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Brendan Behan, Mayo Football and Jones’ Road

07/09/2015 Comments off
Brendan Behan statue on Royal Canal

Brendan Behan statue on Royal Canal

Some weeks ago, before the most recent heartbreak for the Mayo football team, I reminisced on Jones’ Road, Drumcondra.

As I crossed Binn’s Bridge, Brendan Behan was leaning towards me on the metal bench, seemingly watching my every movement. But it was the blackbird perched beside him on the Royal Canal seat that engaged his attention – the pair seemingly enthralled with each other’s company. The bronze sculpture a signal that I was entering Drumcondra which was an oasis of quiet that Sunday morning. Walkers with ruck sacks headed westward along the canal bank footpath; landscape contractors sprayed the hanging flower baskets on Clonliffe Road; rays of morning sun highlighted the red of rose and rhododendron in neat gardens. Soon I was on Jones’ Road bordering the west boundary of Croke Park, walking up the incline between the stadium’s railway and canal ends. Memories of other Sundays in that place, on that road, inundated me.

I have a love/hate relationship with Jones’ Road and with Drumcondra. Walking towards Croke Park on the third Sunday in September, when Mayo once again contest the All-Ireland Football Final, I have an impression of a place always sunlit, of excited voices, sharp banter, wrangles about ticket,; the scene a mish-mash of green and red mingled with the opposition colours – more often than not the green and gold of Kerry.

Then, the gloomy return journey several hours later. An autumn chill, it seemed, in the evening air. Green and red flags drooping. But what I remember most was the quietness among the Mayo supporters walking, heads bent, braced for the long journey west. Few words.  What was there to say at the hurt of another defeat?

Too young to remember, I was just a toddler in a Mayo village close to the pilgrim road from Ballyhaunis into Knock, when Sean Flanagan – the Mayo Captain from nearby Ballaghaderreen – lifted the Sam Maguire cup sixty-four years ago when Mayo last won the All-Ireland football trophy.  Too young to remember, but soon old enough to hear the talk year after year of the homecoming bonfires that lit the autumn skies across east Mayo  –  in Ballyhaunis, Bohola, Crossmolina and Kiltimagh – to greet the victorious team that September.

It was 38 years before Mayo returned to an All-Ireland Final against Cork in Croke Park. That year, 1989, we had reason to hope, so often enthralled by the sublime feats of Willie Joe Padden as he soared to fetch the ball and it seemed as if he must pierce the clouds with his astonishing leaps.  I was then married to a north Dublin man whose memories of lower Drumcondra are saturated with the boyhood smells of stale milk from the family van on its milk rounds through Drumcondra streets like Whitworth Road and Fitzroy Avenue. By then I was mother to two small sons who were absorbing the city passion for Munster rugby in our Limerick home. The three of them would learn to live with my peculiar addiction to the wearying cause of Mayo football.

In 1996, even if we were missing the blond, tattooed Ciaran McDonald – absent for the summer in America – we converged on Jones’ Road in hope. If only that game with Meath was won on the first outing when the sun still radiated the heat of summer. For the replay, two weeks later, the summer was well and truly over, the days had shortened and we were chilled to the core. The banter with Meath supporters who spoke of their ancestors trading small farms in Mayo for the rich pastures of the Royal County did little to lessen the disappointment. And pain continued to be heaped upon pain for Mayo football supporters into the new millennium.

Surely, if the Mayo team were to win the All Ireland, the spirits of the living and the ghosts of the dead of the County would exult with ecstasy from Swinford to Sydney, from Belmullet to Boston, from Louisburg to London.

Crossing the Royal Canal after such a victory, Brendan Behan would totally  ignore the victorious Mayo supporters and continue to chat to his blackbird. It would make no difference to him at all.

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Ireland’s Largest Single Literary Event

27/03/2011 Comments off

So said Margaret Hayes, Dublin City Librarian at the opening of the DublinSwell event in the city’s gleaming, green-lit, Convention Centre last week. This, she said, was Ireland’s largest literary event ever.

It was a celebration of Dublin’s listing as a UNESCO City of Literature – one of only four cities in the world to receive this designation.  A happy audience of some 2,000, led by President Mary McAleese, gathered to listen to Dublin poets, musicians, writers and actors.

I had a few quibbles, like the half-hour delay in getting the programme underway, our seats being double-booked and the blaze of gore in the visuals of Iran that accompanied Mike Scott’s rendering of Yeats poems.

The poets were my stars of the night. Seamus Heaney read ‘Postscript’, one of my favourite Heaney poems: ‘As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways / And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.’  We had Paul Durcan’s tragic-comic verses, Dermot Bolger’s tribute to his late wife, Paula Meehan’s earthy Dublin lines, Biddy Jenkinson’s poems as Gaeilge and verse-drama excerpts from Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus.

The President spoke of ‘Brilliant’ – Roddy Doyle’s short story that was the inspiration for Dublin’s Saint Patrick’s Festival 2011 parade. The word could be applied to DublinSwell. Great to be there.

See details of full DublinSwell programme and review here.

Be a Dublin (Literary) Ambassador

12/03/2011 2 comments

I like this idea from City of a Thousand Welcomes initiative.  A simple notion asking volunteers to meet up with a visitor to Dublin and share – over a cuppa or a pint – their enthusiasm for the city.

You fill in a simple form and nominate one thing every visitor to Dublin should see. For me it is the National Library of Ireland. Not just packed with archives and exhibitions and literary ghosts, but a great place to stand on the steps and watch the comings and goings to Government Builidngs and the Dail next door.

Only problem for me is that I don’t qualify as a Dubliner!

Literary Gems among The Moderns

15/02/2011 4 comments

 

I made it on the very last day. The Moderns – the major exhibition of the Arts in Ireland in the 20th century at Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Arts (IMMA).

It covered modernity in Ireland from the 1900s to the 1970s through the visual arts mainly, but with photographers, film-makers, composers, architects, designers – and writers – all featured in a major interdisciplinary collection.

I was interested in the smattering of exhibits connected to Irish writers and showing the crossover of the literary and the visual arts. These were some of my highlights:

Samuel Beckett’s ‘Film’, written in 1962 and filmed in New York in 1963. It can be viewed here on YouTube.

John Millington Synge’s Photos from Aran, Connemara, Wicklow and Kerry. Synge bought his first camera from a fellow visitor to Aran in 1898 and it became a constant on his travels along with his bicycle.

Jack Yeats’ Book Illustrations.  He and Synge spent a month together in 1905 on a tour of the Congested Districts in the west, Synge writing his series of articles for the Manchester Guardian and Yeats providing the illustrations.

Robert Flaherty’s film documentary Man of Aran (1934)  The work was inspired by Synge and the wheel has come full circle with Martin McDonagh’s drama The Cripple of Inishmaan – currently on tour with Druid Theatre – set against the backdrop of Flaherty’s film.

Paul and Grace Henry Paintings of the West. The couple stayed in Achill for close to a decade and most of Paul’s autobiography An Irish Portrait (1951) centred on the island.

Elinor Wiltshire’s Photo of Patrick Kavanagh picking potatoes in Inishkeen in 1963.

Pity the exhibition is over. Another visit, I feel, would have revealed many more gems. And I loved this TV commercial for the exhibition:-

  

 

Dublin Doubles – A Book Club Take on Neil Jordan’s Mistaken

10/02/2011 Comments off

Neil Jordan’s new novel Mistaken is about two Dubliners, Kevin and Gerard, who spend their lives being mistaken for one another.  A mix of thriller and gothic genres, it is Neil Jordan’s first novel in six years. You can see Neil Jordan talk about his work on TV3 here.

All the Kyleglass Book Worms agree that the book gives a rich, immediate and evocative picture of Dublin in the sixties, seventies and eighties: Woolworth’s, Bewley’s, the Wellington Monument, Burgh Quay Irish Press offices and the real-life figure of David Marcus.

All agree that the Neil Jordan’s writing is crisp and direct with a strong visual eye – a skill inherited from his painter mother, he says. One sees the screen writer at work, every word selected with precision.

One of us has read an interview Neil Jordan gave to the The Telegraph where he talks about the two Niel Jordans: the writer and the film maker. ‘This mildly schizophrenic feeling triggered the idea for this novel.’

Some of us think that the book sags a bit in the middle; others that the narrator device of addressing Emily as ‘you’ is confusing in parts; that the Bram Stoker thread seems contrived; that the Manhattan gothic strand is over the top; that it is pretentious to be dragging Joyce into the story as if it is a modern-day Ulysses.

A ‘Small Talk’ interview Jordan gave to the Financial Times was intriguing. Asked what his current favourite word was, he replied, ‘Dinnsheanchas. An Irish word meaning “the lore of place.”‘ What comes across in Mistaken is Neil Jordan’s deep and abiding immersion in his Dublin places.

After all that, I can say that this ode to Dublin, Jordan’s place, with its stories, its lore and its literary ghosts, was not a bad January read. That’s the consensus from the Kyleglass Book Worms.

A Nostalgic Goodbye to Waterstones, Dawson Street

06/02/2011 3 comments

Goodbye, Waterstones, Dawson Street branch « The Anti-Room.

Antonia Hart’s piece on The Anti-Room Blog about Waterstones of Dawson Street, which closes its doors today for the last time, expresses the feelings of many. I will miss the browsing, followed by musing in the Reader’s Cafe and then more browsing. A perfect spot for literary rejuvenation is now no more.

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Fifty jobs have just gone in Waterstones, between the Dawson Street and Jervis Street branches, and at the risk of sounding rather E.J. Thribbish, I’d like to mark the passing of the Dawson Street one in particular.

When I were a lass, it was a large Laura Ashley shop which occupied that Dawson Street premises, with a huge and beautiful central staircase and a railed gallery stuffed with bolts of green and white cotton prints and rolls of impossibly smart striped wallpaper (look, it was the early eighties). I’m fairly sure that before Laura Ashley it was the old Dublin furniture firm Anderson, Stanford and Ridgeway – at any rate, in the mid eighties Waterstones opened there, bringing a touch of glamour to Dublin’s bookshop selection, which up to that point had been dominated by Hodges Figgis, Fred Hanna and Easons, and supplemented by a solid lineup of secondhand and antiquarian shops, like Duffy’s, George Webb on the quays, and the dusty wooden stairs of Greene’s where endless Everyman editions of nineteenth century classics rubbed shoulders with geometry sets and rubber dinosaurs.

Waterstones brought a clean, modern shop layout that was unlike anything I knew in the city centre then, its restrained W branding a hymn to the serif typefaces in which its books were set.  And despite its being part of a chain (nul points for romance) and a British one at that (just nul points), Waterstones in Dawson Street always felt like a Dublin shop. The staff, an unfailingly civil bunch of low-voiced smilers, knew their books and made their customers feel that their query was an important one. Even today, I heard one of them giving his full and thoughtful attention  to an elderly lady about buying a book in French for her fifteen-year-old granddaughter, when with only three days of work left he could have been forgiven for drinking blood cocktails under the stairs.

I had fifty-odd euro saved up on my loyalty card, so I went in today to spend it and say goodbye to the shop, which is trading until Sunday, and when I’d paid for my books, the staff member who completed the transaction for me popped a red-foiled chocolate egg (of creamy, luxurious quality) into the paper bag along with the books.

“Just to say thanks for your loyalty,” she said, on behalf of the chain which had just made her redundant.

Someone had brought in scones from Kehoe’s – that cafe in Trinity Street which sells rock-bun sized scones injected with raspberries – and everyone was to get one when it was their turn for a break. The shelves were as well stocked as ever – apart from the cardboard Jo Nesbo stand – and the usual three-for-two selections were on offer, along with the current BOGOF on children’s picture books. It was easy enough to get my spend up to fifty euro.

Jervis Street was a difficult shop to be in, too many funny angles and a downstairs that was hardly there. But I’ll miss Dawson Street’s Irish history and biography section, their ordinary biography section, the children’s area, the substantial fiction selection, even that unappetising little loo in the most awkward corner of the shop. No, now I’m getting sentimental, I won’t miss that. I was reeled in, as intended, by the staff’s handwritten notes of recommendation, stayed loyal with my card, did a good chunk of my Christmas and birthday shopping there over the last twenty-four years. It was a meeting place, too, in the style of Clery’s clock, but with more to do while you wait. I’ve kissed and been kissed in that tiny lift.

I took it for granted, and from Sunday it won’t be there any more. I hope all the staff members find new jobs soon, and that someone interesting takes over the premises.

The 10 Best Books of 2010 – New York Times List

14/12/2010 2 comments

The 10 Best Books of 2010 – NYTimes.com.

I was happy to see my favorite book of 2010, Emma Donoghue’s Room, included in the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2010 listed below.

William Trevor’s Selected Stories is there too.

Here is the New York Times list:

FREEDOM
By Jonathan Franzen.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.
 

The author of “The Corrections” is back, not quite a decade later, with an even richer and deeper work — a vividly realized narrative set during the Bush years, when the creedal legacy of “personal liberties” assumed new and sometimes ominous proportions. Franzen captures this through the tribulations of a Midwestern family, the ­Berglunds, whose successes, failures and appetite for self-invention reflect the larger story of millennial America.

THE NEW YORKER STORIES
By Ann Beattie.
Scribner, $30.

As these 48 stories published in The New Yorker from 1974 through 2006 demonstrate, Beattie, even as she chronicled and satirized her post-1960s generation, also became its defining voice. She punctures her characters’ pretensions and jadedness with an economy and effortless dialogue that writers have been trying to emulate for three decades, though few, if any, have matched her seamless combination of biting wit and mordant humor, precise irony and consummate cool.

ROOM
By Emma Donoghue.
Little, Brown & Company, $24.99.

Donoghue has created one of the pure triumphs of recent fiction: an ebullient child narrator, held captive with his mother in an 11-by-11-foot room, through whom we encounter the blurry, often complicated space between closeness and autonomy. In a narrative at once delicate and vigorous — rich in psychological, sociological and political meaning — Donoghue reveals how joy and terror often dwell side by side.

SELECTED STORIES
By William Trevor.
Viking, $35.

Gathering work from Trevor’s previous four collections, this volume shows why his deceptively spare fiction has haunted and moved readers for generations. Set mainly in Ireland and England, Trevor’s tales are eloquent even in their silences, documenting the way the present is consumed by the past, the way ancient patterns shape the future. Neither modernist nor antique, his stories are timeless.

A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD
By Jennifer Egan.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95.

Time is the “goon squad” in this virtuosic rock ’n’ roll novel about a cynical record producer and the people who intersect his world. Ranging across some 40 years and inhabiting 13 different characters, each with his own story and perspective, Egan makes these disparate parts cohere into an artful whole, irradiated by a Proustian feel for loss, regret and the ravages of love.

Nonfiction

APOLLO’S ANGELS: A History of Ballet
By Jennifer Homans.
Random House, $35.

Here is the only truly definitive history of classical ballet. Spanning more than four centuries, from the French Renaissance to American and Soviet stages during the cold war, Homans shows how the art has been central to the social and cultural identity of nations. She meticulously reconstructs entire eras, describing the evolution of ballet technique while coaxing long-lost dances back to life. And she raises a crucial question: In the 21st century, can ballet survive?

CLEOPATRA: A Life
By Stacy Schiff.
Little, Brown & Company, $29.99.

With her signature blend of wit, intelligence and superb prose, Schiff strips away 2,000 years of prejudices and propaganda in her elegant reimagining of the Egyptian queen who, even in her own day, was mythologized and misrepresented.

THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A Biography of Cancer
By Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Scribner, $30.

Mukherjee’s magisterial “biography” of the most dreaded of modern afflictions. He excavates the deep history of the “war” on cancer, weaving haunting tales of his own clinical experience with sharp sketches of the sometimes heroic, sometimes misguided scientists who have preceded him in the fight.

FINISHING THE HAT: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, ­Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes
By Stephen Sondheim.
Alfred A. Knopf, $39.95.

The theater’s pre-eminent living songwriter offers a master class in how to write a musical, covering some of the greatest shows, from “West Side Story”  to “Sweeney Todd.” Sondheim’s analysis of his and others’ lyrics is insightful and candid, and his anecdotes are telling and often very funny.

THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson.
Random House, $30.

Wilkerson, a former national correspondent for The Times, has written a masterly and engrossing account of the Great Migration, in which six million African-Americans abandoned the South between 1915 and 1970. The book centers on the journeys of three black migrants, each representing a different decade and a different destination.

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