In “Cathal’s Lake,” a 1996 story by Colum McCann, “a big [Irish] farmer with a thick chest” lives by a lake, “which in itself is a miniature countryside—ringed with chestnut trees and brambles, banked ten feet high on the northern side, with another mound of dirt on the eastern side, where frogsong can often be heard.” In By the Lake, a 2002 novel by John McGahern, an aging Irishman also lives by a lake, another enclosed space of tranquility, as is suggested in the opening lines: “The morning was clear. There was no wind on the lake. There was also a great stillness. When the bells rang out for mass, the strokes trembling on the water, they had the entire world to themselves. TransAtlantic, a 2013 novel by McCann, opens and closes at a cottage on Strangford Lough, an inlet off the Irish Sea in County Down. A woman who lived there evoked its image in a painting: “the cottage itself, the blue half-door open and the lough stretching endlessly behind it.” Symbolic sanctuaries all, though McGahern’s retreat is enclosed, while McCann’s is open to a wider world.

Reprinted from New England Journal of Public Policy 27, no. 1 (2003), article 9.



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