In April 1985, Dublin-born Niall Williams ("This Is Happiness") and his American wife, Christine Breen, left New York City and moved to Breen's ancestral village in the far west of Ireland to write, paint and farm. They were dubious upon arriving at their remote stone cottage — "It was raining, of course," they write — but despite the dreary beginning, they grew to love it, "so much so that it is hard now to imagine our lives separate from it."
"In Kiltumper" (Bloomsbury), their fifth joint memoir about life in County Clare, takes the form of a journal, tracing their lives and their garden from January to December 2019. It's a gorgeous year for the garden, and they write about it in gorgeous prose, but it's also a difficult year; everywhere they look, change is imminent. Niall is turning 60 and feeling his mortality. Christine is battling bowel cancer. And two mammoth wind turbines are being installed less than a quarter-mile away, visible from their kitchen window, audible from everywhere on their quiet piece of land. Williams and Breen believe in green energy, but they question the placement of the turbines, the construction of which required removing three big trees, widening the lane by their house and demolishing an ancient stone wall.
"How much of the world do we have to spoil in order to save it?" they write.
Mostly, though, the focus of their lives, and this book, is the garden — the flowers, vegetables and birds they tend and observe every day, and the peace it brings them.
"We are both still alive," Williams says when he has been fretting about things he cannot control. "We are here now." That thought calms him, and it will calm you.