(Fintan O’Toole’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/2.)

CULTURE SHOCK: ONE OF Brian Friel’s best short stories is called The Diviner . It is a clipped, elliptical account of the search for the body of a drowned man.

When all else fails, some of the locals send for a man the parish priest dismisses as “a fake! A quack! A charlatan!” The outsider goes on to the lake. The body lies “in twenty feet of water directly below the diviner’s quivering twig”. The story is laconic and simple. It does not ask to be read as a metaphor.

But such figures recur throughout Friel’s work as a playwright as avatars of the artist. The diviner is a forerunner of Frank Hardy in Faith Healer , the perpetual outsider who may well be a fake and a charlatan but who sometimes achieves moments of inexplicable transcendence.


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