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Writing about writing my book

08/05/2018 Comments off

Loop HeadThere is nothing this writer likes more than writing about their writing process. A recent visit to the Coming Home Famine Art exhibition at Dublin Castle prompted these thoughts about the the writing journey for my new book which has the famine experience at its heart. Thanks Writing.ie for sharing my thoughts.

Sweet as Honey

14/04/2018 Comments off

Nothing sweeter for this writer than reader feedback and this piece of enthusiasm from Mary J Murphy came early, with the new book barely born:

Well bless my booties Patricia Byrne, how thrilling it is to be associated with such an original, beautifully written, intensely researched book that reeks of Achill’s complex past between every line & delves fearlessly into the complicated, multi-layered history of Edward Nangle’s Mission Colony in Dugort. I’ve been enormously impressed by the lengths to which you have gone to be fair, balanced & impartial as you walk your reader through the minefield of competing religious ideologies in The Preacher and the Prelate, & have been haunted by Eliza Nangle’s personal story since I read it, thinking of how she buried one infant of hers after another, as Edward ranted and raved in the public arena.The level of detail in it is dizzying in its expanse, exactitude & breadth, & it is a work of which you should be inordinately proud because your years of effort have paid off most handsomely.

That it came with this wonderful pic against the backdrop of Achill Island mountain Slievemore, the location of my story, makes it even more special. Mary J Murphy

New Book hurtling towards book shops

11/04/2018 5 comments

Delighted that today my new book is hurtling towards book shops across Ireland. So exhilarating is the feeling that I feel like climbing the iconic Achill mountain Slievemore that features on the cover.

The book will launch in Achill on the slopes of the mountain on 4 May at 8pm as part of the splendid Heinrich Boll Weekend.

 

Book Cover The Preacher and the Prelate.JPG

 

Easter Chocolates and Oranges

16/03/2016 Comments off

Oranges and chocolate were exotic extravagances in my childhood; pointers to a future when these would become normal daily purchases and not occasional luminous luxuries. In our 1950s childhood home in East Mayo, an orange was a sporadic treat; the fruit was carefully peeled, divided in four, the white pith discarded and each succulent segment lustily relished by us four siblings. As for the bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in its wild-Atlantic blue wrapper, this was one of my mother’s few indulgences. When my father returned from an outing to the nearby Ballyhaunis, there were no surprises. Each time he opened his coat pockets, lifting out the treats: a brown paper bag of sticky sweets for us children, a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk for our mother.

On Wednesday afternoon of Easter week, 1916, just a month before my mother’s birth, a young couple sat on grass at Killiney Hill, Dublin, looking out on a peaceful panorama of water and sand. The artist Cesca Trench and her friend Diarmuid Coffey, an Irish Volunteer, were enjoying their picnic treat of oranges and chocolate purchased in Dun Laoghaire. It was a tranquil scene, almost like summer, with the blue misty water of the bay curling around the sand. It seemed impossible that there was a revolution going on in Dublin at those very moments. Diarmuid looked white and tired. Cesca was worried. The atmosphere was tense at home in Temple Hill, Terenure, she told him. She felt pulled apart; her mother needed her and was worried that her daughter could be arrested at any moment.
Cesca Trench was an unlikely nationalist. Born into a leading Anglo-Irish Protestant family, she was reared in a vicarage in Kent. Her three brothers had joined the British army on the outbreak of war two years earlier.
Cesca’s interest in Irish nationalism blossomed on Achill Island, west of my Mayo birth place, when she attended Scoil Acla gatherings in 1912 and 1913. In Achill, she sketched endlessly, walked the strand at Keel Bay, took Irish lessons, and exulted in ceili dancing and pipe music in the evenings. It was in Achill that she first met the tall, gangly Diarmuid Coffey who relentlessly wooed the reluctant young artist. Soon, she was deeply involved with Cumann na mBan.
Cesca was incredulous when, on Easter Monday, she heard that the Sinn Feiners had risen up and taken all the main bridges in Dublin. The action seemed to her totally mad. But she woke on Tuesday morning full of determination. She tore cloth into strips for bandages, bought needles, iodine and lint in Terenure, and headed out on her bicycle. She cycled down Grafton Street, round by Henry Street, leaving her bicycle at No 91 for fear of getting a puncture in the broken glass. She walked boldly to the GPO door and gained entry. That evening she wrote in a notebook with a cherry-brown cover: ‘..I saw things I shall never forget, a row of young fellows kneeling and saying their prayers and two priests came in while I was there, and began to hear confessions kneeling by the side of them; at a little distance a Proclamation to the people of Ireland – of the Irish Republic…’.
On Killiney Hill next day, she asked Diarmuid if she could call on him as a witness if arrested. He reassured her. ‘There’s nothing so calming to the mind as a beautiful view,’ he said. He was still hopeful that she would agree to marry him; he wouldn’t give up. He had recently written proclaiming his love yet again: ‘I know I don’t always think you right and often think I wish you didn’t do some things, but I love you desperately all the time…’

The Rising was quickly over. Cesca was not arrested. She remained busy with her art work and her Cumann na mBan meetings and a year later, in March 1917, finally agreed to marry Diarmuid.
The wedding took place in April 1918, just days after the death of Cesca’s beloved brother Reggie at the western front. Six months into the marriage, Cesca fell victim to the flu epidemic sweeping Europe and died on 30th October 1918. The last entry in her diary was for a Cumann na mBan meeting which she never attended.
Surely, in the years and decades that followed, in the years when my parents grew to adulthood in an independent Ireland, surely Diarmuid Coffey would have recalled an idyllic afternoon savouring oranges and chocolate with Cesca on a grassy hill in Dublin as revolution surged through the capital.

Like a rock in the sea, islanded by fields…..

27/10/2015 Comments off

Reading Mary Lavin’s story ‘In the Middle of the Fields’ in the recent anthology of Irish Women Writers The Long Gaze Back, I was reminded of a visit to East Walpole on the outskirts of Boston several years ago. I had travelled along Washington Street which seemed to extend forever in straight lines south-east of the city. I remember the harsh-sweet smell of hot asphalt when I reached the sleepy town.

It was here that Mary Lavin, the only child of Irish parents, was born in 1912 and passed the first nine years of her life.  At the brow of a hill on the town’s edge, I entered the Francis William Bird Park which slopes down to the Neponsett River across which was the mill where Tom Lavin worked. Here the the small black-haired child was thrilled by parkland, flowers and water, imaging that she flew over the place like a bird. In October 1921, Mary Lavin left East Walpole and crossed the Atlantic to Ireland with her mother for a new life.

The shadows were lengthening when I departed William Bird Park to a chorus of bird song, soon facing the long stretch of Washington Street back to Boston. Next day I crossed the Atlantic through turbulent skies. Francis William Bird Park, East Walpole

What is it about walking?

23/09/2015 Comments off

Thoreau quotation near cabin site at Walden Pond

Concord, Massachusetts, the birth place of Henry David Thoreau, is a very civilised place these days. When I travelled there from Boston, I had to go to the nearby Walden Pond, the place Thoreau made famous and where he lived the simple life in a cabin for two years. His essay, Walking (1862), is one of the books that faces outward on my book shelf to remind me to delve into the richness of its pages. He comes closest to answering for me the question ‘what is it about walking?’  And he is no champion of civilisation. Rather, he speaks for ‘absolute freedom and wildness’ and not for the merely civil.

Walking, for Thoreau, is above all about entering a wildness where he can recreate himself. It is the wildness of the savage he strives to rediscover. Nature is this vast, savage, howling mother of ours. In this he reminds me of the Irish writer John Millington Synge and his tramples through Wicklow and North Mayo and the Aran Islands.

The most alive is the wildest.

Now for the walking boots.

Women and the Achill Mission Colony

07/09/2015 Comments off

Earlier this year I was back in Achill for my favourite arts festival, the Heinrich Boll Memorial Weekend where one of the themes was the Achill Mission Colony and I was delighted to give a talk on the role of women at the Colony. A version of this paper has now been published in the online publication Irish Story.Eliza Nangle's burial spot, Dugort

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