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Barefoot Pilgrimage: A Memoir by Andrea Corr – Fresh but flighty

Her stream-of-consciousness writing switches between the banal and the profound

Barefoot Pilgrimage: A Memoir
Barefoot Pilgrimage: A Memoir
Author: Andrea Corr
ISBN-13: 978-0008321307
Publisher: HarperCollins
Guideline Price: £12.99

“I’m the darkest of them all,” sang Andrea Corr on Song of Solomon, one of the standout tracks on the group’s last album, Jupiter Calling. Those words might also serve as a veiled comment on her own sensibility. There was always something of the night about the youngest Corr, a streak of melancholia that enhanced and sometimes subverted the band’s otherwise sanguine nature and wholesome image. This was evident as early as Forgiven Not Forgotten, the title track of their debut album. Ostensibly, a song of loneliness, abandonment and grief, its lyrics also hinted at romantic suicide. Years later Andrea recalled how her husband-to-be, Brett Desmond, had initially perceived her as a self-contained, unknowable creature, sitting in a corner “writing poetry about death”.

The inspiration for this memoir are literature’s two great themes: love and death. The writing commenced in 2017, propelled by “An overwhelming need to write it down because if I died now too, this strange, normal, family, human love story as it really was to me, might also die.” In 2015 Andrea’s father, Gerry, had died from heart failure. This reignited in Andrea poignant memories of her mother’s sudden death back in 1999, aged 57, an event that devastated the family. “It had the most profound effect of anything in my life,” she later acknowledged.

An earlier tragedy, also requiring an elegy, was that of her brother Gerard, the second-eldest child who died in 1970 four months before his fourth birthday and four years before Andrea’s birth. She writes movingly of the event, but its significance is better captured in her father’s powerful poem, Jean and Gerard. Indeed, the reproductions of Gerry Corr’s poetry, touching and funny in equal measure, are among the highlights of the book. In different circumstances he might have been the Corrs’ secret weapon as guest writer, adding another dimension to this family saga. In fact, he was precisely that in the early days, providing the lyrics to such unheralded compositions as I Feel Love and Síog.

Sense of doom

Andrea pictures her readers thinking, “Ah, but I want to read the book she didn’t write.” It’s a reasonable consideration as many will come to this memoir expecting a more orthodox narrative. The writing is frequently opaque, impressionistic, self-conscious, self-deprecating, wry, witty and occasionally overwrought. “I have to write this now though,” she states rather excitedly. “I am scared of people dying. Actually, not people. I am scared of Johnny dying . . .” Johnny, it transpires, is John Hughes, the Corrs’ manager, mentor and friend. So has he been poorly of late or suffered a health scare? Evidently not, as his health is never mentioned again. This is Andrea in morbid mode, unintentionally misdirecting the reader’s response while musing on mortality. “You see, my life is permanently passing before my very eyes these days. It’s all near death.”


This sense of doom is rapidly mitigated by a positivism worthy of Pollyanna. “I love human beings. I love strangers so much sometimes I get a pain in my heart.” Later, she writes on motherhood: “The world is a wonderland. I don’t think we could ever love it too much.” Life-affirming family tales, especially those featuring her parents and siblings in domestic bliss at their home in Árd Easmuinn, Dundalk, are lovingly recollected.

Appreciating her fragmentary, evanescent prose style and contrasting observations on life and death demands more concentration than anticipated. Her characterisation is slight, understated and coy. On page 29, she momentarily turns her parents’ early lives into a fairy tale, as if she’s composing an allegorical history for her children. All too often, people disappear from the narrative prematurely, without explanation. Full names are conspicuous by their absence.

Physical beauty

In dealing with her teenage years and those of her siblings, no boyfriend or girlfriend receives a single namecheck, an odd omission considering the family’s self-evident physical beauty. Even Andrea’s best friend, Niamh (again, no surname), secures no more than a cameo part. We learn the amusing story of how she and Andrea both adopted the unlikely pet name Bosom, courtesy of LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Niamh sounds like an engaging character – and then she’s gone, disappearing from the text just as we’re warming to her.

Psychologically revealing moments are sometimes highlighted, then abandoned. “Mammy eventually stopped attending Mass,” the author notes in passing. “She said sitting there made her panic.” These two tantalising sentences require, at the very least, a paragraph of explanation. What prompted the panic? How did her husband, Gerry, a devout Catholic, react to this turn of events? And so on. Alas, Andrea tells us no more, having swiftly moved on to discuss, of all things, the plight of Dundalk’s poor in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Keeping up with her flighty style is a constant challenge.

Her stream-of-consciousness writing switches from the banal to the profound at a moment’s notice. An account of her father’s missing pen is deemed entertaining enough to take up two pages. It’s funny, but not that funny. Patrons of this paper may be amused to learn that Jean Corr, in mischievous mood, once set fire to The Irish Times while Gerry was sitting in his armchair enjoying its contents.

Readers expecting major revelations about the Corr siblings or previously undocumented details of the band’s history are likely to be disappointed. Ultimately, this memoir is a tribute to the memory of her remarkable parents and it is their story, rather than her own, that dominates the narrative and lingers in the memory. As a portrait of young marriage in old Ireland, it is both enlightening and bitter-sweet.

Acting roles

The latter part of the book dutifully chronicles Andrea’s acting roles, from her terrifying childhood debut in The Prince and the Swineherd through to bit parts in The Commitments and Evita, and acclaimed roles in The Boys and Girl from County Clare, Dancing at Lughnasa and Jane Eyre. Surprisingly, there’s no nostalgic mention of her appearance in the school production of Love from Judy, which was rewarded with a sumptuous spread in the local paper, anticipating so much of what would follow.

Her post-Corrs solo career, though documented, deserves more intense analysis. The disillusionment following the release of Ten Feet High, her brave but commercially disappointing debut solo album, requires some acknowledgement. Tellingly, this remains her only collection of self-penned songs outside the Corrs and there is no hint that another might be forthcoming.

The engaging memoir concludes with more vignettes of Gerry and Jean, a love story for the ages. As the author concludes: “He never stopped missing her. I will never stop missing them.”

Johnny Rogan’s latest book is Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Volume 2