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The Irish Read: An extract from Aingeala Flannery's debut - inspired by life in Tramore

Read an extract from Aingela Flannery’s new book, The Amusements.

THE IRISH LITERARY scene has long been a source of national pride, but it’s in particularly rude health at the moment. Yet with so many books to catch up on, it can be easy to lose track of what’s out there.

Enter The Irish Read, where we feature an extract from a piece of work by an Irish or Ireland-based author.

The taster from a novel or short story should spur you on to find out more about the writer and their work.

The writer

Aingeala Flannery was born in Waterford. She’s an award-winning journalist, broadcaster and writer. Her short stories have appeared in The Bath Anthology and Harper’s Bazaar, and as part of the Francis MacManus competition on RTÉ Radio 1. Aingeala was awarded a Literature Bursary by the Arts Council of Ireland in 2020 and 2021. She lives in Dublin.

The Amusements is her debut novel.

The story

Here’s Aingeala on her book: 

“I didn’t set out to write a book about Tramore. I was struggling with a novel, when I wrote a short story about a little girl, Helen Grant, who’s brought by her grandmother to visit her father drying out in a mental hospital in Waterford. The story was published and won a prize – but I couldn’t get Helen Grant out of my mind. I wondered how her life had turned out in Tramore. What happened to her family? Was Helen happy? Who were the people who helped her and who were the people who stood in her way? I started writing answers to these questions and it became The Amusements, a portrait of a community and a town. This extract is from a chapter adapted from the original short story.”

The extract

The Amusements

Nanny had me sing a bit of ‘Silent Night’ for him in Irish, and when I finished Dada clapped his giant hands together.

‘Bualadh bos,’ he went. And then, ‘Maith an cailin.’ He’d such a peculiar look about him. ‘Are you helping your mam?’ I was, I assured him. And, we’d be going to see Santy on Wednesday. Then I remembered the question Mam wanted me to ask.

‘Will you be home for Christmas, Dada?’

He lit a cigarette and just as he was about to answer, Nanny jumped up and gave out stink to me. It was up to the doctor, she said. My father wasn’t well and I wasn’t to be bothering him with stupid questions.

‘Make them fags last,’ she said to Dada. And then, to me, ‘Button your coat, missy.’ I followed her out of the room and did my best not to bawl in front of Dada. It wasn’t fair, I was only doing what I was told. As I closed the door, he called me back.

‘Tell your mam I’ll be home,’ he said.

It was dark when we got to Tramore. Nanny Moll was in better form and said we’d go  down to the Prom to get our tea. She bought four singles with sausages and a bottle of red sauce. We walked home by the caravan park. The rain had stopped and the sea rolled gently on to the strand, above us the moon was round as a football floating through outer space. The chipper bag felt like a lovely hot-water bottle against me, Nanny stuck her hand into it and pulled out a few chips. The smell of vinegar was making me hungry, so she told me I could have some too. We ate them walking through the estate, our breath rising like great big chimney puffs into the night. 

Christy let us in, and tore straight back up the stairs again. Mam was on the settee in the good room, with a string of fairy lights trailing across the carpet and over her knees; she was twisting the little bulbs, looking for the faulty one. On the floor by her feet was the
Christmas tree, waiting for us to bend down the branches and twist the bristles into shape. All of a sudden, the bulbs lit up.

‘There it is now,’ said Mam.

She looked like a film star with the coloured lights brightening her face. That’s when I saw the tea chest of decorations had been taken down from the attic. 

It was over by Dada’s armchair. I was mad to get at them. But first we’d to go into the kitchen for our tea.

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Mam slapped the bottom of the sauce bottle to make it come out. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘how did ye get on?’ Nanny told her we got on grand. 

‘Maurice will be home for Christmas.’

Mam ate her chips.

‘He told you that?’

‘He told Helen, didn’t he, pet?’

‘He did.’

Mam reached over and tapped my hand. ‘Call your brother down,’ she said. ‘After you finish your tea, you can go inside and start unwrapping the decorations.’ 

When Christy reached the foot of the stairs he punched me in the arm. A real deadener it was, but I didn’t cry, or tell on him. I held my whist, finished my chips, and thought about doing the decorations. It was the best job in the world, rooting through the tea
chest, peeling back the layers of old newspaper to find something fancy inside, and trying to guess if the next one I opened would be the holy angel for the top of the Christmas tree. Except for Mam, she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

The Amusements by Aingeala Flannery is published by Penguin Sandycove and is out now. 

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