DUBLIN IN THE RAW

 

Poor old Dev got a lot of stick, and still gets it, for what has become known as his "comely maidens" speech. It is implied that he saw all of Ireland as a pastoral landscape, without the slightest nod to the cities of say, Dublin, Belfast and Cork, with their own folk cultures.

That he was wiping out of consciousness all that was not idyllically patoral.

Irish Folk Ways is one of the best known works of Estyn Evans. And it is mostly about the plough and the spade the farm yard and the fences the thatch the lazy beds and the turf stacks. But there are city folk ways that are Irish, too. David Hammond wrote with verve of the folk ways of the shipyard people of Belfast. (The title is a sizzler Steel chest Nail in the Boot and the Barking Dog). There was also John Young Simms's Farewell to the Hammer, a Shankill boyhood. ,With tales of lads with jam jars catching sticklebacks (spricks) and generally wallowing in the atmosphere of a Belfast of yesterday. (Now the sprick wallahs watch David Attenborough.)

Dublin has for long had its own folk ways, and on that comes a most engaging memoir to remind us of the city with its life of pawnshops, lone sharks its crowded tenements with perhaps ten people sharing one room its street play its pieties and its excesses, but above all, its courage and its humour in the face of appalling hardship.

This is a book not of shock your or depress your spirit. It is bound to life your heart and have you laughing along with Eileen Crowley who has written Cowslips and Chainies (Lilliput, £6.99).

There is the crowding in the city centre. There is the growing consciousness of sex "My mother and father wouldn't do that." And the young girl wearing her dress short like Shirley Temple is ticked off by Sister Eucharia in school. Says a class mate "I bet you were raging when she pinned paper round the hem of your dress. What did your mother say when she went down next day?" She told the nun that if that ever happened again "I'd be taken out of the convent and sent to a Protestant school." And the friend. "You'd go to Hell then."

This was the Thirties and Crowley writes (remember it's a memoir, not faction) "Lice, fleas and bugs were endemic. It wasn't unusual to see lice crawling on people on a bus, in Mass, on the face of a corpse." The mother longs for, and eventually gets a house out in the new building areas. It is funny, pathetic, indomitable. The lingering death of the father through TB, which the mother refuses to see as TB.

It was pleurisy, asthma, he was as right as rain. A devastating conclusion to a wonderful auto biography.