Folk’d by Laurence Donaghy
This was an unexpected but pleasant surprize that fell into Rebel Voice‘s lap. Set in Belfast, it tells the tale of Danny Morrigan, his life, loves and reaction to the disappearance of his girlfriend, Ellie, and their baby boy, Luke.
Danny is disillusioned with his lot. His father ran out on his mother and only son when Danny was ten, and has only recently reappeared in the life of the unsettled 23 year old Belfast lad. It’s this trauma that lies heavy on Danny, and makes him question his own parental capabilities.
As intelligent as Danny is, he didn’t finish his English degree at Queen’s University (note the colonial title), as he had met Ellie by then, also at Queen’s (physics) and they accidentally made a beautiful baby boy. Danny felt he had no choice but to leave college and find a job to provide for his nascent family.
This he succeeded in doing when he secured a position at Lircom, an Irish telecommunications company headed up by the mysterious and charismatic, Mr Black. Danny’s job is as a call centre operative. It slowly destroys his dreams and enthusiasm, and he is not helped by the attitude of Ellie’s well-to-do father, Michael Quinn, who hates Danny with a passion. But how far will Michael go to take his only child away from the clutches of the hapless Danny?
Folk’d is, first and foremost, a comedy. Although the premise is somewhat dark and gloomy, the dialogue and narration in this are humorous to a very high degree. The author is someone who knows Belfast and the mercurial moods of its people. The interaction between Danny and his best friend, Steve, is typical of the rough-edged banter engaged in by Belfast folk, as well as those from across the Occupied Six Counties (OSC). Some of the one-liners in this novel are worthy of use by the very best stand-up comedians, such is the quality.
The book is the first in a trilogy. We are introduced to Danny and his friends and family in what is a fairly long but enjoyable preamble, and it is only when Danny returns home from work to find both Ellie and Luke inexplicably missing that we are thrust violently into the heart of this wonderful story.
We meet Ellie’s weird uncle, Dermot, a reclusive character with a strong fear of the faeries. These are not the Tinkerbell types. Instead they are a more vicious and scheming lot. Faery lore is explored throughout Folk’d, as is the mythology of ancient Ireland (both are interconnected). Donaghy is to be commended for introducing his readership to the wealth of Irish folklore and myth, whilst providing a modern context for it.
Danny comes to suspect that, strange as it may seem, there may well be supernatural forces at work in the abduction of his loved ones. His suspicions are strengthened with the involvement of the crude-tongued Bea, an eighty year old local woman with a story to tell and the colourful vocal chords to tell it.
It should be noted that there is profanity in abundance throughout this book. No one is immune. This does reflect the language used by working and middle class Irish people. Irreverence is an art-form in Ireland. Church-going Catholics will regularly blaspheme and think little of it, and for Christ’s sake, why the holy fuck should they? After all, Jesus was a construction worker. Do you really think that he refused to shout ‘Fuck me pink, you rotten bastard’ (in Aramaic) when he inevitably dropped a hammer on his sandaled feet?
As fruity as the language may be, it is the characters, their consistency and their dialogue that really makes this a great book. The scene-setting is pretty good, if limited. But the people make the story, and Folk’d has no shortage of entertaining head-the-balls.
At this juncture, I feel that I should tell readers of the Faery Tree and Faery Fort phenomenon that still exists in Ireland today. All over rural Ireland, as one drives down country roads and boreens, you will notice fields in which a single hawthorn, or sometimes blackthorn, tree stands. Often there will be a grove or clump of such trees. Many of them stand atop small or not so small mounds (usually very ancient burial sites). All of them are associated with the Little People, the Low Folk or the Faeries, as they are better known.
It is a topic that fascinated the likes of W.B. Yeats, the Nobel Laureate, and the beliefs and superstitions still hold sway today in an increasingly secular and skeptical world. To tamper with, or heaven forbid, remove a Faery Fort or tree is to bring the wrath of the Little Folk down upon your head. Most Irish citizens would never dream of doing such a thing. Even ardent atheists and cynics, such as the author of this review, would not desecrate such sacred places, if only because it is a quaint and ancient tradition in a land that is losing touch with its identity. The idea of supernatural creatures such as Faeries, even if it is only an idea, should be lauded and maintained. Surely the world needs a little magic.
Folk’d draws heavily upon this folk tradition, but places it in the urban setting of Belfast. It’s one more reason why Rebel Voice recommends that this book be read, especially by those interested in learning about a little-known aspect of both ancient and modern Irish culture. At the very least, you will have a good laugh as you listen to the friendly abuse that Danny and Steve dish out to one another.
To give too much of the plot away would be to destroy the reader’s enjoyment. Therefore, this review will withhold such information if only to avoid upsetting those mischievous Little Folk who do so enjoy their time in the limelight. As mentioned earlier, this is the first of three books, so don’t expect any firm conclusions at this point. The journey, however, will be worth the lack of effort required.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. Highly recommended for the dialogue, characters, setting, use of folklore, use of mythology, plot, humour and the fact that the author is from the OSC. What more is there?
For more on the Morrigan, read this Rebel Voice article: