The Irish are famous for many things — music and dance, beautiful linen, old castles, whiskey — but cultivating vineyards and making wine hasn’t been one of them. There is a fine Celtic concoction called Meade, but you wouldn’t be likely to find a Chardonnay or Riesling from the Emerald Isle. So when a newlywed Irish couple receives the keys to a run-down winery in the Finger Lakes Region of New York it does not bode to be the most successful grafting that’s been attempted. The new life of Fergal and Brídgeen Griffin is only one angle in Mary Pat Hyland’s new novel “A Sudden Gift of Fate”. There is also the powerful relationship between Binghamtonians Maeve Kenny and Andy Krall — a relationship that was nurtured by Andy’s rescue of Maeve after her promising New York City public relations career fell apart. She hopes to find her way back to personal stability as much as she hopes for new stem cell treatment that will free Andy from his paraplegia.
“A Sudden Gift of Fate” is the sequel to Mary Pat Hyland’s 2008 debut novel “The Cyber Miracles”. She has again drawn on her own Irish heritage and upstate New York upbringing to write of places and situations she knows well. The novel is filled with descriptions of procedures for growing grapes and making wine, familiar geography of the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier of New York and expressions in Irish Gaelige, which Mary Pat speaks fluently (there is a glossary at the end of the book). Fergal and Bridgeen rename their winery Lochmare, Irish for “finger lakes”.
“Wow, look at the size of their farmhouse!” [Maeve] said as they pulled into the driveway. “Not too shabby for starting off a wine empire, ” Andy laughed. “That barn must be the winery.”
A red and white border collie rushed down the hill barking at them as the side ramp extended for Andy to roll out of the van.
“Friend or foe?” Andy asked.
“Can’t tell,” Maeve said.
“Misty! Ná bí dána!” Fergal yelled from the porch as he and Brídgeen came out to greet them. “Téigh abhaile!” The dog stopped barking, muttered a bit, then turned and ran back up the hill toward home.
“How’d you like that for a welcome,” Fergal said. “Didn’t know the dogs speak Irish here, did yez?”
“Fergal the dog whisperer,” Andy said, giving him a fist bump. “How the feck are you?”
“Yer lookin’ at a wine maker, mo chara. Can ye believe it? I’m still waitin’ to wake up from this and find I was just langers after drinkin’ a pint of Colm’s poitín.”
— from “A Sudden Gift of Fate”
Just as “The Cyber Miracles” turned on creation of a website that drew surfers seeking a miracle in their lives, and whose wishes were granted, at Lochmere there is a well whose waters have unexplainable healing powers. The success of Lochmare is hindered by the delicate “living art” of the wine industry, even as it’s advanced through the cooperation of other wine growers. The winery and the Binghamton bakery where Maeve finds a job are caught up in the machinations of an ambitious State Senator from downstate who comes on the scene with his own upstate economic development scheme, and with eyes for Maeve. (Mary Pat’s senatorial sub-plot seems to echo some recent developments in Albany). Maeve is further distressed when Andy leaves for medical treatment in Belgium and unwittingly attracts the attentions of an overaffectionate physical therapist.
Mary Pat is a former journalist and editorial page editor of the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. She also teaches at Broome Community College.
Mary Pat Hyland joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to tell about the novels that continue to unfold with their Irish flavor and New York setting.