing. Nothing at all, just marking the time.”
            “Lie to me again and I’ll slit your throat,” growls the man-on-the-street.
            “I didn’t. I wont. I’m just marking the day and time. It’s evidence.”
            “Evidence? Evidence of what?”
            “Evidence that we are here. It’s a record, a document to mark our suffering.”
            “You’re a fool,” says the man-on-the-street. He slaps the blind man around the back of the head.
            “I just want justice. That’s all.”
            “Justice! Ha! There is no justice in Purgs. Not unless you’re ready to kill for it or to die for it. Are you ready to die?”
            The blind mind shakes his head and moves from the edge of the water.

The blind man kneels in the centre of the mooring, scratching at the wooden boards with a small rock. Fresh darkness has invaded from the lake. The man-on-the-street lies flat on his back, his eyes searching for companions in the new forming stars.
            “We could start a fire?” offers the blind man, his head rising from his labour.
            “The wood is too wet. It will not burn.”
            “What if we had matches and some petrol?”
            “That would help, certainly. Do you have matches and some petrol?”
            “Nor do I.”
            “Right. What will we do then?”
            “We will scrape with the rock,” snaps the man-on-the-street.
            The blind man returns to his work, swinging the rock in large, un-aimed spirals. He stops. “What will happen when we finish?”
            “When the scraping is done?
            “When the scraping is done, then we’ll be free.”
            “Free,” says the blind man. He elongates the word, allowing each letter to ring out in the heavy evening mist. “Free.” He gets to his feet. “But when the wood is gone, what will keep us dry?”
            “We will be free,” says the man-on-the-street.

The blind man huddles in the centre of the mooring. Great slabs of rain fall all about him as his rocks back and forth.
            “What’s the matter, dolt,” shouts the man-on-the-street.
            “I’m… I’m afraid of the dark,” says the blind man.
            “But you’re blind? It’s darkness all the time for you.”
            “I know,” cries the blind man. He begins to weep.
            “Stop it!” shouts the man-on-the-street, slapping him about the face and neck. “Stop it, stop it now.” He punches him hard in the kidneys.
              “Oooh,” says the blind man, all the air leaving his body.
            “See what I did,” says the man-on-the-street. “See what I did for you.”
            “I’m dying,” says the blind man, gasping for air.

The blind man stands on a wooden ladder on the edge of the mooring. He holds his hand in a half solute above his eyebrows, shielding his face from the rising sun.
            “What do you see now, blind man,” mocks the man-on-the-street.
            “I can see water. Nothing but cold, dark water.”
            “Humm,” says the man-on-the-street. “You know, four people once managed all the water on this lake. Four people, and I knew all of them.”
            “You knew them. But then maybe they could help, maybe there’s a way.”
            “There is no way,” snaps the man-on-the-street. “Unless you’re ready to kill or to die.”
            “You’re right. I’m sorry,” says the blind man. “I forgot myself. I’ve been…” He descends the ladder slowly, heavy feet labouring over each wet step. The blind man flops on to the mooring, his hands clasped on either side of his head. “How long have we been here?” he asks. “How long have we been in Purgs?”
            The man-on-the-street does not answer.
The blind man stands in the centre of the wooden mooring. Hands on his hips, he breathes in great gulps of fresh, cold air. In the shallows below, the heron has returned to its nest.


Sunday, 8 February 2015


By Andy Hamilton 

He walks to the window slowly, dragging polished shoes across the cold tile floor.
         “It’s been so…” he offers, working the blinds with his knotted fingers, “unexpected. More like April than November really. Not a bad day for it, as days go.”
         A shaft of white light enters the room.
         “You’d enjoy the Nasturtiums this year,” he says, shielding his eyes against the sunshine. “They’ve been sending out waves of new buds. It’s like they haven’t realised it’s winter. They’re fierce this year, or foolish. I can’t tell. But you’d like them.”
         He turns slowly, opens his mouth and closes it again.
         “Mary won’t be coming,” he blurts. “She can’t. She’s so busy and I think she’s… well, you know how busy she is. You understand, I’ll tell her you understand.”
         With slow, deliberate footsteps he walks to the bedside. Creaking, he bends and kisses her on the forehead and then, after a moments, on the lips.
         “I miss you,” he whispers.
         He rights himself and pauses thoughtfully before making his way to the door. A thin smile forms on his lips.
         “You would have loved those nasturtiums.”