A list of good reasons to buy Irish
While the rest of us are getting over Christmas, spare a thought for Irish publishers who are frantically putting the finishing touches to their spring lists. Although Ireland is publishing and selling more books than ever before - a recent survey showed a 40 per cent increase in their domestic market share - their staff numbers are declining. The following selection perhaps will tempt you to go out and buy Irish to fuel their continuing success.
Although it's becoming harder for new novelists to get published, Poolbeg Press proves that it's not impossible with first-time novels from Conal Creedon and Brian Langan. Playwright and shortstory writer Conal Creedon's Passion Play has a colourful weave of characters. Brian Langan's Light in the Head is about a child born with magical gifts and the threats he faces because of his abilities.
Journalist David Rice lived in Beijing during the Tianenmen Square events, and he uses his expert knowledge in his novel Song of Tianenmen Square (Mount Eagle/Brandon, May). Journalist P.J. O'Connor is arrested and forced to make a public confession, but there is one last surprise before his expulsion from China. From the same publisher is Slow Puncture, by Dubliner John Trolan, an addiction counsellor in Stroud, who writes about young lives and deaths on the streets of Dublin in the Seventies and Eighties. Kevin Whelan's A Wonderful Boy (Marino) is a novel of the Holocaust, in which the central character is a fifteen-year-old autistic boy.
Finally, Finbar's Hotel was so successful for New Island that they have decided to produce a sequel, Ladies Night at Finbar's Hotel, by Maeve Binchy, Clare Boylan, Emma Donoghue, Anne Haverty, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Kate O'Riordan and Deirdre Purcell, and edited by Dermot Bolger.
With five Nobel, seven Pulitzer and two Booker prize-winners, there's no doubt that Irish writing has contributed something special to our understanding of the 20th century. Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader, edited by David Pierce (Cork University Press), offers a comprehensive introduction to this subject, taking the view that writing comprises not only the major forms of drama, fiction and verse, but also interviews, critiques, journalism and radio talks.
Dolores MacKenna offers an introduction to novelist William Trevor in William Trevor: The Writer and His Work (New Island).
Mausolea Hibernica, by architectural historian Maurice Craig and his son Michael (Lilliput), deals with the pyramids, chapels, temples, follies and pillar-boxes, in which grandees of Georgian and Victorian Ireland intererred themselves. James Caulfield is probably best remembered for his Casino at Marino and Charlemont House. He caused a revolution in Irish taste when he returned after his Grand Tour, and he also founded the Royal Irish Academy. Cynthia O'Connor captures the man in The Pleasing Hours: The Travels of James Caulfield, 1st Earl of Charlemont, Ireland (Collins Press).
David Fitzpatrick, Professor of Modern History at TCD, has scoured letters, police reports, memoirs and mainly unknown documents to produce Harry Bo- land's Irish Revolution 1887-1922. (Cork), which records the inner workings of Irish republicanism. Tom Reilly's Cromwell: An Honourable Enemy (Mount Eagle/ Brandon) challenges conventional interpretations and places Cromwell's conduct in his Irish campaign within the rules of war. Then the Walls Came Down: A Prison Journal, by Danny Morrison (Mercier), is based on a series of letters to his partner, friends and comrades. Mercier also publish Consplawkus: A Writer's Life 1950-1970, the autobiography of bilingual writer Criostoir O'Flynn.
American writer, poet and Cape Clear resident Chuck Kruger's Cape Clear: Island Magic (Collins) is a collection of essays, stories and poems, telling how the island has changed over the centuries, how it differs from season to season and what it's like today. A Guide to the National Museum of Ireland, by the museum's director, Dr Pat Wallace (Town House) is a photographic guide to the museum's major sections. Michael Ryan's Early Irish Communion Vessels (Town House) puts such treasures as the Ardagh and Derrynaflan chalices into context and explains the historical background and central role of the Mass in Early Christian worship.
Bill Doyle's photographs in The Aran Islands: Another World, with an introduction by Muiris Mac Conghail (Lilliput), offer an insight into a largely vanished way of life. The pictures in Irish Bless- ings: A Photographic Celebration (Collins Press) set pictures opposite traditional blessings together with verse by poets such as Yeats, Synge and Joyce.
Dedalus Press have a series of translations including Butterfly Valley, by Danish writer Inger Christensen, Step Nearer, by Pentti Holappa, one of Finland's best poets, and Living in Poetry, in which Maureen Smith has translated a series of interviews by French poet Guillevic prior to his death, with poems translated by Denise Levertov. Other collections include two Thomas Kinsella additions to the Peppercanister series, and works from Padraig J. Daly, Pat O'Brien and Robert Welch. In Out of the Rain, a first collection in Irish and English from West of Ireland woman Dolores Stewart, looks interesting.
Best of the Rest
States of Fear, by Mary Raftery (New Island), to coincide with an RTE documentary, is a series of interviews which paint a harrowing picture of the abuse and hardship suffered by children in state care during the 1950s. On a similar theme is Freedom of Angels, by Bernadette Fahy (O'Brien), who spent most of her young life in Goldenbridge Orphanage, and is now a therapist specialising in helping people overcome a childhood in care. On a related theme is June Golding's The Light in The Window (Poolbeg), based on her experiences as a midwife in a home for unmarried mothers in the Fifties.
In A Letter to Veronica (Poolbeg), Michael Sheridan, who collaborated with Veronica Guerin, expresses his grief and rage at her death. Literary critic Terry Eagleton's The Truth About the Irish (New Island) takes an original and refreshing look at an Ireland that has lost the leprechaun but found the pot of gold. We always knew women thought differently from men - well, didn't we? - but do they speak differently? Maeve Conrick in Womanspeak (Marino) discusses how and why they do.
The Making of the Celtic Tiger, by Ray MacSharry and Padraic White (Mercier), gives an insight into how Ireland transformed itself from Europe's economic basket-case into the envy of the Continent.