AS WELL as having a successful career in journalism, Declan Varley is the author of four works of fiction - Kittyland (1992 ), which described his life as a student in the then RTC, Sure It Could Happen (1993 ), The Elephant’s Graveyard (1994 ), and Nightmusic (2001 ).
After a long absence, Varley has published a fifth work of fiction, The Confession of Peadar Gibbons, and, as with the previous novels, he explores the subculture of the west of Ireland, and more especially that of Ballinrobe, Varley’s hometown.
In a prefacing note, the author lays out his stall: “Last year, on his fiftieth birthday, my father’s childhood friend Peadar Gibbons, a quietly spoken amateur poet, walked into the Garda (police ) station in the small Irish town where he had lived all his life, He went up to the counter, left down the plastic bag he was carrying, and speaking in that fine but deliberate way of his, told them that he that he had carried out a number of serious crimes and that he wanted to explain why he had committed them.”
The guard on duty tells him to go home and write down the details of these supposed crimes. Fifty days later Peadar returns with a carrier bag containing 300 pages of typed notes, which the gardai describe as “the most elaborate confession they had ever seen”. These form the nucleus of Varley’s book.
'In telling Peadar’s story, Varley relates the story of a whole section of the Irish population who were isolated by the Celtic Tiger and generally ignored by politicians and bureaucrats alike'
The story of Peadar Gibbons is the story of a New Ireland that gradually finds itself divested of its religious and social props and where those “born on the wrong side of the tracks” live lives of permanent desperation. Despite the fact Peadar's father had what would have been considered a good safe job - a foreman with the county council - he was also fond of the drink, leading to a life of crass poverty and little or no social status for the Gibbons family.
Peadar makes several attempts to break out of the poverty trap by moving to Galway and getting himself a decent job. However two of his brothers are killed by a bus in London and he has to return home to take care of his mother. While home, he discovers a gift for words and joins a local writer’s group. There he gains some respect and even has a poem read on Sunday Miscellany, but his violent reaction to a heckler at a poetry reading puts an end to this modicum of acceptance. His one attempt at courtship ends in a disaster leaving him alone, desolate, and of quiet desperation.
In telling Peadar’s story, Varley relates the story of a whole section of the Irish population who were isolated by the Celtic Tiger and generally ignored by politicians and bureaucrats alike. It serves as a reminder of the thin line between success and poverty, a reality which informs Varley’s journalism more than ever today. It is an important and timely reminder of Irish life in a decade of recession.