A Hurling Farewell…

The following is a fabulous hurling story taken from the archives of the oft lamented hurling website, An Fear Rua.  Michael Walsh captained The Rower-Inistioge to their only Kilkenny county senior hurling title in 1968.  He died on January 10th, 2012.  His son Patrick wrote this moving memoir of his father….

A Hurling Farewell

By
Patrick Walsh

There was no shelter from the unseasonal heavy misty rain on that mild January morning when we turned onto Friar’s Hill. The hearse belching fumes five yards in front of us afforded no cover and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. The dark suits, white shirts and black ties of the men were soaked in an instant. The careful preparations of the womenfolk to hair and clothes were drowned in a spiteful but comforting grey mist.

Rain is for funerals. It provides a cloak of darkness for the pain of the bereaved and it allows the sympathisers to somehow share the hurt if only fleetingly. Sunshine is for weddings and heroic summer hurling.

Hurling bubbles in our family’s blood, so for the life of me I couldn’t fathom how I had never seen this book before. On the table stacked high in the bookshop was ‘Kilkenny Senior Hurling Champions 1887 – 2003’ by Dermot Kavanagh. Staring out at me from the pages detailing the 1968 final was my father’s picture with the note identifying him as captain. Tears filled my eyes in the bookshop. That was his Christmas present sorted for what we all knew would probably be his last.

From the middle of November it was obvious that he would never leave the house again. One of his last big days out was to the funeral of a former Kilkenny All Ireland winning captain who was married to his sister. Afterwards, he shared pints and stories over a long afternoon with men he hurled against long ago.

The great bundle of energy that is Sam Carroll said to him,  ‘It will be your turn next year’ referring to the Kilkenny County Board’s policy of honouring the county champions of the past. Without missing a beat he smiled and said he was looking forward to it but both of us knew his deteriorating health would have taken him from us long before then.

These days his limited eyesight was saved for the donation to the bookmakers’ benevolent fund that was his daily trawl through the racing pages. Sitting at his bedside I offered to read to him the pages covering the 1968 final from Dermot Kavanagh’s book. He would never have asked. That was his way.

Before we reached Mill Street we could see them. Lining both sides of the street opposite the Ollie Walsh Memorial were the men of ’68 whom he had led into battle on an April Sunday in ’69 to claim his parish’s one and only Kilkenny Senior Hurling Championship title. Over their shoulders was slung the club jersey which was their battledress on that Sunday nearly forty three years ago. I still think the lid of the coffin lifted as his chest swelled with pride at the sight of these great men gathered to give him a guard of honour along the streets of the neighbouring town he had made his home for over forty years.

A few days after Christmas my mother rang and said he wants to see you urgently but he won’t say what it’s about. I sat on the bed and heard him ask me through shortening breath, to write to Dermot Kavanagh, the author of the book who had also played on the team, to thank him for the acknowledgement of the separate picture identifying him as captain. He had missed the celebratory dinner in New Ross due to illness and his centre-place as captain in the picture of this event, which was also in the book, had been filled by the great Eddie Keher.

He seemed to be opening up so I decided to test the water. With the simple words, ‘What position did you play in against Éire Óg’, an ever increasing torrent of memories flooded his head. He became frustrated as their delivery was slowed by the damming effect of his shortness of breath. I heard for the first time his recollections of the 1968 championship. He was picked out of position, centre back to mark Tommy O’Connell, the Kilkenny star forward, against Éire Óg in the first round.

The quarter final versus Thomastown was postponed until the Spring of ’69 to allow Ollie Walsh to return from an unfair suspension imposed following a Kilkenny v Tipperary brawl in the National Hurling League. Again, he was picked to do a job. Cha Whelan had to be marked, so he started full forward.

Freshford were the opposition for the semi – final and he was picked full forward to stop Pa Dillon, the great but fearsome Kilkenny full back of the 1960’s. In his bed he told me, in slightly less than parliamentary language, that he feared for his life and that if Pa was to walk into the bedroom there and then, he’d still be afraid. I’m too young to remember Pa hurling but I’ve met him at numerous hurling dinners etc and have found him to be one of the most softly spoken, obliging Kilkenny heroes of the past. I’m sure the truth of Pa’s legend is somewhere in between.

Dermot Kavanagh’s touching handwritten letter arrived within two days. After the funeral, he told me that on reading our letter of thanks he just sat down and wrote his reply in one draft.

That night at his bedside I read him Dermot’s reply ….’Believe me it was no problem giving your Dad due acknowledgement. He was a brilliant hurler and sincere servant of the club’…. He ‘was always picked to play on other such greats as Paddy Moran, Martin Coogan and Sean Buckley when the occasion demanded’….’ I can safely say that all the senior statesmen of that team were great men, none more so than him’…’  Probably his greatest outing for the club was last September when at very short notice, and clearly unwell, he led the guard of honour for Pudsey Murphy’s funeral. A tough task but admirably undertaken’.

When I finished reading a smile took over his face and his eyes filled up as he reached out to grip the back of my hand. Nothing was said because nothing needed to be said. That was his way.

The rain relented. It’s possible the sporting gods saw it as a sop to the amount of hurling men that had gathered to bid farewell. The ‘Men of 68’ guard of honour led the cortege to the church and his three sons and three grandsons carried him shoulder high to the altar where the Tom Walsh Cup, which he had received nearly forty three years previously, was waiting for him. We have no picture of him being presented with the cup on county final day or of him being carried shoulder high with it from the field so it’s a sight that will be branded on our memories forever.

At the graveside a face we all knew approached my mother. Before he could offer his condolences she smiled and said,  ‘They tell me he hurled the socks of you’. Seamus Cleere, the prince of Kilkenny centre backs laughed and hugged her. He had been picked centre forward in the county final against Bennettsbridge to stop the great Seamus Cleere. In the ‘Irish Independent’ report of the match neither of them got a mention.

Job done.   He never said anything to us about it. That was his way.

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Ghosts and the Supernatural in Hamlet

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 Elizabethan audiences would have been very receptive to the idea of ghosts.  Frequent followers of tragedy would have seen the early appearance of the ghost as a sign that the divine order had been violated and for them disorder in one area was often mirrored by disorder in another area or realm. Right from the opening lines of Hamlet, the ghost is given a prominent role.  In Act 1 Marcellus asks the question: What, has this think appeard again tonight?”  It is clear from the conversation that follows that “this thing”  is something to be feared – a “dreaded sight”.  It is this mention of the ghost that sets the atmosphere of foreboding for the play.  There is a sense of disaster, and this is emphasised when Horatio points out that similar unnatural events preceded the assassination of the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar in ancient Rome:

The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun”…

 

THE GHOST AS A SIGN OF DEEP DISTURBANCE IN THE KINGDOM

Horatio thinks that the appearance of the ghost is a sign that there is something seriously amiss in the state of Denmark.  The audience would have believed that ghosts often returned to earth to complete some unfinished business, and would always come in the dark of night.  The ghost in Hamlet appears on the stroke of midnight – an ominous hour.  Once Hamlet is informed of the apparition of his dead father in the shape of a Ghost, nothing will dissuade him from being present at midnight to see if it will return.  He suspects that something is rotten in the State of Denmark, and feels compelled to try to commune with this Ghost who is dressed in the armour of his dead father:

Ill speak to it, though hell itself should gape
                              And bid me hold my peace..

THE GHOST: A SOUL IN TORMENT

In Hamlet the ghost is representative of a supernatural world where restless spirits are in torment because of something which happened when they lived on earth.  The frightened talk about the Ghost right from the opening of the play, and then its appearance to the terrified night-watch soldiers, and later to Hamlet himself, establishes an atmosphere of evil beneath the surface.  In Act 1 Scene iv, when the ghost appears to Hamlet, the cautious Horatio is frightened:

 What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles oer his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness?

 But in Hamlet Shakespeare is deliberate in creating a ghost that is not really sinister at all, and so cannot easily be spurned.  It would be easier for Hamlet if that were so.  This ghost is a restless spirit who crosses the threshold between the physical and the supernatural worlds because it cannot rest in either.  This ghost is compelling because it is gentle, even noble.  It strikers a deep chord within Hamlet because it is pitiful and pleading.  It reminds Hamlet that its murderer gave it no chance to repent for sins committed, and it had to enter the next world without forgiveness or the comfort of the last rites:

                          Cut off even in the blossom of my sin,
                               Unhouseld, disappointed, unaneld
                               No reckoning made, but sent to my account
                               With all my imperfections on my head:

 THE GHOSTS REQUEST: AN IMPOSSIBLE DEMAND

Hamlet is truly shocked by the revelations, and sees his predicament immediately; to revenge his father’s murder – and lay his soul to rest – he must commit murder.  This is an unbearable burden, because in order to do his filial duty he must commit the very crime (murder) that  he has found so repellent in Claudius.  Horatio’s words about the danger of his going mad are prophetic.  By the end of the fourth scene of Act 1 we know that Marcellus is right: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

 Through no fault of her own, Ophelia is the innocent victim of Hamlet’s terrible predicament.  He cannot deal with the burdens laid upon him, and his inner conflict is intense.  Ophelia has no one to advise her in her own bewilderment about her lover.  Polonius and Laertes have agendas of their own when giving her orders, and she is totally helpless when her beloved Hamlet turns on her and seems to have lost his mind.

The Poetry of Seamus Heaney

Digging

by Mary Hanley

(Note:  Leaving Cert Poetry questions have in recent years become more sophisticated and focused on particular aspects of the poet’s work.  The first ever question on Heaney simply expected the candidate to give their personal reaction to his poems – today the focus is given in the question and these are the major aspects which you must address in your answer.  This is then policed firmly by the Examiner’s by their application of the PCLM marking criteria.)

Sample Answer:  Would you agree that Seamus Heaney is an essentially backward looking poet, finding answers only in the past?

Soundbites are dangerous and the thesis stated above does not do Heaney or his poetry justice.  I agree that Seamus Heaney is “an essentially backward looking poet”.  However, I remain steadfastly reserved about Heaney “finding answers only in the past”.  This statement does not give the whole scope of his poetry true justice.  It only skims the surface, and using Heaney’s own analogy, if we are to truly understand his work we must go “down and down for the good turf” before we can get a true estimation of his worth.

Irishness, tradition and identity remain the cornerstones of Heaney’s poetry.  He celebrates local craftsmanship – the diviner, the digger, the blacksmith and the breadmaker.  He hankers back to his childhood and the community of that childhood for several reasons.  Indeed, part of the excitement of reading his poetry is the way in which he leads you from the parish of Anahorish in County Derry outwards in space and time, making connections with kindred spirits, both living and dead, so that he verifies for us Patrick Kavanagh’s belief that the local is universal.  For example in ‘The Forge’ he appears at first glance to be looking back with fond nostalgia at the work of the local village blacksmith.  However, the real subject of the poem is the mystery of the creative process.  The work of the forge serves as an extended metaphor for the work and craftsmanship of poetry.  Even the uncouth and uncommunicative blacksmith of his childhood can create!

Heaney has been branded a nostalgic romantic, a poet whose head remains steadfastly stuck in the sand, and a man when confronted with political violence and trauma regresses back in time to the womb-like warmth of his aunt’s kitchen in Mossbawn.  “Sunlight” is seen as a prime example of Heaney’s romanticism and escapism.  This poem was, after all, written at the height of the ‘Troubles’.  Yet, seemingly in denial of such violence, he hankers back to the security of his childhood.  Can it therefore be said that he is essentially a backward looking poet, finding answers only in the past?  Undoubtedly, Heaney travels back in time but it is to find answers for the present day realities.  On another level, this poem is a search for alternative human values, values no longer to be found in present day society.  Heaney can draw strength from his picture of childhood Eden – ‘the helmeted pump’, ‘scones rising to the tick of two clocks’ and ‘love, like a tinsmith’s scoop sunk past its gleam’.

Heaney is a poet, like Kavanagh and Hartnett, who has remained attached to his home place and the values and traditions of his parents.  ‘All I know is a door into the dark’.  Poets, too, have to force themselves to go into the dark, the unknown.  Their craft is multi-faceted.  They are pioneers, working at the frontier of language.  They are translators, translating for us events that we cannot grasp.  He translates the atrocities of Northern Ireland by excavating and exploring the past.  Heaney can travel through ‘the door into the dark’ only by drawing strength from the past.

The bog plays a major role in the poetry of Heaney.  This soft, malleable ground is ‘kind black butter.  Melting and opening underfoot’.  The bog is the memory of the landscape.  It draws us inwards, downwards and backwards through history.  Our bogs are as deep as the American prairies are wide.  Heaney talks about the ‘Great Irish Elk’ and ‘butter sunk under’.  In offering the poet an opportunity to consider its hoard from the past it affords him some deeper understanding of the present.

It is obvious from his poetry that Heaney needs to distance himself from the immediate face of danger.  Unlike Longley, Heaney is not eager to touch it, to write about it, to feel its flank and guess the shape of an elephant.  He needs space.  He uses the rich tapestry of history to give him perspective and a parallel to confront ‘the Troubles’.  In ‘The Tollund Man’ the discovery of a book gives Heaney a new perspective to explore the past and examine the present.  Make no mistake about it, Heaney here is talking about Northern Ireland.  It is difficult to interpret but this poem is a direct response to the continuing murders and violence of the 70’s and 80’s.  Heaney’s style may not be as direct as Longley’s, but I believe it is still very effective.  I believe he is saying here these atrocities, albeit sometimes more brutal, are just modern day versions of an age old custom.  In every society, people are sacrificed to a political or religious goddess, whether it is the goddess Nerthus or Kathleen Ni Houlihan.  One common motif linking the three parts of the poem is that of a journey.  The sacrificial journey of the Tollund Man, the journey of the brothers ‘flecked for miles along the lines’ and the pilgrimage of Heaney in the final part.  I believe there is one more journey to be made and this Heaney skilfully passes on to the reader.  We, the readers, have to make the final journey ourselves to discover and interpret, to read between the lines and around the happenings of the time the poem was written, to get at the true meaning of the poem.  This analogy can be transferred to all of Heaney’s poems.  He doesn’t do all the work for us but the meaning is more valued when we get to the essence of the poem ourselves.

                   ‘Out there in Jutland in the Old Man killing parishes,

I will feel lost, unhappy and at home.’

No one can deny that Heaney is “essentially a backward looking poet”.  Yet he makes no apologies for it.  The influence of Kavanagh and his writings on Monaghan gave him a strength to continue writing about the traditions and customs of his local community.  The cynic may see it as escapism but Heaney finds inspiration about the present in his wealth of memory.  He finds a metaphor for the finely crafted work of the poet in such poems as “The Forge”.  The bog offers Heaney a perspective.  In “Bogland” and “Tollund Man” Heaney finally turns to the security of his youth to find an answer to the shocking realities of violence and death.  It stands as an antidote to the brutal reality of the wider society.  Heaney’s poetry also stands as an antidote, dealing with harsh issues in a gentle retrospective yet effective way.

                   ‘Then grunts and goes in with a slam and flick

To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.’

Therefore, I would be in agreement with The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing when it says of Heaney’s poetry that it is, ‘excavating in every sense, reaching down into the ground and back into the past’.

Digging by Seamus Heaney copy

Happy Memories of St. Ita’s Secondary School!

 

St. Ita's Secondary School Staff 1986.  Missing from the photograph is the then Deputy Principal, Donncha Ó Murchú.  The appearance of this staff photo, taken in 1986, in Facebook earlier this year provoked a virtual avalanche of nostalgia and all the memories and nicknames resurfaced once again like recurring cold sores!

St. Ita’s Secondary School Staff 1986. Missing from the photograph is the then Deputy Principal, Donncha Ó Murchú. The appearance of this staff photo, taken in 1986, in Facebook earlier this year provoked a virtual avalanche of nostalgia and all the memories and nicknames resurfaced once again like recurring cold sores!

There is a stark universal truth that I have discovered and it is true today more than ever before: a school is only as good as its teachers.   For fifteen years of my teaching career I taught in a school that would have been condemned as unfit for purpose or human habitation in Dickens’ time.  Indeed, there are those who think that Dickens modelled Mr. Gradgrind’s school in Hard Times on St. Ita’s in Newcastle West!  However, all who ever entered its hallowed halls would probably admit that it was a great school and is proof positive that modern facilities are not the only requirement for a good education.

 I was also reminded of ‘the good old days’ recently on reading an article by Dr. Pat O’Connor, an illustrious past pupil of the school, which appeared in a commemorative booklet produced to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the school’s opening in 1986.  He attended St. Ita’s from 1959 until he sat his Leaving Cert in 1964.  He says that, “these were happy, constructive, creative times, and the school provided the milieu for a learning odyssey which continued throughout the palmy decade of the 60’s”.

 The official name for the school was St. Ita’s Secondary School, in deference, I think, to the fact that Jim Breen and Dave Hayes both hailed from Killeedy, the one remaining St. Ita’s stronghold. However, the school was variously called ‘The Library’ (the building had originally been a Carnegie Library) and later ‘Jim Breen’s School’ as a local compliment and mark of respect to the man who became Manager and Principal of the school for nearly fifty years – the school becoming synonymous with his name.

 Pat O’Connor is lavish in his praise for Jim Breen and he says that he, ‘made a distinctively personal contribution during the lean years that saw a blossoming of second level education in this country.’  He goes on to say that he, ‘asserted a strong presence and, being a big man physically, he rarely had to repeat anything.  He was a strict disciplinarian, meticulous in attention to detail, but never petty or vindictive.  He led by example in the sense that his own work bore the stamp of discipline and commitment.’  The sight of his green Volkswagen Beetle, registration number AIU 524, was enough to elicit an instant quickening in the step of many a tardy pupil.

 In those early years he gathered around him a small band of doughty men who came armed with a rich diversity of teaching skills.  Tim Murphy was one of those early arrivals.  Pat O’Connor remembers him as, ‘a quiet spoken, amiable mentor, thoughtful, and on occasion, thought provoking.’  He remembers with affection the prayer which Tim introduced to the Leaving Cert class of 1964.  Given a sufficiency of faith, it had, he said, never been known to fail!

 Another of that small band of teachers, Dave Hayes, brought style and panache to bear on the teaching of Latin.  According to Pat O’Connor he was, ‘unquestionably a classical scholar of stature.’  This assessment was reinforced later during Dr. O’Connor’s first year in UCD, when a well-known lecturer and future Minister for Education, John Wilson  no less, could, in his view, ‘do no better than stand in the long shadow of Dave Hayes’.

 Willie O’Donnell taught English at senior cycle level and employed strategies supremely well suited to cope with the rigours of the examination system.  A man well acquainted with the technicalities of language, he had a particular fondness for the double entendre, and one of his most favoured concerned the numbers of students from the school who would, ‘go down in history’!

 Donncha Ó Murchú arrived on the scene as a very young man in September 1959.  No sooner had he arrived than he was subjected to the kind of initiation rites that pupils like to try out on young inexperienced teachers.  However, Pat O’Connor remembers that Donncha proved to be a doughty survivor who had a marvellous feel for history.

 Pat remembers the arrival of Noel Ruddle to the school in 1963 and considered him to be the consummate teacher who introduced the new age of science to the school.  He was enthusiastic, bright, analytical and able.  Noel went on to become Principal of the school in 1977, although his time at the helm was cut tragically short through illness.

 In the 80’s numbers burgeoned, thanks in no small part to Donagh O’Malley and his introduction of ‘Free Education’ in 1967. After Noel Ruddle’s untimely passing in 1981 the baton was passed to Des Healy who became Principal and later Manager after the death of Jim  Breen in the summer of 1984.  He was supported in its final years before amalgamation by Paddy Geary, Dave McEnery, Paul Edmonds, Donncha Ó Murchú, Pat Hayes, Mike Kennedy, James Egan, Andrew Ryan, Barry O’Brien, Tommy Devine, Sean Flanagan, Mary O’Shaughnessy  along with the author of this tribute.  However, by then the  need for proper, modern educational facilities became a clamour which could no longer be ignored and plans for an amalgamation of schools in the town was proposed and acted upon by a vibrant committee during the 80’s, culminating in the opening of the new Scoil Mhuire agus Íde in September 1992. For many the traumatic move to Boherbuí was lessened in its severity by the knowledge that Paddy Geary, St. Ita’s to his core, was to become the Principal of the new educational adventure in Newcastle West.

 A word of caution to all as we remember those days:  in invoking and trying to preserve the past we can’t allow ourselves to be too maudlin and sentimental.  As Michael Hartnett, Newcastle’s Poet Laureate, (himself a past pupil of the school) points out:  ‘too many of our songs gloss over the hardships of the “good old days” and omit the facts of hunger, bad sanitation and child neglect’.

 Most of us who experienced and survived the building, the poor sanitation, the lack of proper toilets, know that all this only added to its mystique; the telephone was not installed until 1986!  All who entered under its portals were rendered immune forever from all contagious diseases following their exposure to the culture of the place!

 In conclusion there is another stark universal truth that I discovered while teaching in St. Ita’s:  a school is only as good as the students who pass through its doors.  In this respect, as with its teaching staff down the years, St. Ita’s was truly blessed.

 

Last Day in St. Ita's - Friday 29th. May, 1992

Last Day in St. Ita’s – Friday 29th. May, 1992

The Homesick Garden by Kate Cruise O’Brien

The Homesick Garden

Reviewed by Mary Hanley

The Homesick Garden is a very unusual masterpiece. Antonia’s voice carries us through the novel and her unpretentiously clear way of looking at things evokes a complex mixture of admiration, despair and delight! The novel is a chronicle of life, charting Aunt Grace’s unexpected pregnancy and the way various members of Antonia’s family cope with this bombshell. At times Antonia’s view on life can be agonised but overall her no-nonsense approach is uplifting, “I liked the house silent and calm and bare without the angry little noises made by two people disliking each other.” This is Antonia’s critical view on her parent’s relationship!

 The significance of the title in this novel is not by any means extremely relevant. The Homesick Garden is mentioned in the third chapter, “The second rule is ….. the second rule is my homesick garden.”  More importantly however is the  “homesick-garden-time” when Antonia’s  “Mum went off for a week. She’d been doing a lot of crying around that time. ‘I can’t cope!’ she would shriek.” This time obviously affected Antonia greatly and the homesick garden was never used again ‘after that summer’.

 We meet various zany characters during the course of the novel. Antonia is the watchful young narrator. The novel is literally smattered with theories on life. These theories are brought to the reader through Antonia. I felt that when I reached the end of the novel the trivial pieces of information faded into oblivion while Antonia’s ‘theories’ will certainly stay etched in my memory. This, I feel, is the legacy Antonia leaves us with.

 “Schools do label people because they’re brisk, convenient places and labels are brisk, convenient things. Once you’ve got a label, it sticks. So I was Clever Antonia and Stephen was Odd. If I had won Miss Ireland and Stephen had been declared All-Rounder of the Year, I don’t suppose it would have made much difference at school.”

 Antonia grows during the course of the novel. An example of this is her contrasting views on relationships at both the start and end of the novel, “At my worst, well at my worst I know that I can’t go out with boys”. While, in the concluding paragraph of the novel, Antonia woefully declares that, “As for Stephen, I think I’ll be an old, old woman before he does more than hold my hand in public and he’ll be an older man before I reach out and touch him”!!!   I enjoyed Antonia as a character throughout the novel and even though she didn’t add as she said herself “oomph” to the novel, I believe, she added a whole lot more.

 Elizabeth and Grace are the other main characters and they add an extra dimension to The Homesick Garden. They are interesting in the different methods they use in coping with the same situation. Elizabeth is the classic victim, “Mum has a pretty good figure when she sits up straight but something about Grandma’s biscuity voice makes her round her shoulders and cringe her arms over her front, defending herself again, poor Mum.” She also has a tendency to brush things under the carpet. Firstly, she treats Grace as if “her pregnancy had never been”.  She deals with her problems through the therapeutic method of cleaning with the dastardly Mini Maids and frail window cleaners in tow!  “Cleaning is”, after all, ”better than any other exercise.”

 Grace, on the other hand, aired everything out in the open and when she caused as much uproar in everyone’s life as she possibly could, she just vanished and hibernated for nine months. Grace is a very frank and earthy person and “she just loses her shape in her draperies” and, of course, “She was passionate about privacy”.  She literally let everything go to hell and buried her head in the sand while Elizabeth had to be there to pick up the pieces.

 The major themes running through this novel include the issue of maturation, the problem of abuse is also highlighted, while cleanliness is, yet another theme. The theme of relationships is intricately woven throughout the novel.  At the end of the novel we discover the reason for Elizabeth’s lack of self-confidence in relation to Grandma and the poor relationship she has with Antonia’s father. She had been physically abused by Quentin- a pompous young teenager whose family, the Thompson’s “hob-nobbed” with Grandma. Through Elizabeth, we receive a heart-rending and unsettling account of something that happened over thirty years ago but was still affecting her everyday life, “I was so frightened of it that I kept on forgetting about it. Until the next time.” “Did you get over it? ”, Antonia asked.  ” Maybe I’d have got over it, if I hadn’t trivialised it, made some sort of wrong sense of it, if I’d tried to remember it more often. But I sliced it off, put it in a separate compartment in my mind.” This voice of experience is coming from the Elizabeth who used to “shake and tremble whenever anyone is cross with her”. Ironically, this is a ‘coming to terms with’ novel for Elizabeth, while it is a ‘coming of age’ novel for Antonia.

 Cleanliness, is a strange but relevant theme throughout the novel. Antonia’s father plays an important role in this area. Unfortunately, this poor individual is not given a name! ”Dad is always pompous when he’s nervous”.  He is a very prim and proper man who, “doesn’t even answer the door in an emergency unless he’s shaved and has his socks on, armed to meet the world”!  Well, we all have our problems in life!!! Cleaning can have very peculiar effects on people’s personalities. For Antonia’s father, he just could not stand the Mini Maids working for him, even though he is,  “never very clear about why he can’t put up with them”. For Antonia, ”the kitchen transformed me from Florence Nightingale into Pioneering Woman”!

 I liked this novel. Even though it appeared to be ‘a light read’ it dealt with some important issues. Although The Homesick Garden is Kate’s first novel she already has a renowned track record as the author of many collections of short stories. Kate, I believe, has a natural story telling ability and a knack of engaging the reader with the issues she chooses to explore, “I wish I could say that everything changed, changed utterly, after Mum’s revelation’s and that a terrible beauty was born”. Nothing mind shattering occurred during the course of this novel, yet it was a pleasure to get to know Antonia and her family. I came across a definition for reading today- ‘the intimate act of opening a book and getting lost within the covers’. I feel I accomplished that while reading this enchanting novel.

 

 About the author….

 Kate Cruise O'BrienKate Cruise O’Brien was born in Dublin in 1948.   She was the youngest daughter of the politician, historian and diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien and his first wife, Derry born Christine Foster.

Kate studied English in Trinity.  Her first short story, Henry Died, was published in New Irish Writing and won the Hennessy Award in 1971 when she was only 22.  The same year she married Joseph Kearney and they had one son, Alexander.

Her first book, A Gift Horse and Other Stories was published in 1979.  It won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.  She worked as a columnist with The Irish Independent during the ’80’s and her second book, The Homesick Garden was published in 1991.

Kate Cruise O’Brien died suddenly in March 1998 and she is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.