Small Things Like These

Set in a small Irish town during the run up to Christmas in 1985, everybody gathers to light the tree and sing carols. But the convent on the edge of town, has always been a source of rumours. It has a training school and laundry attached to it but no one is quite sure who’s living there with The Good Shepherd nuns.

Bill Furlong, the local coal and timber merchant counts his blessings. Married to Eileen and with five daughters doing well at school, he’s happy with his lot and has ‘a deep, private joy that these children were his own.‘ He knows that it could have been very different. His own mother was 16 when she had him and could easily have ended up in the laundry had the wealthy widow she worked for not taken them in. When he delivers some coal to the convent he comes face to face with life inside and with one child in particular.

Bill was given a copy of A Christmas Carol as a boy and this year he’s asked for David Copperfield and I thought there was a touch of Dickensian sentimentality running through this tale. I found Bill a really believable character, he doesn’t have much but he has enough, he sees the value in the small things around him but he also sees the child in the convent. Can he make a difference and confront the complicit silence of the town or does he turn away and pretend not to have seen?

Foster

When I saw there was a buddy read included in Novellas in November hosted by Cathy and Rebecca I was delighted, surely I could manage one novella in a month? Well, not only did I read it, I lapped it up in one sitting. Claire Keegan was a new author for me and Foster was the most beautiful introduction to her writing.

At first glance it’s a simple story of a young girl in rural Ireland who goes to stay with some relations, the Kinsella’s, while her mother is getting ready for the arrival of a new baby.

Their busy days full of household chores, animals and the farm are described in language as measured as their actions but underneath questions are bubbling and it’s soon apparent that there’s a mutual need for comfort. Time and space, a feeling of belonging and being needed are captured perfectly in 88 unsentimental pages.

Wheels within Wheels

Beginning on her birth day November 28th, 1931 this wonderful memoir covers the first 30 years of Dervla Murphy’s unusual life. Her parents Fergus and Kathleen Murphy had arrived in Lismore, County Waterford on their wedding day with all their possessions and a golden haired collie called Kevin in the cab of a lorry. They rented half a decaying mini-mansion and Fergus became the county librarian. As Dubliners the locals were already suspicious, that they were penniless and displayed eccentric bourgeois tastes the reception was hostile and resentful. But that doesn’t seem to have mattered a jot, Fergus and Kathleen travelled together around the county setting up branch libraries, sleeping in the small mobile library van to save money needed to buy more books. When the Doctor arrives at the library to tell Fergus he has a baby daughter, Fergus wraps up the 9 records of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and walks 4 miles to the hospital in Cappoquin, where with a borrowed gramophone they start family life.

The essence of this memoir is answering the question ‘who makes us what we are?’ what is the series of intricately connected events, plots and circumstances that influence each other and decide who we become? The countryside around her, her insatiable love of books, her richly unconventional home and her republican relations, all gather in her determined, strong-willed self.

For my tenth birthday my parents gave me a second-hand bicycle and Pappa sent me a second-hand atlas. Already I was an enthusiastic cyclist, though I had never before owned a bicycle, and soon after my birthday I resolved to cycle to India one day. I have never forgotten the exact spot, on a steep hill near Lismore, where this decision was made. Half-way up I rather proudly looked at my legs, slowly pushing the pedals round, and the thought came -If I went on doing this for long enough I could get to India.’ The simplicity of the idea enchanted me. I had been pouring over my new atlas every evening travelling in fancy. Now I saw how I could travel in reality – alone, independent and needing very little money.

Continue reading “Wheels within Wheels”

The South

I’m sorry I’ve been missing for so long. A lovely family holiday in Italy led to pure laziness in the sunshine when I got home, and then a dose of Covid turned the laziness into lethargy and an absolute phobia towards my computer which only got worse as the stack of books next to it got taller!

So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been telling myself to just jump in and start writing, however short, however clumsy, make a start, so I’m going to begin with a book I hardly remember anything about. Except that I absolutely loved it, and read it in one satisfied gulp.

Katherine Proctor, an artist, has arrived in Barcelona on October 24th, 1950 having left her husband and child and their home in Ireland. She isn’t a brave women, it takes her enormous courage to sit in a cafe alone for her meals, but gradually and tentatively she starts to explore the city and meets Miguel, another artist, with whom she makes a new life and eventually moves with him to the mountains of northern Spain.

Continue reading “The South”

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

hearts furiesI love the idea of taking part in the challenges that crop up but never seem to get my timing right. I read this for the Reading Ireland challenge in March but as usual find myself a few weeks behind, still, it got me to pick this up from the pile on the box at the end of my bed and I’m glad I did because it was really good!

In 1945 16 year old Catherine Goggin is thrown out of her village in West Cork one Sunday morning during mass while her family watch from the second pew. She takes the late afternoon bus to Dublin, and meets Seán MacIntyre and Jack Smoot. The three share a dingy flat together while Catherine makes plans for her future. She entrusts the baby to ‘a little hunchbacked Redemptorist nun’ to find a family with whom he’ll have a better life, and so begins Cyril’s story as he tries to negotiate life and find out who he is. Continue reading “The Heart’s Invisible Furies”

The Green Road

The Green Road

Constance and Hannah, Dan and Emmet and their mother Rosaleen are the family from County Clare at the centre of The Green Road.

Split into two parts, the first part concentrates on the characters as individuals, each one given their own episode to tell their story at a particular time, starting with Hannah aged 12 in 1980; until in part two, back in Ireland for Christmas, we see the family together in 2005. Continue reading “The Green Road”

Reading Finnegans Wake

finnegans wakeEaster 2017 and my reading chums and I finished Ulysses, we absolutely loved it and quickly read (and went to see) Hamlet to explore the father/son motif, read Dubliners so we could spend more time with the characters and went to Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday.  We read Portrait of the Artist to get more of Stephen Dedalus, we even went on a course and gave (very short) presentations on different aspects of the book.  We were in awe of his intelligence, his sparkling language – how could we get more Joyce?
Let’s read Finnegans Wake we said!

The first week, armed with Oxford Classic editions and our guide A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (Joseph Campbell) we had a really fun time annotating our copies with the chapter headings that Mr key to FWCampbell provided “to serve as a handrail for the reader groping (their) way along unfamiliar galleries'” and wondered how we were going to read it.

“It is a strange book, a compound of fable, symphony, and nightmare – a monstrous enigma beckoning imperiously from the shadowy pits of sleep.” (Joseph Campbell).  It’s a vast dream, crowded with characters where all time occurs simultaneously. A revolving stage of mythological heroes, remotest antiquity and popular culture. Continue reading “Reading Finnegans Wake”

At Swim Two Boys

at-swim-two-boys-jamie-oneill-paperback

“Heads that bobbed like floating gulls and gulls that floating bobbed like heads. Two heads. At swim, two boys.”

Jim Mack and Doyler Doyle are the two boys, who in 1915 make a pact that in a years time, they’ll swim out across Dublin bay to Muglins Rock and raise the flag, claiming the rock for Ireland and themselves.

Above on my perch I sit and watch. Alone one man.”

Anthony MacMurrough is the man, recently arrived in Ireland at the invitation of his Aunt Eva after serving two years hard labour in an English prison for gross indecency. Part of an old Irish family he gets caught up in his aunts battle for Irish Independence and becomes a part of the boys’ lives.

This is a real epic. The poor, the dispossessed, the middle-class, the Anglo-Irish aristocracy are all seen against a country in political upheaval.  The dream of liberation for Ireland from the English is mirrored in the boys’  search for personal freedom as their love for each other grows. It’s a story about swimming, Irish history and romance and I found myself completely immersed in the lives of the small cast of characters and the life of Dublin, as they head towards the Easter Rising of 1916. Continue reading “At Swim Two Boys”