A brisk overview of a changing Ireland from a perspective of a Canadian son of an English father and Irish mother. Under the guise of finding out how his grandfather died in a Dublin canal the same August day that Michael Collins was buried, Jarman combines a search for the juxtaposition with his own meditation on how strong and how weak family ties can bind sons of emigrants. Jarman combines "creative nonfiction" perhaps less sucessfully here as he intersperses dramatizations of his own experiences in the North into his relatively more linear recollections of encounters with his relatives and others he meets in both Dublin and Killarney--the latter's particularly well-evoked in his description of his old family house now ruined. Jarman contrasts his two uncles, gay Padraig and policeman Sharkey, effectively, and sees how disorienting relations can be when one is put back in the "motherland" only to find that he feels estranged as often as welcomed by distant cousins and the like.
He contemplates how, if one's parents have chosen as his did to emigrate in the post-WWII period, those like himself can never be accepted upon their return, having been by the Irish "written out of their will," and therefore disinherited. Although sections on climbing the "Reek," Croagh Patrick, and venturing into the North on a previous trip in 1981 perhaps, his summing up of an Ireland suddenly cash-rich and spending it all makes for sobering and thoughtful reading. I especially liked his interspersed, often deadpan, jingles, snippets of punk and new-wave and Beatles lyrics, and asides to Shakespeare and high culture and low all blended into his own unpredictable prose style, deceptively simple and casual but belying careful construction and arrangement of incident. Not perfect, but a cut above the usual misty-eyed or morally stern travelogue.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
John L. Murphy (Fionnchu)
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica. … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
On August 28, 1922, the martyred Irish patriot Michael Collins was buried. Businesses across Dublin closed as thousands came out to pay their respects. On the same day, Michael Lyons, a cooper from the Guinness factory, drowned in Dublin's Royal Canal. This peculiar confluence is Mark Anthony Jarman's starting point for a meditation on the intertwined history of a nation and his family. Jarman's pursuit of the circumstances of his grandfather's drowning leads him through a modern Ireland that teems with ghosts from the past. Thwarted by family gossip, aunts who can't drive a stick shift, cousins more interested in pubs than lore, and his own fascination with the many Irelands that have been, Jarman finds what he's seeking despite, or perhaps because of, the antics and the unreliable histories. What he reconfigures is a revelation, and an enchanting and engrossing read.