TheJournal.ie – The fascinating story of the Achill Island preacher, the Famine, and the Prelate

07/06/2018 Comments off

TheJournal.ie – The fascinating story of the Achill Island preacher, the Famine, and the Prelate
— Read on www.thejournal.ie/preacher-prelate-patricia-byrne-4033791-May2018/

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‘Told with pace and panache… an extraordinary and important read’

26/05/2018 Comments off

The terror has subsided a bit – great to read a positive review of my book in Irish Independent.

Categories: Uncategorized

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

 

Nice feeling to feature in ‘notable essays’…

21/09/2017 2 comments

Categories: Uncategorized

Maria and another US Presidential Transition

17/11/2016 5 comments

On a hot August evening in 1974, I hauled my case up a cobbled street of uneven red brick in Pittsburgh, USA. Exhausted after my trip by greyhound bus from New York via Philadelphia, it was a relief to finally reach the neat three-storey house with its covered porch and white rocking chair on the veranda. I still remember the look on the woman’s face at the door: an open-eyed, slightly startled gaze, a hazy faraway look that I came to learn was her normal expression. My aunt and I hadn’t met before and there was lots to talk about.

That 1974 summer was packed witnixon-resignsh new experiences as I visited the US for the first time armed with my J1 visa and a student loan of £100. The country I left was scarred and scared by the deaths of 33 people in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in May, the largest number of causalities in a single day since the start of The Troubles.  We were glad to get away. A crowd of us students piled into an apartment in Manhattan for a few days before word reached us that there was work to be had at Mullins’ Resort at East Durham in the Catskills, upstate New York. There we headed and soon I was doing the chamber maid rounds of bed-making and cleaning for the droves of Irish and Irish-Americans who swayed to traditional music into the early hours in the resort pub. The tips were good and with the favourable exchange rate we returned home with enough savings to cover our expenses well into the following year.

Maria ran her house like clockwork, trained in the grind of years of service in the homes of the Pittsburgh wealthy. Her hot press was packed with starched table cloths and neatly folded bed linen; the silver cutlery gleamed on the dinner table. Both of us understood that this was a far cry from the place she had left over half a century earlier –  the thatched house that was home to her parents and seven children in the village of Gurteen, outside Ballyhaunis in east Mayo.  She was born in 1904 and her life would span almost the entire twentieth-century. She left the country in 1922 in what should have been a new beginning of hope and promise with the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty. Instead, the country started to tear itself apart through the Irish Civil War. Her clearest memory of leaving was of bending down to kiss the sleeping form of her baby sister, seventeen years her junior.

She spoke about President Nixon in a thick Irish accent. A couple of weeks earlier I had stood in front of a TV screen in upstate New York and listened as Richard Nixon announced, ‘I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon to-morrow.’ Brought down by Watergate. The images were dramatic and tragic as he and his wife boarded a helicopter on the south side of the White House, waved goodbye and then disappeared into the summer skies. Aunt Maria had little time for Nixon, her hero still the late President John F Kennedy, her sorrow still palpable a decade after his assassination. She basked in the glow of the glamour of the emigrant son who made it to the very top echelons of American life from ancestor beginnings similar to her own. President Kennedy’s picture adorned the walls of her Pittsburgh home.

We talked about Gurteen, the townland of her birth. Yes, I said, the old house was demolished but her only brother, John, had preserved one gable wall as requested by his sisters. What did she miss most? It was the surrounding fields, the hilly ones like a necklace of small drumlins. These were the places where they ran and played as children and jumped the streams, laughing as they crossed to the other side. She would like to walk those fields again. It might soothe her soul, for she had known tragedy having lost her husband and one of two sons in recent years. She appeared worn down by loss and loneliness.

We looked together at the old sepia photo, the only one she had of her entire Irish family taken in the early 1920s before she left for America. Parents, six daughters and one son, the baby Lizzie in her mother’s arms. Big ribbons tied the hair of the older girls at odd angles.  ‘It was hard, never seeing my mother and father and the younger ones again,’ she said. ‘Mother died so young, she was only in her 50’s. She used to go to Enniscrone, you know, to the sea baths looking for a cure for her ailments. But it didn’t work.’

‘You must come back,’ I said.

She did return to a few years later. I drove out from my home in Limerick to collect her at Shannon Airport and then traveled via Gort and Galway to the places of her childhood. My mother welcomed her and, for the first time in half a century, the flesh of the sisters touched. They all gathered, and talked, and reminisced. Maria stood by her parents’ graves and wept. Her brother took her out to the hilly fields, where they slowly walked. My memory of that visit is of her slightly startled and dazed expression which I first observed in the Pittsburgh doorway.

When I left her out to Shannon Airport to catch her flight back to the US, I turned away, unable to watch an old woman move slowly through the airport departures lounge. By then, Richard Nixon was in quiet, reclusive retirement.

END

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