Review (extract) from ‘Sunday Tribune’
by Tom Widger

Terror on the Burren
(Mid to Late Teens +)

Ré Ó Laighléis

Pb 114
ISBN 0-9532777-0-4,

Price €12.50


‘The book to hand is a slim creature, but it is also vivid proof that you do not measure a book with an inch tape to see if it is the business.’

The past is not so much a foreign country; rather it sounds a very familiar place. Nothing really changes, as Oscar pointed out, only hats and adjectives. Long, long before it was choked with tour buses, a family of refugees from a Nordic country are beached on the shores of the Burren. The year is 200 BC. We are not told from what injustice or depredation they are fleeing, but whatever it was it could not have been any worse than the treatment meted out to them by the neighbouring thugs. These thugs are the Barbey of what is now Co. Clare, a murderous crew you would cross the country to avoid. Nothing much has changed.

There was no refugee agency in Co. Clare back then, so the plucky family of six dig in and muck out as best they can. All except Darkon, that is. Darkon is the queer fish who was washed up on the shores of the Burren with the other five. He will, in time, turn against his own people. Before the inevitable trouble breaks out, though, we read of how the family succeed better than they had ever hoped.

They are another example of Ó Laighléis’ shining creations. To date he has written other highly praised and award-winning books. His books read very easily (whether written in Irish or English), which means that they were written with great care and not starved of historical detail.

We read, for example, that combs are made from thighbones. When the patriarch of the family dies he is burned on a pyre, the ashes of which are placed in a large pot, together with gold to please a certain god. The people sleep in hollowed trees stuffed with straw, drink wine made from the berry of a certain white bush.

Lughnasa is celebrated. As is Imbolc, the God of Spring, who will fill the udders of ewes. The bad guys (the Barbey) have skulls of dead enemies hanging from their belts; at least I hope they were enemies.

Occasionally, Irish words and phrases are used. For example, one of the refugees is called Raithnika and the ‘flower’ Raithneach (pronounced rahnyack) is called after her because it grows all over the place. It does indeed grow all over the west. It is not a flower and it is a bloody nuisance come early summer.

Undoubtedly, Ó Laighléis is a gifted writer and we wait with hungry curiosity to see what he will come up with next. The book to hand is a slim creature, but it is also vivid proof that you do not measure a book with an inch tape to see if it is the business. All I’m saying is that it is a good read, but do not rely on it to get you through two weeks holidays; you will have it finished by the afternoon of the first day.

There are no hardships for the reader who wants a simple tale plainly, and sometimes colourfully, told. It comes with a double distinction of being suited to all ages. If you are reading it for a very young child, though, you will have to improvise on the bit of savagery near the end…

Tom Widger