Category: Archive

A priest’s plan to save Ireland

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

There’s something to be said for a story that delights in its own telling — a story that doesn’t bog itself down in imagery or introspection, but just offers us a clear narrative with unpretentious, competent writing. In this way, Walter Keady’s “The Dowry” was a refreshing break from my usual reading habits. An Irish-born priest who served in Brazil for several years, Keady left the priesthood and turned to writing. With several books to his credit, he seems to be enjoying his new vocation. I read Keady’s novel in one day, infected by his enthusiasm for and the joy that he obviously takes from the task of good old-fashioned storytelling.
Although the manner in which Keady tells his story is simple, the plot is quite complex. Reminiscent of a Shakespearean comedy, “The Dowry” involves many characters and subplots that become intertwined in comical ways, Sometimes these plots thwart each other, other times they work together toward a common goal, but one thing is constant: nothing comes easy. Set in a small 1940s Irish town called Coshlawn Crann, the narrative involves a number of young engaged couples who all want to tie the knot as soon as possible. Seems simple enough, but in post World War II rural Ireland, money and opportunity are scarce. During this time, most young Irish couples are immigrating to London to work and raise families-a crisis that feeds directly into already-tense international relations. As none of these couples have the money to marry and stay in Coshlawn Crann, they are all reluctantly considering this option. And if they can’t find an alternative that will allow them to marry soon, they are in danger of succumbing to the sexual lust that pushes them to new limits everyday.
To try to reverse the immigration trend and promote the institution of marriage as the future of Ireland, the town’s parish priest, Father Donovan, concocts a plan. This plan will allow all of these couples to marry and establish themselves in Coshlawn Crann-therefore saving the town, the chastity of these young couples, and, most importantly, Ireland. The plan hinges upon acquiring the dowry of a single wealthy girl. But Father Donovan is not the only person after the dowry. Everyone, it seems, has a plan that involves this girl’s money. Needless to say, hilarity ensues as they all scramble to realize their own dowry dreams. In the process, new couples are created and destroyed, inheritances are jeopardized, friends and family betray one another, rumors abound, and the drama pushes one hopeful to fake his own death.
Based on an anecdote about “the old days” that Keady heard from a relative, “The Dowry” is fast-paced, witty, and charming. Also patterned on Shakespearean comedy, the novel provides plenty of narrative twists and happy coincidences, as it pokes fun at social institutions (while, ultimately, promoting them). Although this does make for entertaining reading, I found myself longing for the subtle innuendo and sexual double-speak Shakespeare so often employed (which would not be out-of-place in this pastoral Irish setting). Some of the young characters, overcome with passion and the ensuing guilt of sexual indiscretion, travel to the next town to confess their weakness for heavy petting to a half-deaf priest. They also confide in one another about their barely-controlled pre-nuptial romps, slippery-sloped from the smallest physical liberties. In these conversations, the dialogue between priest and confessor and between intimate friends is too direct and often falls flat. The threat of sexual temptation certainly adds immediate tension, hilarity, and a delicious bawdiness that’s befitting of a story of love and money. But at times the writing fails to fully revel in the battle between human nature and social restrictions that fuels this novel of Irish manners.

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