The latest addition to my website is Patrick McCabe‘s Poguemahone. The title is the Irish for kiss my arse. Our main characters are Una and Dan Fogarty Now (2019) Una has dementia and is in a care home in southern England, where she causes a certain amount of disruption while Dan takes care of her. However, the basis of the story, told in blank verse format and owing a lot to the the traditional Irish song, is the Mahavishnu Anarchist Temple, in London in the 1970s, where Una, Dan and a lot of others live, with plenty of drugs, drink sex and 70s music. The IRA, various ghosts, raucous activities, with complaints by the neighbours and visits from the police and even suicide all feature, told in McCabe’s Irish drinking song style and inevitably ending badly. Una and Dan even visit in 2019 (it is now a motel) and find a medallion Una left behind. It went on a bit too long for me but McCabe certainly had fun writing it.
The latest addition to my website is Pat Gray‘s The Redemption Cut. In one respect this is your standard detective story – maverick cop ignores his bosses, the rules and “modern policing techniques” to solve the crime. However, it is set in Belfast in 1976 during The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the cop, McCann, has to deal with strong partisan feeling not only from the criminals but also from the police and other officials. The vast majority of the characters, police, criminals and others, are Protestant and therefore determined that Ulster remain a part of the United Kingdom and will do what it takes to ensure that happens. This makes the investigation (into a brutal murder) more difficult, not helped by the fact that it is all too easy for the police and criminals to blame the IRA for every misdeed. Gray tells his story well and shows up the horrors of that era in Ulster.
The latest addition to my website is Eoghan Smith‘s A Provincial Death. Smyth, a researcher studying the Moon is clinging to a rock two-three kilometres off the coast of Ireland. Neither we nor he know why he is here. He gradually recovers his memory and we learn that his boss has predicted that the Moon will crash onto the Earth that day. Meanwhile he wonders how he got there and how he will get off. He thinks of of his fairly unhappy life and imagines his body washed up on a beach. The book is tinged with black humour and an interventionist author who is not too sympathetic to his character while Smyth and we are wondering where the boats are.
The latest addition to my website is Brian Keogh‘s Le Fanu’s Angel. Our hero is Kiran Sheridan Le Fanu, who may be related to the Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu. At the beginning of he book, he has been involved in a serious car crash. His boss, the driver, has been killed and he is badly injured. Indeed, he thinks he is dead, a feeling he will continue to have throughout the book. While in hospital he is visited by a demon who wants to kill him but also a guardian angel, Aoife. His uncle, who founded the advertising agency, where Kieran works, planned to pass it on to Kieran but lost his money on a property deal and then disappeared. Before the accident, Kieran was a nice guy but not very forceful. After the accident, with the help of his guardian angel and strengthened by his fight with the forces of darkness, he takes up the fight to regain the agency. This is a thoroughly enjoyable mock-Gothic novel – good vs evil, the dark underbelly of Ireland and death as a way of life.
The latest addition to my website is Peadar O’Donnell‘s The Big Windows. Brigid lives on an island and has married Tom, who lives on the mainland, in a glen, surrounded by mountains. She moves to the mainland to join her husband but things do not go well. Some of the women jostle and bully her, resentful of the fact that she has stolen one of their men, a much coveted man. There is a shortage of men, as many have gone to Boston or to Scotland to earn money to go to the United States. Her widowed mother-in-law tries to teach her the ways of the glen. Tom realises that she is missing the large vistas living on an island offers and suggests installing big windows for her. Initially, there is opposition but when the windows arrive, everyone helps out. However, the healing is only superficial and things do not go well. This may be O’Donnell’s best novel.
The latest addition to my website is Peadar O’Donnell‘s Islanders (US: The Way it Was With Them). The island in question is Inniscara, offshore from Arranmore, which, in turn is offshore from the Donegal mainland. O’Donnell worked on Arranmore as a teacher. It recounts the hard life of the people there, as we follow the story of the Doogan family, Mary, a widow and her ten children (one married, Peggy). They often live on a diet of potatoes and seaweed and try to supplement their income by selling eggs and knitting, and by fishing. Charlie, the eldest boy is courting Susan Manus but both find other partners. Both Mary and Peggy take ill and Charlie has to weather a storm to fetch the doctor. The herring come and go, they help a man on the run from the much-despised police and there is even a bit of violence, though generally the islanders look out for one another. It is a fine story of a hard way of life that has long since disappeared.
The latest addition to my website is Anne Enright‘s Actress. Norah FitzMaurice is the daughter of Katherine O’Dell, star of stage and screen. Norah has finally decided to tell the story of her mother, long after her death and we learn about Katherine’s rise and fall, her bad habits (drink, men, poor decisions and, the worst of all in Norah’s eyes, the failure to say who Norah’s father was). Katherine died at fifty-eight, a broken woman after three years in an asylum following her shooting of a producer in the foot. We follow both mother and daughter, the latter becoming a novelist, wife and mother, the former a flamboyant actress who almost made it in Hollywood and was successful on stage till she reached the age where there are fewer parts for women. Sometimes they clashed but Norah loved her mother and misses her but she would like to have known who her father was.
During our recent travels in Ireland, we visited Birr Castle, a beautiful castle in wonderful grounds and well worth the visit. The castle is owned and still partially occupied by Lord and Lady Rosse. The Earl of Rosse is the brother of the Earl of Snowdon who was, for eighteen years married to Princess Margaret. In the bookshop, I found a copy of a book called Room for Books – Paintings of Irish Libraries by Alison Rosse. Alison Rosse is the Countess of Rosse. It is, as it says, a selection of paintings of various Irish libraries, both private and public, beautifully done. The paintings reminded me of the painting of Coole Park Library done by Yeats. which I had just seen, shown in my post of yesterday (scroll down).
I am no art critic but I did find these paintings well done, somewhat but certainly not too much impressionistic and all giving the flavour of the library in question, all of which have their similarities – high shelves with books in them – but all of which have their own distinct appearance. Each painting is accompanied by a useful description/history written by William Laffan, an Irish art historian. My only regret is that I have not visited any of them and, as many of them are private, probably never will; however this is definitely an excellent way of seeing and appreciating fine libraries you will probably never see. The one shown above, by the way, is the library at Birr Castle.
The best way to get the book is to visit Birr Castle. If that is not possible, it is available online from the publishers, the Irish Georgian Society and from Offaly History for the very reasonable price of €10.00.
I have recently returned from a two week holiday in Ireland and while the trip was primarily scenic rather than literary, we did visit a couple of places with literary associations and, in particular, two places I have always wanted to visit.
The first was the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands consist of three islands. We visited only the largest Inís Mor (Inishmore). The key feature on the island is the ancient fortress of Dun Aonghasa (see photo at left), with the site having been occupied since 1500 BC. However, from the literary point of view and what first got me interested in the islands is J M Synge. Synge stayed there for several summers, mainly on Inis Meáin, the second largest island but he also spent time on Inís Mor.
While there he wrote a a book on the islands. He also improved his knowledge of the Irish language. (The locals still speak Irish to one another.) His play Riders to the Sea was set there and his stay on the islands undoubtedly influenced his other plays.
Synge was not born on the Aran Islands but Liam O’Flaherty was. Four of his books are on my website.
The Aran Islands were also the setting for one of the great classic films: Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran. Flaherty was born of an Irish father though he himself was born in Michigan. I will mention two other less worthy films, shot on the islands: Leap Year, based on Powell and Pressburger’s brilliant I Know Where I’m Going!, and Matchmaker.
I have long been a fan of US film director John Ford, particularly his Westerns. His mother was born on the Aran Islands. We also visited Cong where his film The Quiet Man was made. This was, in my view, a not very good romantic comedy(John Wayne as the romantic lead!) but Cong loves it as you can see from the photo of the statue of Wayne carrying Maureen O’Hara. Much of the town is devoted to honouring this film, which always seem to be showing. My view is stick to his Westerns.
Lady Gregory left Coole Park in 1927 but remained there till her death in 1932. Yeats forecast its demise in his poem Coole Park 1929. The house was abandoned, left to fall into ruin and demolished in 1941-42. It has since become a nature reserve and the Irish government has now built an excellent visitor centre about the house, its inhabitants, its history and visitors. There are rumours that they plan to do a lot more to develop the site.
The painting to the left is one of the items in the exhibition and it was painted by Yeats, W. B., not his brother or father both of whom were famous artists. You can also see the famous autograph tree, where many of the famous visitors, including those mentioned above, carved their initials. Though they are numbered, the bark has grown so that you can barely see any of the letters.
A couple of miles away, there is a Gregory Museum, which is, in fact, a schoolhouse, built in colonial style, for the local schoolchildren, funded by the Gregory family. When a new school was built, the building was kept on as a museum. It is run entirely by volunteers and a thanks to Tony and Yvonne for showing us around.
A couple of miles further on is the tower (right, above) that Yeats bought (called Thoor Ballylee) and where he lived in the summers. It inspired his poem The Tower. It was built by the de Burgos, a Norman family, probably in the fourteen century and is entirely surrounded by water, which means that it frequently floods. It also fell into rack and ruin but was restored and is now also run by volunteers. If the weather is nice, which it was for us, you get splendid views but I imagine it could be very cold (and wet) in winter.
The latest addition to my website is Padraic Colum‘s The Flying Swans. Colum is better-known as a poet, playwright and recounter of Irish folk tales so this book – one of the two adult novels – he wrote – is relatively unknown, which is a pity, as it is a very fine story. It tells of the O’Rehill family, formerly Irish gentry but pushed out somewhat by their English colonial masters, but now – late nineteenth century – trying to get back. We follow, in particular, two members, father and son Robert and Ulick. Both father and son seem adrift, unsure of where they are going and what to do. Robert manages to alienate several of his family. He twice abandons his wife and children and shows a general lack of responsibility. Ulick struggles to help his abandoned mother and bring up his younger brother but he, too, cannot find his place and loses his way more than once. Colum tells a superb story, augmented with a large cast of colourful Irish characters.
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