Valiant Woman


An unusual book of poetry and illustration (woodcuts and lino) is Intimations from the Ballinakella Press of Whitegate, County Clare. It will, no doubt, be reviewed in our literary pages, but a word about the author fits suitably in here. The author and illustrator is Florence Vere O'Brien (1896-1970) and in his introduction David Rowe, who edits the book, tells us that he became acquainted "with this strange, complex person at about the time that I married her niece in 1960." He paints a vivid word picture of her.

At that time she lived on her own after the death of her mother in a bleak two-storey house in the middle of a field, not far from the edge of the Low Burren. "From that base she ranged far and wide over the north-west corner of Clare, clambering over stone walls with her three constant canine companions, and in that stamping ground it seemed she knew every rare plant, every archaeological remnant, every tree and rock."

And she hated every attempt to "improve" the little hazel-girt roads by straightening them, removing time-hallowed stone walls and hedges. She loved, too, all animals, and birds it seems, and the front cover is typical - a huge long-horned shaggy goat flying over a stone wall. In earlier days, David Rowe tells us, her mode of travel was by dog-cart - a cart with a transverse seat midways and a space behind for the dogs, or for goods. Murrogh Vere O'Brien, her nephew recalls one of her small dogs walking along the back of the pony and barking at the populace from its head.

Later she had a little car, which "ambled about the land in a leisurely way", never, thinks Rowe, being serviced. All of the tyres were worn down to the canvas. But the bicycle was preferred. A neighbour, it appears, once met her cycling near Ennis with a small suitcase tied with string to the carrier. "Where are you off to, Miss O'Brien?" Answer: "Athens" and so it was. She travelled widely in Europe in earlier days, cycling or walking trips. She travelled always in the least pretentious and most uncomfortable way.

Her diet, was, as David Rowe remembered it, mostly potatoes and crusts of bread. Electricity was reluctantly accepted in her house - a single light on a long flex which she carried around and brought upstairs for the occasional visitor. An oil lamp and candles were sufficient for her needs. Poems, woodcuts and linocuts, many restored by Jan de Fouw, make this a handsome book. Should be in Dublin shops, now. Y