IMRAM founder and director, Liam Carson, has written the most moving memoir, Call Mother a Lonely Field (Hag’s Head Press, €12.99/£10.99), about his late parents and, in particular, about his father, Liam Mac Carráin, storyteller, writer and a man whom many from west Belfast remember with great affection and admiration for his knowledge of Irish – this present writer included.
Carson’s book is a lyrical prose poem about being one of the first generation of Belfast children to be actually raised – reluctantly at times – with Irish. It was a time before the republican movement reduced the language to little more than symbol and sinecure; when people like Liam Snr actually worked for a living (in the Post Office in his case) and who then found sanctuary and culture in the language after office hours. Carson paints a vivid (and accurate) picture of the Belfast of his youth in the 70s, of the random murderous violence and the little glorious epiphanies found in the tides and eddies of literature and friendship and of the sad decline of both his father and mother, Máire, into ill health and death.
Ultimately, though, for all the tragedy, this book is tale of triumph, of the victory of Irish and of its greatest reward – the simple fact that it makes you more than you are, that it enriches. Perhaps, given Liam Snr’s strong Catholic faith, the best description would be the idea of language as communion, as mystery, as Holy Spirit.
Opponents of Irish often say that Irish was a “dead” language in the city. Yet, as Carson shows, his father (born 1916) learned his Irish from speakers who had spoken Irish with the native speakers from Omeath, Co Louth, the famous “Fadgies” who worked in the city. I in turn, and many more, got words and phrases from Liam Snr. It was a kind of apostolic tradition – with Liam Mac Carráin certainly being one of the original apostles.