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Sentimental, melancholy, flowery prose insinuated into tortuous, convoluted, Olympic-worthy sentences which test and vex the very soul of the unsuspecting novice to the Irish storytelling is only part of the tale. For anyone who has ever mentally back-peddled furiously through F. Scott Fitzgerald, attempting to follow or even find the main point of a thirty-six word sentence, the joy is found in the journey itself. The plot, the climax, the resolution and even the moral of the story all pales in importance before the sheer power of the written word and the utter charm of an Irish story. The plot may depart from all sense of linear construction as it refuses to march woodenly from point A to point B. In fact, it may circle all points with reckless abandon, and neglect to provide even a whisper of a resolution. Again and again, the reader is invited to simply relax and enjoy the ride and admire the verbal scenery along the way. For the reader who prefers all his literary ducks in regimented rows, be advised to avoid the Irish, where the mundane becomes the absurd, where meaning is elusive, and where the simplest act or expression is exaggerated beyond all realistic expectation. Although Irish stories can stretch the outer boundaries of verbosity, and weary even the most steadfast, they are remarkable in their propensity for surprising, delighting and captivating the reader. Much of the charm of this genre can be attributed to its’ liberal use of absurdity, exaggeration, hyperbole and outright Blarney. In spite of our firmest rational resolve, the reader is lured far from reason and logic and plunged headlong into the ridiculous world of gross embellishment and overstated drama that defines the Irish writer.

The Irish have a fine sense of the ridiculously impossible and illogical. No Irish author worth his salt has ever let the accuracy of an event or situation affect the power of a well-told story. In short, a tale need not be technically true in order for it to be stressed as true and reliable. Ask the Irish storyteller as to the reality of his statements and don’t be astonished when he adopts a wounded countenance and assures you that he has nothing but the deepest affinity for truth in its purest form. We see this clearly portrayed in the following excerpt from Padraic O Conaire’s “My Little Black Ass” when the proud owner of a donkey describes its attributes.

…if you gave him a scrap of oats in the morning he’d

put some of it aside for fear it might be scarce the

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morning after. There’s not a word of lie in that-not

one word.’ Somebody laughed. The tinkerman turned

on him. ‘What are you laughing at, you halfwit? He’s

that intelligent that he sets some of his oats aside. Isn’t

it often enough I was so short myself that I had to steal

a little of his? Only for that ass we’d often go hungry-

myself and my twelve daughters…(67)

Even though we are all well aware of the fact that the tinkerman’s description of the donkey’s abilities is grossly absurd, we are able to appreciate it as the Irish art of embellishing the truth. The fact that some man would dare to insinuate that the tinkerman was altering reality is horribly offensive to him. Not only is this immense exaggeration of the truth accepted amongst the Irish it is practically insisted upon.

It is completely unsatisfactory to the Irish author to state that “the girl held a red rose.” To the non-Irish, it should be obvious that a girl holding a red rose is a simple statement and should be accepted as such. To the sons of Erin, however, such a nondescript, fact-oriented, passionless, verbally-challenged blasphemy of a sentence would not occasion even a nod. At the very least, the red rose should be crimson, or scarlet or blood red. And how could a girl only be a girl, when everyone in the village had seen the wraith, the vision in grey, the shameless French-educated trollop clutching the emblem of her infidelity with their very own God-given eyes. In James Stephen’s “The Triangle” we see this type of exaggerated portrayal unmistakably revealed while Stephens is giving us the insight to Mrs. Morrissy’s feelings towards her husband. While many authors would have plainly stated that the woman was irritated and bored with her husband; Stephens, in true Irish fashion, overstates this detail in nine paragraphs of enormously hilarious depictions. “A permanent husband is a bore, and we do not know what to do with him. He cannot be put on a shelf. He cannot be hung on a nail. He will not go out of the house. There is no escape from him, and he is always the same” (71-). Here Stephens has magnificently managed to give us the impression that not only does Mrs. Morrissy feel as though she is being held prisoner in her marriage but she is so detached from her husband that she likens him to a material object. Stephens goes even farther in his exaggerated description of Mr. Morrissy

Indeed, she could not look anywhere without seeing her

husband. He was included in every landscape. His

moustaches and the sun rose together. His pyjamas

dawned with the moon. When the sea roared so did he,

and he whispered with the river and the wind. He was in

the picture but was out of the drawing. He was in the song

but was out of tune. He agitated her dully, surreptitiously,

unceasingly (7).

Stephens’ use of analogies to further illustrate Mrs. Morrissy’s opinion of her husband is yet another Irish trick of exaggerating something beyond its normal bounds.

Closely related to exaggeration, the use of the hyperbolic overstatement is a formidable tool indeed in the hands of the Irish bard. High drama requires the boldest, most audacious stroke of the pen if the audience is to be suitably impressed. This literary technique is not for the fainthearted, the firmly grounded or the stark realist the most fanciful, the highest degree, the ultimate expression can and MUST be used if the reader is to carry away the sentiment, the mood and the raw emotion of the writer. Italics, bold font and underlined words cannot possible suffice for the Gaelic wordsmith; the most outrageously theatrical particle of language must be searched for and employed.

This insistence on a literary “throwing of the excess” is more commonly known in Ireland and among certain Irish-American circles as the gift of blarney when it is directed toward the object of one’s romantic desire.

Whether hopelessly in love, desperately unhappy or furiously engaged in commerce, the characters in Irish stories leave a lasting impression. From the sheer literary audacity of Irish storytelling, we become immersed in their superlatives, and depressed to the point of suicide with their pain. There is no happy medium, and perhaps we find our own sense of exaggerated absurdity as we overstate their charm. Can we ever again be only mildly aggravated? Can we return to a state of subtle infatuation, or become somewhat agitated, or almost envious? Hardly. If there exists even a microscopic particle of long-forgotten Irish blood in our veins, the very lightest exposure to the excess of Irish authors will call us back to our ancient love of an outrageous story. We’ll shed copious tears in our pints as we lament our own lost loves and gnash our teeth at the abominable outrage perpetuated on the home country at the hands of the monstrously diabolical and black-hearted Brits. We may even stand on wobbly legs to sing ten or eleven stanzas of a haunting Gaelic melody if the mood is right. At least until a friend taps us on the shoulder with a warning to “Stifle the Blarney!” In the end, you can only get away with bottomless emotion and shameful exaggeration in genuine Irish stories, mores the pity.

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