By Joy Martin
In A WRONG TO SWEETEN and its sequel, A HERITAGE OF WRONG, the life of Milliora O’Brien is undermined by murder. Yet she feels more threatened by the customs and beliefs of the countryside than by human fear and hatred.
She is a woman from the town. When nine figures wearing straw masks turn up at her wedding reception and whirl her into a dance, her reaction is to scream while everybody laughs at her. The visitors are members of the Claghera, or ‘Straw Boys, and to the wedding guests and bridegroom they’re just part of the traditions which mark country life in Ireland, like the feasting at the meitheal, the all-important festival to celebrate the end of harvest, or the killing of ‘the barrow’, when the local slaughterer (the buisteir) plunged his knife into the heart of the fattest pig as the farmer and his family watched and cheered.
Country pastimes could be brutal. Although cock-fighting was illegal, this appalling so-called ‘sport’ continued in some country districts even when I was a child and the description of the fight in A WRONG TO SWEETEN is based on my recollection of it.
‘The hoods were removed from the birds’ heads. The red-combed game-cocks – one brown-red, the other, a birchen grey – confronted each other across the grass pit. Intent on the fight, none of those present noticed Milliora reach the back of the line of men. The game-cocks had stepped warily towards each other and she saw that each wore tiny spurs, which were glinting in the light…’
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Joy Martin was born in Limerick. A former journalist, she is the author of eight novels,
Her agents are Coombs Moylett Maclean, 120 New Kings Road, Fulham, London SW6 4LZ