A Dance in Donegal
I enjoy learning about a different culture in a different time; throw in a romance and I’m on board. With those things in mind, A Dance in Donegal seemed like a good fit but the romance was a little too flat and the story a little too slow and inconsistent for my taste
Shortly before her death, Moira Doherty’s mother arranged for Moira to leave Boston and relocate to the small town in Ireland where she (the mother) grew up, and for Moira to become the local school teacher there. Upon her mother’s death, Moira travels to Ballymann, a small town in County Donegal, convinced that there is a reason her mother, and God, wished her to go there.
When she arrives in Ballymann, Moira is warmly greeted by some, but others hold her in contempt and a few threaten her. It soon becomes clear that there is a secret surrounding her mother and why she left Ballymann so long ago. Without knowing the secret, Moira is left to muddle blindly through her adjustment to her new home and new profession. She wonders why her mother would send Moira into this situation and what God hopes she will accomplish in Ballymann. She begins teaching only to be threatened again – this time by an older student, Aedach, who tells her:
“Watch herself ‘round me, Miss, or I’ll spill yer saicrit to the whole of Ballymann.”
Sean McFadden, local roof thatcher, is one of Moira’s few friends in town. He is attracted to Moira but knows she needs a friend more than anything else right now. He vows to protect her against whatever unknown problem is causing these threats. But when Aedach becomes sick and no one in town except Moira volunteers to nurse him, Moira’s reputation is damaged and Sean must choose between what the villagers think is right and what his heart is telling him about Moira.
A Dance in Donegal is a slow-moving tale with a mystery to solve and a light romance to enjoy. While the story is entertaining, I found myself a little bored with Moira – she’s pretty bland. She just seems to go from one situation to the next counting on faith and God to direct her (which is fine, but just not that interesting to read about). I was also confused about the conviction of her faith. When it’s clear that Aedach is dangerously ill and all alone it takes Moira over a day to decide to go back to his hut and take care of him. This seemed so out of character for her – why would she hesitate to help someone so desperately in need?
Sean’s character is also a little flat. We are told early on that he is frustrated with his role in Ballymann and is wondering if there is more to life, but that question is never answered in the tale. His choices are also confusing; at first, he shuns Moira for tending Aedach just like the villagers. He eventually comes around but his hesitation confused me as well. The romance between Moira and Sean is not filled with any questions or tension or any growth opportunities. There’s nothing particularly memorable about it or them as a couple.
The parts about Ireland in the 1920s are interesting – especially when showing how the people had such strong faiths and yet held tightly to their superstitions, and the author clearly did a good amount of research bringing the small town to life. The descriptions of the countryside and day-to-day life are well done but I would have liked the secondary characters to have been more well-developed and to have understood their motivations more. Some were so openly hostile and unforgiving it was hard to see them as the religious people they claimed to be – this would have been interesting to explore.
In the end, although the story had some interesting parts, the lack of character growth and the inconsistencies with the characters’ actions keep me from giving A Dance in Donegal a recommendation.