Did The Country Girls go up in flames?
Madam, - I was pleased to read of Edna O'Brien's Ulysses award from UCD (The Irish Times, June 16th).
I was dismayed, however, to find your reporter Ruadhán Mac Cormaic writing that "a copy [ of Ms O'Brien's book The Country Girls] was burned by the curate in her local church in Co Clare". I am curious to learn of his source for this statement.
Some years ago another journalist made the same claim. On that occasion I inquired about the matter and spoke personally to Fr Gerard Ryan, who had been parish priest in Scariff in 1960. The curate there at the time was a Fr Michael Greene. Fr Ryan told me that no such incident as Ruadhán Mac Cormaic reports had ever taken place. I am satisfied that he spoke the truth.
It would seem, therefore, that the reference in question is nothing more than an unhappy invention and it is disappointing to read such a fictitious episode now presented as a historical fact, especially in your esteemed newspaper. - Yours, etc,
Fr TOM STACK, Milltown, Dublin 6.
Ruadhán Mac Cormaic writes: The reference, as carried in material distributed by UCD at its conferral of the Ulysses medal on Edna O'Brien, is a variation on an incident that has been widely written about.
Prof Declan Kiberd, in his citation, and Diarmaid Ferriter, in The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 (London, 2004), referred to the book being burned in the church grounds. This is Edna O'Brien's own formulation as quoted in Julia Carlson's Banned in Ireland (London, 1990).
The author herself gave more detail in an interview for CBS radio in the US on May 22nd, 1992. Speaking of the reception of The Country Girls, she said: "Three copies of the book. . .infiltrated the village. The parish priest rounded them up, plus their owners, and plus some other people, and they burned these three copies in the garden or grounds of the church, and my mother reported to me two vital factors: that several of the women fainted and that the opinion was that I should be kicked naked through the town. I love the word naked, when the whole of chastity is at stake."