Mo Laethanta Saoire: Up In Smoke - A Short Story by Billy O'Callaghan - 2020
Published in The Irish Examiner - September 6, 2020
You may read today’s story here
Gateway to Billy O’Callaghan on The Reading Life, including two Short stories by Billie O’Callaghan
Billy O’Callaghan loves and is deeply read in the genre.
I have been following the literary career of Billie O’Callaghan since March 10, 2013. My main purpose today is to let people know they can have the pleasure of reading a new short story of his recently published on in The Irish Examiner.
Today’s story is set in Cork in 1984 on Bonfire Night. Bonfire Night has very old roots in Cork, Ireland going back to pre-Christian times, as I learned from Wikipedia:
“On the city of Cork and many rural parts of the Republic of Ireland "Bonfire Night" refers to 23 June, St John's Eve night. It has its origins in a religious celebration and originally featured prayers for bountiful crops. The night is linked to the summer solstice or Midsummer's Eve. Originally fires were lit to honour the goddess Áine as part of a Celtic celebration; the Catholic Church took over the pagan festival and linked it to the birth of St John.In the city of Limerick, "Bonfire Night" is held on May Eve, 30 April, on the eve of the Celtic festival of Bealtaine.”
In 1984 in Cork Bonfire Night is now just a reason to set a huge fire.
Young men spend weeks collecting material for the fire. The story is narrated by a young man very into preparing for the fire. Part of the tradition includes a burning man figure.
I love how this story shows us how very old ways still inform contemporary Irish life. I don’t want to relay much of the plot action but in order to set the stage and give you a feel for the elegant prose of O’Callaghan I will share the opening of the story
“By the time I was nine years old my grandfather's suit, a chocolate-brown pinstripe with big shoulders and baggy legs, had already gone a lifetime past its prime, the elbows and knees turned paper-thin, the cuffs frayed, the seams beginning to split.
For all its many and obvious flaws, though, it remained his most treasured possession – ripe, he liked to claim, with the flavours of every significant moment he'd ever known, the gloriously sunlit days as well as the most tearful ones.
My mother hated the sight of the suit, and was forever at him about getting rid of it.
“We're the talk of the place,” she used to say, shaking her head in exasperation. “Tramps don't look as far gone as you do. There can't be anything more than dirt holding it together.”
But such arguments were lost on him.
He'd worn it to a dozen weddings over the years and to a hundred dances; had it on him the first time he stole a kiss from the woman who'd become his wife, and when each one of his six children (my mother being the last) were dragged into the world, and he'd stood broken-hearted in it at gravesides for the burials of his parents, siblings and friends.”
Billy O’Callaghan was born in Cork in 1974, and is the author of three short story collections: In Exile (2008, Mercier Press), In Too Deep (2009, Mercier Press), and The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind (2013, New Island Books, winner of a 2013 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award and selected as Cork’s One City, One Book for 2017), as well as the bestselling novel The Dead House (2017, Brandon/O’Brien Press and 2018, Arcade/Skyhorse (USA)).
His latest novel, My Coney Island Baby, was published by Jonathan Cape (and Harper in the U.S.) in January 2019 to much acclaim.
Billy’s latest short story collection, The Boatman and Other Stories was released in January 2020.
Billy is the winner of a Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award for the short story, and twice a recipient of the Arts Council of Ireland’s Bursary Award for Literature. Among numerous other honours, his story, The Boatman, was a finalist for the 2016 Costa Short Story Award, and more than a hundred of his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in literary journals and magazines around the world, including: Absinthe: New European Writing, Agni, the Bellevue Literary Review, the Chattahoochee Review, Confrontation, the Fiddlehead, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Kenyon Review, the Kyoto Journal, the London Magazine, the Los Angeles Review, Narrative, Ploughshares, Salamander, and the Saturday Evening Post.
I look forward to following the work Billy O’Callaghan for many years. I predict one day people in Dublin, London, NYC and beyond
may wonder who was this book blogger who predicted great success for him long ago.