A strained marriage of Irish literature and travelogue.
Anthologist Cahill (A Literary Guide to Ireland) discovered Ireland on her honeymoon and has kept returning to it ever since, both as tourist and editor. The present work, in which her aim has been to select writings that evoke specific places and which she describes as “a feast of writing and landscape,” unfortunately just doesn’t jell. Starting in Dublin, she moves successively through the provinces of Leinster, Munster, Connaught, and finally Ulster. Cahill includes well-known writers (such as Swift, Joyce, Beckett, and O’Casey) as well as newer, less familiar names (the poet Eavan Boland and the columnist Nuala O’Faolain, for example). She introduces contributors with brief essays on relevant aspects of their life and work, prefaces each selection with a short explanation of its context, and then appends a traveler’s guide to sites connected with each excerpt. The guides are quite explicit, including bus route numbers, driving directions, and detailed walking tours, with instructions on when to turn right or left and what buildings to look for. Some writers, such as Joyce and Synge, are represented by multiple selections, others by a single short piece. Not surprisingly, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes is included to evoke Limerick, and Belfast is recalled in a piece by Brian Moore. Less accountable is her choice of a passage from her husband Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization that features a prayer by St. Patrick. Adventurous souls following the traveler’s guides will find themselves in Neolithic archeological digs at Lough Gur, and at such unlikely tourist spots as Roddy Doyle’s north Dublin working-class neighborhood and the rough Cork streets of Frank O’Connor—as well as the picturesque Aran Islands, the mountains of Kerry, and Galway Bay.
Forget the travel angle and just enjoy this as a sampler of notable Irish prose and poetry, old and new.