Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1805
First published: 1928
Type of work: Short stories
Type of plot: Regional romance
Time of work: Early twentieth century
Sir Valentine MacFarlane, the lord of Destiny Bay
Jenepher, his blind sister
Kerry, his nephew and heir
James Carabine, his valet and friend
Jenico Hamilton, Kerry’s cousin
Ann-Dolly, Jenico’s wife
Patrick Herne, Jenepher’s husband
Cosimo, Sir Valentine’s brother
Anselo Loveridge, Cosimo’s friend
Kerry’s uncle, Sir Valentine MacFarlane, lord of Destiny Bay, with his great fan-shaped red beard that came to his waist, was the courtliest and most hospitable of men. In twenty minutes, he had persuaded the old Duke of la Mentera and his grandson that he could not allow Spanish royalty to stay at the Widow McGinty’s village hotel when there was plenty of room at Destiny Bay. With the simplicity that comes with great age, the Duke said that his life had been full of many turnings; now he was on the last path, and he had come hoping to find a treasure chest, said to have been lost when one of his ancestors was killed off the Irish coast after Drake’s defeat of the Armada. His grandson must be provided for; he had nowhere else to turn.
Aunt Jenepher, beautiful, blind, but seeming to see people better than anyone, said that the Duke and Don Anthony, his grandson, were noble and good, and she treated them with that kindness of hers that went straight to the heart.
A short time later, the Duke died, leaving his girlish-looking grandson to the MacFarlanes’ several cares—the courtliness of Uncle Valentine, the trust of his valet, James Carabine, the kindness of Aunt Jenepher, and Kerry’s companionship. That friendship was not always pleasing to Don Anthony, since he could not bear to see their prizefights or cockfights, although he was beside himself with joy at their horse races; but it was Jenico for whom the boy conceived a hero worship.
Jenico was not a large man like Uncle Valentine, but he had the look of burnished strength that made women try to get his attention, and he was innately courteous, although his mind might be a thousand miles away. His home was near Destiny Bay and nearer Spanish Men’s Rest, the spot where the Spaniards were buried after their ships had been wrecked. For a long time, the bees and birds had shunned the place, and it was a chill on the heart to go there; but when Jenico and Kerry took Don Anthony to Spanish Men’s Rest, they heard the bees and birds again, and the place seemed sunnier.
Jenico, trying to get the boy’s mind off the settlement of the grandfather’s estate, finally asked him to take off with him on a trip to the Atlas Mountains. The boy was flattered and obviously wanted to go but begged off. Shortly after, as the three walked near the river, Jenico and Kerry decided to go swimming. Jenico went on ahead, and Kerry could see his head like that of a sleek seal in the waves. When Kerry started to strip, Don Anthony begged him not to take off his clothes. Jenico laughed and told Kerry to strip the boy and throw him in. Kerry headed for the boy. Don Anthony flashed a knife and then ducked away. As Kerry turned to follow him, Uncle Valentine appeared, roaring that there was once a time when a lady could be trusted among Irishmen.
With a change of clothes, Ann-Dolly, as she asked to be called, was one of the loveliest girls they had ever seen, and there was a new spirit in her. They made her companion to Aunt Jenepher so that she would feel free to stay. At that time, her relations with Jenico were strained, but whenever they were in a room together, she would look at him when he was not looking, and then he would look at her when she had turned away.
Jenico tried a foolish scheme of planting treasure for her to find, but he and Kerry had a fight about that and he never told her. Finally, she had enough of the MacFarlanes and ran away in the night. Jenico and James Carabine and Kerry used horses, bicycles, and even bloodhounds to follow her. At last, they found her huddled in an old ruin. She was deathly white and scared, and nothing they did could make her move. James Carabine plucked Kerry’s sleeve, suggesting that they return the horses, the bicycles, and the dogs they had borrowed, but Kerry brushed him off. Finally, Carabine picked Kerry up like a feather and forcibly carried him out, to leave Jenico and Ann-Dolly together.
After Ann-Dolly became mistress of Jenico’s house, the birds always sang, and the bees knew it was a fair and happy home.
One never knew what or whom Uncle Valentine might bring back from a trip. One of the kindest of men was Patrick Herne, a man who looked like a double for Digory Pascoe, who was to have married Aunt Jenepher after he made his fortune. Digory had died in a fight, but Uncle Valentine had kept him alive for twelve years by writing letters from him, until he found Patrick Herne and brought him home as Digory. Aunt Jenepher played along for a while until she had to ask who the man really was who thought just as she did. Theirs was a happy wedding.
One time Uncle Valentine went off to America to find James Carabine, who had once saved his life. James Carabine was the Irish champion in the prize ring when he had an urge to sail to America to take care of a drunken friend. Because the friend died at sea, he was lonesome in New York and married a hard-faced and, as it turned out, two-faced singer whose friends ran illegal fights in and around the city. When Uncle Valentine found him, he had taken to drink after losing a bad fight and his wife; but he regained his self-respect and rewon his title before Uncle Valentine took him home. There was no more devoted valet and friend in Ireland than Uncle Valentine’s James Carabine.
It was not only Uncle Valentine who traveled distances to help a friend. Anselo Loveridge, the gypsy whom Uncle Valentine’s brother Cosimo saved from the hangman’s noose, worried about Uncle Cosimo’s heavy drinking; Uncle Cosimo had told him that the drinking had been brought on because of a Chinese girl he called the Fair Maid of Wu, whom he had seen three times and never spoken to. Anselo disappeared for six years, and when he came back, he brought the Chinese girl as a present to Uncle Cosimo. Having lost his heart in those hard years, he would not wait to see Uncle Cosimo but continued his wanderings. When he went to see what Anselo had brought, Uncle Cosimo was happy, and his pocket was bulging with his big flask. After one look, his head cleared, and he turned on his heel and left the country. From that day, he worked to reclaim drunks in the slums of London and became so straightlaced that he was made Bishop of Borneo.
In the preface to one of his works, Donn Byrne made the rather immodest claim that he was the last of the great Irish storytellers. Certainly the statement was an exaggeration, but it nevertheless accurately identified the author’s two main appeals: his gift for engaging the reader’s imagination through romantic and effectively told tales; and his ability to capture in his prose the spirit of the Irish people and the beauty of the land where he grew up. All of Byrne’s fiction, whether novels or short stories, reflects these two concerns and reveals the author’s preoccupation with Irish themes and love of his childhood home.
DESTINY BAY was the first of a series of Byrne’s works that were published posthumously. In form, it is a collection of nine short stories that are unified by their common narrator, Kerry MacFarlane, who will inherit his uncle’s estate in Destiny Bay. The point of view of Kerry—a thinly disguised version of the author as a young man—gives consistency to the tales as does Byrne’s use of the same cast of characters throughout the book with a different character coming into prominence in each new story. The characterizations in DESTINY BAY are not deep, but they are colorful and memorable in their lovable eccentricities. Leading the cast is the protective, patriarchal figure of Uncle Valentine, with his red beard so huge that it covers his chest like a breastplate, and his blind sister Jenepher, who whistles birdcalls and “sees,” with her wisdom and kindliness, much more clearly than anyone around her. The minor characters are equally romantic and eccentric: Uncle Cosimo, driven to alcohol over love of a Chinese girl he has seen but never met; his faithful gypsy friend Anselo, who travels six years to find Cosimo a replacement for the “Fair Maid of Wu”; James Carabine the prizefighter, who is taken in by a scheming New York singer and left heartbroken; the Spanish Duke’s shy and elusive “grandson,” who turns out to be Ann-Dolly; and her eventual husband, the courtly and sensitive dreamer Jenico.
The incidents that form the plots of Byrne’s stories are as romantically improbable as his characters. Stories such as that of Ann-Dolly’s disguise as Don Anthony, Cosimo’s deliverance from drink and subsequent missionary work in London, and Uncle Valentine’s twelve-year correspondence with Aunt Jenepher under the name of her dead lover Digory, abound in DESTINY BAY, but what ties such scattered events as these together is the ever-present Irish background. The nostalgic mood and vivid setting is established early in the first tale, and this setting remains almost as tangible a presence as the characters themselves throughout the book. Although Destiny Bay is not on any map of Ireland, Byrne’s stories make it a real place, with its thirty square miles of territory on the North Sea, unvisited by any trade save that of the gypsies; with its sometimes gentle, sometimes ruthless coast, and its brown bogland studded with flowers and inhabited only by snipes and moor hens; with its tall mountains purple with heather and its tiny, ten-house village of Ballyfale.
When Byrne died in 1928 in an automobile accident, he was only thirty-nine years old. When one reads his lyrical descriptions, rich with Gaelic imagery and vivid scenes of natural beauty, one feels that if his talent falls far short of excellence, he nevertheless died with a great deal of his potential yet unrealized.