“That Old Country Music” by Kevin Barry – Amusing and Poignant Irish Stories


That Old Country Music”, stories, by Kevin Barry (2021) – 191 pages


It is still March and still Reading Ireland Month (barely), so here is Kevin Barry. In ‘That Old Country Music’, he writes stories about the Irish people as we have always heard them to be and as I expect they really are.

There are certain writers who just happen to be virtuosos of the short story. Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Taylor, John Cheever, William Trevor, Alice Munro, George Saunders, etc. When you read a collection of their stories, you know that nearly every one of those stories is going to move you in some way. I believe it is now time to add Kevin Barry to this list.

In the humorous story ‘Who’s-Dead McCarthy’, the main character is always the first to tell everyone about the ones who have recently died. No matter where we are from, I’m sure most of us have known a guy who is all too willing and pleased to report the misfortunes of someone else to those who are around him.

He shook his head with a blend that spoke curiously of tragic fate and happy awe.”

As is often the case in short story collections, my favorite story is the first one, ‘The Coast of Leitrim’. Seamus Ferris has fallen hard for a Polish girl, Katherine Zeilinski, who works in the cafe down in Carrick. However when she falls for him and they become a couple, he is tormented by his own happiness.

Seamus Ferris could bear a lot. In fact already in his life he had borne plenty. He could handle just about anything, he felt, shy of a happy outcome.”

Lines like this show an acute awareness which puts you on this writer’s side no matter where he decides to take the story.

He had refused happiness when it was presented to him in the haughty form that he had always craved.”

Of course Kevin Barry is a strong novelist as well. He is a writer who recognizes that life isn’t always or often straight lines. Even though I have no Irish ancestors and have never been to Ireland, I could relate to every one of the stories in this collection. It helps that most are amusing as well as poignant.

The bottom line is that in capturing Irish human nature, Kevin Barry captures our human nature, wherever we are from.


Grade:   A



3 responses to this post.

  1. So glad to hear that you enjoyed this one Tony, I haven’t read it yet but have read his other collections. I think his writing is strongest in the short story.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Cathy,
      I first read Kevin Barry in 2013, and he quickly became one of my favorites. I have now read five of his works. He’s a master short story writer, but ‘City of Bohane’ and ‘Nightboat to Tangier’ were both superb novels.

      Liked by 1 person


  2. […] at Tony’s Book World reviewed That Old Country Music by Kevin […]



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