Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Book Review: Of Irish Ways

Galloping towards the end of the year, I thought I'd do what's probably my last book review for 2011. It makes a change from trying to find room for all the brand new plastic crap the kids brought home from Santa the in-laws, anyway (we actually had a great time, and yes, the kids were thoroughly spoilt and my father-in-law was thoroughly blootert by the end of the day, but good times were had by all). I hope you had a good yin an a'. I can honestly say that in the past few days I've never built more Lego things in all my life...

Of Irish Ways
Mary Murray Delaney

Treasa piqued my interest in this one a while ago, and I saw it going for a whopping great 1p online so it seemed worth a punt. I wasn't sure if it was going to offer anything new, but in that I was pleasantly surprised.

This is nothing like I've ever really read before - it's primarily aimed at an Irish-American audience; those who are interested in their Irish heritage and history, lore and traditions. There's a little bit of everything here but there's no denying that it comes from a particular point of view, and in that sense it definitely colours the content in a certain light. At times, the book reads like a very romanticised propaganda text, a run down of all the accomplishments of the sons and daughters of Ireland, wherever they might have ended up.

For me it's an interesting read in the sense that I'm not the target audience, and I'm kind of detached from the aim of the book in a way, but I can also empathise with it in the sense that I too was brought up being told about my Irish heritage and being proud of it and told to hold onto it. The author is keen to educate the reader on the trials and tribulations of Ireland in recent history, as well as the more distant history, and she laments the fact that many Americans of Irish heritage, and even the Irish themselves, have very little understanding of the history and achievements of Ireland. It's in talking about this subject in particular that it becomes obvious that this book is very out of date in some respects - Delaney discusses the state of education in Ireland and of course it's going to be very different now from when the book was first published in 1973. The state of Ireland today is also very different of course - since the book was published there has been devolution in Northern Ireland, for one.

In spite of this, it's still a very charming book. Not all of it might be relevant or up to date now, but the author writes in a very conversational tone that makes it easy to get sucked into it. It's not a book that requires too much concentration, and while there are certainly better books to look to for reading up on Irish history, the very general overview given here might be a less daunting prospect for the beginner.

Subjects like funerals and wakes, marriage and matters of the home and hearth are dealt with as well as history, along with the festivals and feast days and beliefs in ghosts and fairy raths. Delaney does a good job to emphasise that many of these beliefs are still relevant today, and goes on to cover Ireland's long history of producing great pieces of literature and poetry, as well as music.

The amount covered here is perhaps a bit too general in some ways, and you probably won't find much here that isn't covered elsewhere. The exception is at the back of the book where there are some Irish blessings and proverbs, which is the best bit of the book for me. It's a shame the Irish isn't given as well as the English for them, but it's a useful if all too short section.

As books for research go it's perhaps not one of the first books I'd look to, but still, it's a good read. This would be a good compliment to Kevin Danaher's books (and Henry Glassie's Passing the Time in Ballymenone) if you're keen on getting an understanding of Irish ways and life.

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