This is my half-dozen list of books from Ireland or by Irish writers that I think would make great Christmas gifts. And not a whiff of misery writing about the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger or the sorry IMF/ECB bailout.
Emma Donoghue’s Room was my book of the year before it won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year prize. Asked at the awards ceremony why she thought the book had such an impact Emma said, ‘I think it touches on the universal theme of a young person discovering there’s more to life their own little world.’ That little world of Jack and Ma incarcerated in a room is richly imagined and conveyed with humour and freshness through the voice of the child narrator.
I was at the launch of Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain at the Abbey Theatre in September where the poet roamed over and back between old poems and new. This is his twelfth collection. John Banville said: ‘Human Chain marks many deaths but all the markings are a celebration of what was lived.’
The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story is edited by Anne Enright. How on earth did she make her selection from a century of Irish short story writing? ‘I wanted to put together a book that was varied and good to read, with a strong eye to the contemporary,’ she said. It is a delight to have O Faolain and O’Connor, Mary Lavin and Maeve Brennan, Kevin Barry, Claire Keegan and many others in one volume.
A legendary Irish text-book has been reprinted. Soundings, a poetry anthology edited by Gus Martin will evoke mixed emotions if you sat your Leaving Cert between 1969 and 2000. Joseph O’Connor describes it well: ‘Amid the ink-stains of our adolescence, the shocking sweetness of first kisses, the pimples and growth-spurts and uncertainties and aches, it saw to it that poetry would find a way of seeding itself.’
The Thank You Book is edited by Roisin Ingle and is a fund-raising initiative of the Irish Hospice Foundation. The book will be largely written by you as you fill the pages with your gratitude lists in these dismal times.
There’s a personal bias in my last selection, Michael Viney’s Wild Mayo. It is my native county but the places are familiar to many through Michael’s weekly column in the Irish Times. Described as ‘a poem to a place’, it captures a county’s natural history and evokes a wild landscape of peatlands and islands and rocky shores illustrated with sumptuous photos.
(If you are looking for other Irish book ideas, Publishing Ireland have a list of 25 to choose from here.)
Any suggestions? Of Irish books as Christmas gifts? Would love to hear.
In the week that Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain was published, four of us – me, Joan, Deirdre and Mary – wound our way along the blue waymarked path around Mullaghmore in the Burren. The heat of the day was blunted by a lively breeze and Mary asked us, Did you hear Seamus Heaney on the radio this morning talking about how he searched his father’s suit pocket for cigarette butts? He had a way of describing the look and smell of that suit but for the life of me I can’t remember the words he used. I said I could tell them about it after Sunday since I was going to hear Seamus read from his new collection at the Abbey Theatre two days later.
Then we followed the red-arrowed path that took us between Mullaghmore and its sister hill Sliabh Rua for a spot of lunch and chat and then down the west side with a fine view of Craggy Island Parochial Hall – Father Ted’s House – and back to Corofin and a drink in Bofey Quinn’s where a girl paraded in a blood-red bridesmaid dress.
The sun had deserted Dublin by late Sunday afternoon and drenched hurling supporters waited at the Luas stop beside the Abbey – the Tipperary fans the happier after dethroning the Cats – and I met up with my friend, Heather, and soon I had a signed copy of Human Chain in my hands. There it was, the description of the blue serge suit in the poem, ‘The Butts’, and that smell: stale smoke and oxter-sweat/came at you in a stirred-up brew/when you reached in.
The poet ranged over and back between old poems and new ones ‘written in sudden swoops’ and in a nice symmetry ended with an earlier piece ‘Postcript’ that is set in The Burren: And some time make the time to drive out west/Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore/In September or October, when the wind/And the light are working off each other …
We headed back in a grey night drizzle, caught up in the Kilkenny and Premier County traffic after the hurling heroics. I knew the summer days were over.