"Everything in This Country Must" by Colum McCann: An Analysis

Updated on November 28, 2016

This is a close reading of the short story, “Everything in this Country Must” by Colum McCann, from the book of the same title. I must warn the reader that this piece contains many spoilers so read no further if that is a concern.

“Everything in this Country Must” by Colum McCann (McCann, 2001: p. 3-15) is set in Northern Ireland during the British occupation and centres on a family’s encounter with a unit of troops. The story is told in the first person, from the perspective of a fifteen year old girl, Katie. We join at a moment of action in which a draft horse is stuck in a river during a summer flood and find Katie, the narrator, and her father struggling to release it. Night begins to fall and all seems lost but just then hope is rekindled as lights are seen on the nearby road. The lights turn out to belong to a truck driven by a unit of British troops who set about helping to rescue the draft horse, much to the father’s dismay. It is revealed that the narrator’s mother and brother were killed by British troops in an accident, and it is this event that colours the world in which the narrator and her father live. The horse is eventually rescued and the narrator invites all involved back to the family home to the obvious displeasure of the father. The tension mounts and the father cracks, throwing all the soldiers out. The father leaves then too and kills the draft horse that was just saved.

The father’s character is a simple one that you would associate with the land, a man unchanging, and a man of few words. I don’t think this story would have worked as well if it had been told from the point of view of the father or even by an omniscient narrator as Katie’s innocence softens her father’s abruptness. Use of the word “hai” (McCann, 2001: p. 6) in the father’s dialogue places him firmly in the border counties.

This story has altered my perception of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Before reading this story I always associated the troubles in the North with politics and religion but by focusing on a very personal story McCann has made me reflect on the many human tragedies that must have unfolded. He gives us a story of deep sadness and loss but because it comes from an accident instead of an act of premeditated violence many of the feelings associated with the deaths are left unresolved. There has been no closure. Although the accident happened “long ago” (McCann, 2001: p. 5) the events still haunt those who remember. This tragedy has brought the troubles closer, made them more personal. I think that much of this change in perception relies on the fact that I am Irish, raised during the time when the conflict in Northern Ireland was at its height, with all the background that goes with that. Unless you are from this moment in time how are you to have the same shift in perception? I don’t think you can.

McCann’s clever portrayal of the British soldiers in what is essentially a heroic role brings about a torn feeling in the reader. I automatically liked the soldiers because they have come to the aid of the locals and continue to help despite the father’s aggression:

“...Father came over and he pushed LongGrasses away. Father pushed hard.”

(McCann, 2001: p. 8)

But the narrator’s constant reminder of the lost wife and son creates great sympathy for her father:

“...Father said in a sad voice like his voice above Mammy’s and Fiachra’s coffins long ago.”

(McCann, 2001: p. 5)


“His eyes were steady looking at the river, maybe seeing Mammy and Fiachra staring back at him.”

(McCann, 2001: p. 7)

The second scene (McCann, 2001: p. 5-6), in which the father dips under the water for one final go at saving the horse and Katie sees the lights on the road, is an important one. The fathers smile on first seeing the lights gives us another side to his character. If it wasn’t for this moment he would have seemed one-dimensional. It also shows how important saving the horse was to him, something crucial to giving weight to the father’s final actions concerning the horse. The narrator even foresees the climax of the story when she writes:

“...and all the time Father was saying Drop it please Katie drop it, let her drown.” (McCann, 2001: p. 6)

It is almost inevitable that the horse will die because if it lived it would be a constant reminder of the day it was saved at the hands of those responsible for the death of half the family. We know that these soldiers did not kill the mother and son but this is not so clear in the father’s mind which can be seen in his many confrontations with them. He just sees the uniform and all it represents to him.

The way in which the author includes dialogue in the story, by writing it in italics, serves to meld it with the rest of the words. It doesn’t stand out as much as it would if convention was adhered to. The dialogue almost becomes the part of the narrator’s thoughts.

The patterning used at the end of the story effectively slows time for the reader as we wait to see what has happened outside.

“The clock still ticked.

It ticked and ticked and ticked.”

(McCann, 2001: p. 15)

Has the father killed the soldiers or the horse? Katie knows as soon as she sees her father’s face “like it was cut from stone” (McCann, 2001: p. 15). All is quiet, the horse is dead at her father’s hand and the world is a much less innocent place for the narrator.

She concludes poetically:

“...and I stood at the window...and still the rain kept coming down outside one two three and I was thinking oh what a small sky for so much rain.”

(McCann, 2001: p. 15)


McCann, Colum, 2001, Everything in this Country Must, London: Orion Books Ltd.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Hey Jarianna. I think that last quote sort of encapsulates everything that Katie and her father have gone through. I took it as almost code for "such a small world for so much pain". They'd just been through so much. I don't take it as entirely cynical, but this sort of stark realism that when you think there's a breaking point, there can always be more rain...

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      But what is the meaning in the ending? That last quote. There's much more to tell.

    • Barraoc profile imageAUTHOR

      B.C. Hollywood 

      9 years ago from Co. Meath, Ireland

      Thank you, I'm delighted you enjoyed it. Yes, please read the short story if you can. It's a concise piece but exceptionally powerful; a perfect introduction to the work of Colum McCann.

    • chspublish profile image


      9 years ago from Ireland

      Another great write that leads the reader into the world of the story and entices the reader to seek out this story. Thanks for the hub.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)