Some background clarification.

When Salmon first arrived in the little Atlantic village, he faced a conundrum many people,with a past face when they embark on a new relationship. When is the right time for revelation? Too early on, can lead to the charge of presumption, but if left until later, there is the possibility of being accused of deception.

Would the parishioners in the little village of Droumbally, forgive Salmon, for not telling them about his connection to the area, right from the beginning?

Without doubt, some would question what he did, and why he did it. It would be my contention, that the only people who would question his integrity, would be those inclined to harsh judgement, whatever the circumstance, and people who never attended the church, but heard the gist of things on the grapevine.

Characters such as Madge Healy, and the O’Hara family, suggest that had he announced from the beginning, that he was the illegitimate son of a parishioner, who had grown up in dire poverty, in the East End of London, he would have met with disdain and even outright rejection. His ability to influence the community, would have been impaired from the start.

What is clear, is that Bridie Clancy went to her grave, without ever telling anyone, the story of her life. She knew the community well, had suffered at the hands of their ancestors, and nothing would have prised that secret from her.

This notion of secrecy is quite integral to the novel, and I think to the wider background of the abuse scandals in Ireland. Even now, in the year 2018, these scandals are addressed in terms of what the church or state authorities did. Very little coverage or acknowledgment is made of the fact, that communities colluded with the abuse. Families, like Bridie Clancy’s, abandoned their children. While the church and state have to be held to account, it will be to no avail, unless a thorough examination of societal morality is undertaken.

If in the future, people come to seriously abhor abortion, will they be justified in holding the state accountable for its legalization? Will it be acceptable, if they totally ignore that an overwhelming majority of people gave the state a mandate in the 2018 referendum?

Churches and governments are made up of individual people, drawn from communities like Droumbally. Some individuals, in full possession of a heart and a soul, and free will, inflicted terrible abuse on the innocent. To talk purely in terms of faceless establishments, is a very potent example of denial.

Barnabas Salmon had a very clear mission, and while his mother was a beneficiary of it, she was by no means the sole intended target. He wanted his life story to be an example of why judgement must be avoided. Few people ever know the whole story, and those who know the beginning, seldom know the ending, and vice versa. The biggest tragedy, overshadowing the novel, is the very real possibility that the village liked his message, but failed to address it to themselves. Hence, when he passes away, they ask the question, ‘Who will tend to the lonely, the sick and the elderly now?’ The penny clearly hasn’t dropped.

Barnabas Salmon, was a totally orthodox priest in terms of what he believed. He did not believe in the possibility of having cake and eating it, hence it would be nonsensical to him, to belong to a church whose values he did not share.

The one deviance he did indulge in however, was his preference for ‘civilian clothes.’ he was after all, a man of the world. A trained actor, a hospital porter, a one time fiance to a wealthy and connected woman.He knew enough about people to know, that in a parochial area like Droumbally, a traditional dog collar, would have tethered him to the same post as the parish priest, Donal Ryan, in the eyes of that insular community. He was out to make an impact from the very start, and his clothes, his mode of travel, marked him as an individual.

The most profound, and beautiful relationship in the novel, in my opinion, is the relationship between Barnabas and Clarissa. It is the story of a friendship that started in the innocence of childhood, and which materialised into a romance, even though the odds were truly stacked against its success. And yet it continued to flourish, even when he discovered his true vocation. Clarissa has the strength of character, and enough love, to understand, that Barnabas, never rejected her. If there had been any hint of a lingering romantic interest, both characters would have been greatly diminished.

Clarissa’s lack of religious faith had troubled Barnabas Salmon, yet true to his belief, that it is never too late, I think there is every reason to suppose from her eulogy, that she was, in the words of Graham Greene, beginning to, ‘doubt the doubt.’