Máirtín Ó Cadhain: Cré na Cille (The Dirty Dust)


It was my plan to read around twenty Russian novels one after the other but, in the meantime, a few books arrived that I really wanted to read, so there is now a brief interruption to the Russian reading, which will be resumed shortly. The latest addition to my website is Máirtín Ó Cadhain‘s Cré na Cille (The Dirty Dust). This is the classic novel written in Irish and one I have long been wanting to read. I even tried reading it in the original Irish but it was too much of my struggle for my basic Irish, so I was really glad when Yale University Press decided to publish it in English. This is a very funny but very blunt satire, in the Irish tradition of satire, against the country people, their obsession with status and money and land. All the characters in it are dead, as it is set in a graveyard, where the dead are buried and their spirits live on beneath the ground, carrying on their gossiping, story-telling and oneupmanship, in the way they did when they were alive.


The main character is Caitriona Paudeen. (Sadly, the translator anglicises the names; in the original she is called Caitríona Phaidín.) She has just died, aged seventy-one, as the novel starts. She is highly critical of everyone but, in particular, she hates her younger sister, Nell, and her daughter-in-law, known only as Nora Johnny’s daughter. She is always trying to do better than her sister but the real enmity started when Jack the Lad married Nell instead of Caitriona. In the long run, she feels that she has done better but is disappointed that Nell is now likely to inherit the estate of their unmarried sister and the land of their cousin Fireside Tom. We follow her story, told through gossip and backbiting, as well as the stories of the other residents of the village who are now dead. Most of them have little good to say about any of their friends, relations and neighbours and clearly take death as an opportunity to air their grievances (how the publican cheated them, how Caitriona did not pay back the money she owed, how the postmistress opened their letters). But they also talk about sport, politics, agriculture, going to England and, occasionally, the war. There is a rich array of colourful characters in the graveyard, who are not afraid to use colorful language and air their views. All of them await the arrival of news from the new arrivals, but, in particular, Caitriona, who cannot wait to hear bad news about her sister and daughter-in-law. It is a wonderful, lively and satirical work, which is long overdue an English translation and we must be grateful that it is now available at last.

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