It took me so long to finish Last of the Donkey Pilgrims that I was starting to think I, myself, was accompanying Missie Mickdermott and the pilgrim himself, Kevin O’Hara, on their donkey cart jaunt around the ring of Ireland. It wasn’t because the book was hard to read or wasn’t good. It was because it was told in such lively chapters that flowed much the way I would suspect stories flow in the many pubs of Ireland. I found myself greeting them each day after lunch like the telling of chapter books in childhood, after lunch and the final bell, at rapt attention as Teacher read. They are neatly told stories, one at a time, that together make the book whole and the telling of it proud.
Missie Mickdermot is a donkey. Well, really an ass, in the most proper of terms, and she is the cart-pulling companion of O’Hara as he travels around Ireland in the age-old way that the wanderers, pilgrims and tinkers of Ireland once did.
O’Hara, an unsettled vet of the Vietnam war and struggling with its horrors, embarks on this journey in his parents’ homeland of Ireland, where many of his relatives, including his grannie, still live, and he becomes a bit of a sensation as he wanders about, finding the doors of the countryside, even in the embattled Northern Ireland of 1979, open with hospitality.
The story is told 25 years after his pilgrimage from a journal he kept during his trek and with “some Irish fantasy and storytelling” for dialogue.
I first heard of the book from a friend, Janet, who went on to tell about it in Blogging from the Bog. Reading her post reminded me that she had lent the book to me, and so I set about turning its pages and laughing and even praying a bit as Kevin and Missie approach the north of Ireland shortly after Mountbatten is killed, the violence that ensues and the Pope comes to pray.
‘Tis a good little story that is well worth the time reading and I believe O’Hara now has a new book out. Hmmm, I’ll have to be on the lookout.