Seán Mac Mathuna

Life
1936- ; author of The Atheist and Other Stories (Dublin: Wolfhound 1987).

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Commentary
More sacred cows sink to their knees in Sean MacMathuna's exuberant story “A Straight Run down to Kilcash”. The setting is that traditional one - the boarding school run by religious, but the expected traumas of conscience are not present. The “I” narrator is not like Stephen Dedalus, or the girls in Kate O'Brien's Land of Spices. He has an eye for the servant girls in the school and without much ado about anything has an affair with one of them every other night in a little room lined with chamber pots. Naturally, these nocturnal activities have their effect on the playing field, where he fails repeatedly to shoot the ball between the posts. When the priests finally shine a torch on the naked bodies on the closet floor, none of the conventional guilt and shame comes over him. Instead he wants to know which of them held the torch, for as he says accusingly and tellingly, the light lingered more on the girl than on himself. When he is “rusticated”- not expelled as would have been the case in the past - his father comes to collect him, not as the outraged parent, but as one man to another, anxious to hear the details: “What was she like, son?” / Denis has proved himself: he's a chip of the old block, can inherit the farm, marry the girl next door and live happily ever after, or as his father memorably phrases it - it's a straight run down to Kilcash, that being the family graveyard and a straight run down to it being the “local euphemism for a happy life”. His escapade with the girl has led him into this trap, but there is justice in it, as the story slyly shows. / Sean MacMathuna writes with comic skill and intelligence, quite happy to “send up” traditional literary notions of Irish education, the so-called power of priests in boarding schools, and the conventional view of the puritanical Irish parent. The echoes of Stephen Dedalus at Clongowes may be coincidental, but the story does not suffer as a result. And the portrait of the rogue of a farmer, a rip-off artist of the 'seventies is masterly. Patrick Kavanagh's tormented Patrick Maguire is a long way from this “hoor” who gleefully declares that Ireland is “a paradise for farmers”, and that there are “grants for pissing crooked”. / When Denis goes to bed, the old iconography on the walls has a banal quality “Mary Magdalen holding a chalice, the Little Flower with a little flower, and a huge Sacred Heart bearing the inscription that John and Eileen Stack were enrolled in the League of Eternal Prayer”. He cannot sleep and in ironic deflation his thoughts drift outward - to his father boasting of sexual exploits in the local pub, to his mother's dried-up body tending the cooker, to the life he has settled for and been saddled with.

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