William Trevor died in 2016. A year ago, on 15th May 2018, his final collection of short stories was published. Aptly named Last Stories, the collection is an expression of Trevor’s sharp insights into human existence, his capacity to create characters so real that it is hard to imagine their only existence is on the pages of a book. I bought Last Stories last year, a hardback edition. I have stretched the reading of the stories out over months, but like a child eating a bar of chocolate slowly, there comes a point when only one segment remains. I have one short story left to read, and then I shall never again be able to read a piece of his writing for the first time.
For an Englishman, an outsider, one who didn’t belong, one who was, and still is, easily confused, William Trevor was an interpreter and a teacher. William Trevor created an Ireland that was so real that you searched for the people and the places you found in his pages.
Canon Moran in Autumn Sunshine (published in 1980) was an inspirational figure. A gentle, eirenic clergyman in a small rural parish in Co Wexford. The tiny Church of Ireland community to which Canon Moran ministered were kind and generous souls who took seriously the words he shared with them Sunday by Sunday. Canon Moran was a companion for more than thirty years of parish ministry. There were many moments like those he encountered, moments when trying to talk about peace and gentleness seemed a futile response to the violence of the North and the sectarianism through so much of the country.
Canon Moran’s clerical companion was Grattan Fitzmaurice in Of the Cloth (published in 1998). His name alone was sufficient to identify him as a member of the Church of Ireland. Fitzmaurice’s ministry is barely twenty years after that of Moran, but a new Ireland has emerged. The case of Father Brendan Smyth had brought down the government in 1994 and had been the first of the revelations that would bring the precipitous decline of the Roman Catholic Church. Fitzmaurice attempts to offer support and consolation to his Roman Catholic colleague in the parish, a colleague who has been such a good friends to Fitzmaurice and his little Church of Ireland community. To have been held in the regard Grattan Fitzmaurice enjoyed would have been a mark of a successful ministry
William Trevor was a guide and companion, one who made sense of life in rural Ireland, one who could see from within and articulate it to those whose worldview was very different. When I read the final of his last stories, there will be a sense of an ending.