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September Letters

Winning Entry by Martha Higgins

Dear Maria,

Do you remember those days when we read so much and loved discussing books? For me the most poignant of all was Echoes by Maeve Binchy and we discussed it endlessly teasing out the reasons the characters behaved as they did and imagining our own reactions if we were one of them.

I was a child who believed in fairy tales, the harsh realities and seclusion of life on a small farm assuaged by my dreams as I moved into the lives of my chosen characters.  I couldn’t have known then that this would continue for a great deal of my life, and it sustained me through so many dark times. The ability to identify with and believe that someday the lives of my favourite characters could be mine despite all the evidence to the contrary was in fact my saving grace.

No other character matched my own life so much as Clare O’Brien, I loved her with a painful passion, because it was my life too, my life without a lot of the sweetness and freedom that Clare and David began with. I was younger and with much less life experience than Clare as her family had a shop and this gave her an insight into other human beings that I lacked.  I too was lucky enough to be greatly encouraged by a teacher, but he wasn’t the wonderful Angela O’Hara!

Those heady, halcyon days in Dublin when Clare and David moved towards self determination and away from the prying, judgemental and invasive eyes of a small community filled me with joy. I too wanted to get away from those who didn’t approve of anyone getting above themselves and experience that beautiful mix of freedom, joyfulness, tenderness, and ultimately love.

I cried an ocean of tears at the shattering of sweetness, the hurt and disappointment for Clare O’Brien when the reality of life took over from the beauty of the earlier days of her relationship. Clare and I had many similarities, both from poor families with several children; both falling in love with the only son of professional parents, both allocated a deluge of hurt, humiliation and heartbreak.

Like Clare, I too was determined to live a life of beauty and grace but instead became initially the bulwark against and later the cause of all the disappointments of another person’s life.  Clare and I were so very innocent about life and the true qualities of love.  I kept picking up the pieces and somehow always managed to find hope by living a part of every day through characters in books. There is always a Caroline Nolan, alluring and clever at finding weak people all too willing to assuage the disappointing reality of their lives for the promise of what they feel they are entitled to. 

Clare O’Brien helped me to process so much of the reality of life and like her I never gave up on the dreams, the beautiful, fanciful dreams of a life to be lived with beauty, grace and most of all Love.

Best wishes,


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