Kate Mundy, a parochial grade-school teacher in Ballybeg (Irish for “small town”), County Donegal. She is the only steady wage earner in the family, which includes her fallen-priest brother, Jack; her four younger sisters, all unmarried; and her illegitimate nephew, seven-year-old Michael. She is the stabilizing economic and social force holding the family together. Her dismissal from her teaching position because of Father Jack’s heterodoxy is another straw added to the weight of community dissolution. She winds up tutoring privately in the family of Austin Morgan, the proprietor of a local store. She was once associated with him romantically, but he married a younger woman. Kate is a silent, solo dancer.
Maggie Mundy, Kate’s sister, who is responsible for the outside work and the housekeeping chores in the family. Her bootlaces are always untied, reflecting her openness. She plays with and encourages young Michael with his kites, and she plays imaginative language games with him. She is a singer and a “dervish” dancer, full of exuberant energy. When the family breaks up, she carries on, adding her absent sisters’ tasks to hers, pretending to believe that nothing has changed.
Agnes Mundy and
Rose Mundy, Kate’s sisters. They have a glove-knitting contract that is taken away from them. Agnes, the best of the dancers, looks out for her sister Rose, who is “simple.” The naïve Rose’s date with the married Danny Bradley at a pagan Lughnasa (pronounced lew-na-sah) gathering in the hills terrifies the protective sister. When income from their knitting disappears, the pair go to England, where for more than twenty years they do menial jobs. Agnes dies of exposure by the Thames, and Rose dies in a hospice for the destitute.
Chris Mundy, Michael’s single mother. He, just started in school, has been her primary responsibility because his absent, insouciant father’s visits have been sporadic. The youngest of the sisters by at least six years, she is the only one still vain about her physical appearance. Chris loves dancing and dances beautifully with Gerry, but she knows he would be unreliable as a husband and refuses to agree to marry him. Such a decision is a courageous one in such a traditional society. After the dissolution of the family, she works the rest of her life in the knitting factory, hating every day of it. She never learns, the adult Michael says, of Gerry’s marriage and children in Wales.
Gerry Evans, Michael’s father, a slick verbalizer, flatterer, con man, unsuccessful itinerant gramophone salesman, and former dancing teacher. His involvement in the Spanish Civil War is a comedy of errors; his war wound is suffered in a fall from his motorcycle. He can, however, always make Chris laugh. After three years, his visits to Ballybeg and his promises cease. About twenty years later, in the mid-1950’s, he dies in Wales among his new family members.
Jack Mundy, the only son and eldest in the family. He is an ordained Catholic priest who has returned home, terminally ill, from a mission among lepers in Uganda. Apart from a brief stint as a chaplain in the British army, the ceremonial uniform from which he has kept, all of his overseas time has been spent among native Africans. He has evidently misplaced his Christian mission and become something of a convert to an African religion. He endorses “love children”—the more the better—and sacrifices Rose’s pet rooster. He has only a year to live and try to integrate his African dance experience and his own “distinctive spiritual search,” as Kate puts it, into the unreceptive world of Ballybeg.
Michael, the invisible focus of several scenes with the women. Twenty-five years later, he speaks his lines as a child and comments neutrally, as an adult who got out, on the present and future of the family ensemble.
Gerry Evans, thirty-three, is the father of the...
(The entire section is 1,410 words.)