I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Making Waves

Patricia Craig
The Watch House, by Bernie McGill, Tinder Press, 368 pp, £14.99, ISBN: 978-1472239563 In June 1898, two men arrive by boat on Rathlin Island and disembark at Church Bay. Cargo unloaded from the boat includes mysterious black boxes, which are placed on a cart for removal to the lighthouse at Altacorry. The two incomers are Marconi’s men, engineers of the Wireless Telegraph and Signalling Company; and the boxes contain equipment that will put the island “at the forefront of technical advances in communication”, in the words of a rather jolly priest whose church spire at Ballycastle is about to be requisitioned for the attempt to transmit sound across seven miles of sea to the mainland. Lloyd’s of London are funding the experiment which Signor Marconi has set in motion, and which, he claims in a newspaper article, will change everyone’s life for the better. Some of the islanders are agog with curiosity and interest in the project, while for others it smacks of interference in the natural order of things. “We’ll be overrun with men and boxes, shooting words from one end of the island to the other … like midges on a summer’s night.” Watching the arrival of the engineers from a vantage point high up on Mullindress is a young island woman, Nuala Byrne, lately married to a tailor nearly thirty years her senior. The events of Bernie McGill’s captivating new novel — her second — are about to unfold from Nuala’s perspective. Brought up by her grandparents after the rest of her family had emigrated to the New World, Nuala, in her late twenties, has considered her options and taken mild-mannered Ned (Tailor) McQuaid as her husband, not altogether understanding that his spinster sister Ginny is part of the deal. Ginny sits at her loom in the corner like a figure out of Grimm, and requires hard work from her newly-acquired sister-in-law: “Redd out the ashes, Nuala … Cart up a bucket of water from the spring.” Nuala, however, makes the best of things, in the Tailor’s sturdy three-roomed house at Portavoolin, while biding her time. She has made a compact with her husband, and keeps to her part of it, as far as she can. Rathlin Island, whose vernacular tongue is midway between Irish and Scots Gaelic, is a place of signs and wonders, at the end of the nineteenth century, of immemorial customs, of dense…



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