The following is an extract from The Brothers’ Lot by Kevin Holohan, published April 2011, Akashic Books. Here we see the preamble to the celebrations for the centenary of the Brothers’ founder.
“Now then. In honor of the day that is in it, we will dispense with lessons as usual and instead prepare ourselves for the forthcoming celebrations by reacquainting ourselves with the life of Venerable Saorseach O’Rahilly, the esteemed founder of the Brothers of Godly Coercion.” He blessed himself reverently as he uttered the honored name.
“Mr. Sullivan, you will begin.”
Mr. Pollock opened the slim hardback The Life of Venerable Saorseach O’Rahilly by Marcus Madden, B.A. and held it out to Finbar.
Finbar walked to the top of the class and took the book from Mr. Pollock. He did not look up. This was one of those very vulnerable situations where anyone with an aptitude for pulling faces would be out to make him laugh. He could already feel the others willing him to look up. He focused on the page and read slowly and expressionlessly the words he had heard so many times before:
“Venerable Saorseach O’Rahilly was born at Dunbally in 1811, the first of two sons to Cathal and Brigid O’Rahilly. Cathal was a well-respected and successful grain merchant.
“The young Saorseach was educated at home by his mother, an unusually pious woman given to ecstatic visions. Despite her piousness, the evils of laudanum often tempted her and whenever she gave in to these cravings, she would be plunged into bouts of anguished penance and self-mortification. On one occasion Cathal had to call the Bishop of Dervish and Ossory to the house to restrain her for fear she would cause herself fatal harm with a horsewhip. These instances made a strong impression on the young Saorseach.”
Finbar could barely keep himself awake as he read. Like all the boys, he had heard this story at least once a year since his first year in school in Cork. In primary school it had sometimes been accompanied by drawing and coloring scenes from O’Rahilly’s life. Now there was no such levity. The whole thing induced in the boys a torporous waking coma, a viscous thickening of time that sapped all energy and light from them and their immediate surroundings.
“Mr. McDonagh, you will continue,” crackled Mr. Pollock’s voice through the leaden air.
McDonagh snapped out of his reverie and fumbled with the bottom of his sweater before standing up. He had to pull it down over the very evident erection prompted by daydreaming about Assumpta Cumberland who worked in the corner shop.
“Stand up straight and don’t slouch like an apeman, McDonagh,” sneered Mr. Pollock.
McDonagh reddened and straightened up. Mercifully his tumescence subsided as he took the book from Finbar and turned around to face the class. Assumpta Cumberland and her formidable breasts were replaced by the less stimulating minutiae of the life of Venerable Saorseach O’Rahilly.
“Saorseach’s father Cathal was often away from home conducting his business in the distant thriving towns of Dunmoice and Rathaughram. When Saorseach was eighteen, his younger brother Bartholomew, perhaps deprived of his father’s attentions, ran away to sea. Brigid O’Rahilly went into a precipitous decline after this and spent much of her time roaming the gardens of the O’Rahilly demesne in search of the leprechauns whom she believed had taken her son. On these wanderings she carried with her a bag of gold sovereigns with which to ransom Bartholomew if she should come across the little people. Ultimately this would prove to be her undoing.”
On and on it droned: Brigid having her head staved in by persons unknown and her bag of sovereigns stolen from her; the widowed Cathal first taking to the drink and then to ascetic religiousness; his conviction that the famine was a punishment from God on the locals who had killed his wife and his bloody-minded insistence on continuing to export grain to England while those around him wasted away; Saorseach’s apprenticeship to a merchant in Dublin; his slide into dissolution and his eventual reformation. All of it washed over the boys like so much mind-numbing sludge. When finally it ended there was a huge sense of relief that even the decade of the rosary for the prompt Beatification of Venerable Saorseach O’Rahilly could not entirely dampen.