Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Vincent's book,Knitwits, FCA and roadworks

Remember last week I told you that Vincent Carmody of this parish was related to the two White brothers whose writing is well known on both sides of the Atlantic. Now I bring you Richard White's review. 

"When my mother was a young girl, Listowel was at the far edge of her world. She lived outside the small village of Ballylongford in County Kerry in the west of Ireland. Listowel was only seven miles away, and only in rural Kerry would it seem a grand place, with its cattle fairs, its square and shops. A trip to Listowel meant a journey by donkey and cart, and she went only rarely until her early teens, when she became a servant there. Then she lived for a while in Listowel -- before sailing from Cobh, the port adjacent to Cork, and migrating to the United States in 1936. She was 16. All of that was long ago and far away. My mother now lives in Redwood City, as I do. She has dementia, and she rarely remembers Ireland or much of anything else.
I would like to think that, if she could remember, she would recognize the place Vincent Carmody captures in his wonderful and evocative book "Listowel: Snapshots of an Irish Market Town, 1850-1950."
From my family's perspective, it is ironic that Listowel is the sister city of Los Gatos, adjacent to San Jose. In the earlier 20th century, these places would have seemed distant cousins: both market towns and magnets for people on the farms around them. But now they are far different. The farms are gone from what was once the Valley of Heart's Delight around San Jose, even as they persist around Listowel. San Jose has become the third most populous city in California; Listowel has less than 5,000 people and is still physically much the same place my mother knew.

For me, at least, all that connects the modest Irish town (known for its literary festival) with the sprawl of Silicon Valley is my mother. She was a girl near Listowel when the place filled her with stories, and now she is an old woman living near San Jose bereft of memories and stories.

The beauty of Carmody's book (available at is that he captures both the kind of stories my mother gleaned from Listowel and a far more subtle set of transformations that changed the town. He tells his story through what the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss called bricolage, the art of creating something new out of surviving scraps of the past. This is a book of photographs, notes, bills, invoices, contracts and advertisements knitted together -- street by street, house by house -- so artfully and unobtrusively that you do not so much think the clean Irish prose is giving you an account of the past as that you are actually rummaging through that past and walking down the town's streets. A place that might seem initially foreign to you grows familiar.
On one level, Carmody's account of this Irish market town could be the biography of a dozen Irish towns. The years he covers were tumultuous everywhere in Ireland, and even more so in Kerry. There was revolution, independence, civil war, depression and migration, always migration. But he captures the more constant fabric of the place that endured beneath the tumult.
Anyone interested in Ireland can enjoy this book, but if you actually knew the place, as my mother did, it becomes something more. My cousin Anne met Carmody on the street in Listowel, and she identified her father-in-law in a picture from long ago. And even for me, as much a Yank as my cousins are Irish, this book seems to illustrate stories my mother told: the cattle fairs, the donkeys and carts, the days that once loomed so large in that distant world and here surface again, at once exotic and familiar.
Richard White is the author of "Remembering Ahanagran: A History of Stories."


Vincent held his second launch of the book in the National Library on Thursday last.

I got this next from John Fitzgerald  who was present on the night:

"The launch last Thursday in the National Library of Vincent Carmody's magnificent book Snapshots of an Irish Market Town will forever be treasured.
 Six old classmates pictured in the photograph of Mrs. Scanlon's class exchanged stories late into that night in Buswells. Vincent had travelled all the way from the Boro; whilst Johnny Guerin tripped in from the Rebel county. The City of the Tribes delivered Tony Barrett (up to then in one piece). The two Sullivans, Sean and Teddy flew in from the land of the Gall and by the end of the night I'd say were glad to get back, whilst Cyril Kelly walked over the Liffey appeared from the North Side. In that mix,Tae Lane was always going to be difficult to position geograpically but in sporting parlance, that night I played fairly for the Gleann. 
Attached is my take on what some of those stories evoked.

Tae Lane

I leave the street and wander down the lane.
Rusting sheds recede
and grey stone pierces whitewash.
Memory stirs and like a faint crack
of a ringmaster’s whip
the lane begins to breathe again.
 Atop my father’s shed I see Tommy Sib Sib
coil and uncoil from the ridge rope.
He sweeps swathes of hot tar
over a bubbling roof.
The black liquid tauts and glints of silver show
like a wave set on a sunlit shore.
Under Potter’s shed the nettles sting.
Beneath an elder tree stray stones
crush the red haw and an ancient  
trail of Navaho and Comanche appears.
Above the sycamore a crow calks
and distant sounds from the market
trumpet children wild at play.
Suddenly the lane twists and the river peeps.
Some say it was the greatest show on earth.
Dock leaves mark the fair day
Where farmers full squat on stone slabs,
lording over a gurgling sewer.
On the waterfront a fresh flood bustles.
Spillers vie for space on the narrowing banks.
A young boy wrestles with a twisting hook.
He cuts the curling conger from its clasp.
Above the bridge an old man waits.
After the flood fresh salmon run.
Flotsam gathers beneath my feet
 And now I go back to the street.


If you have a minute to spare read this.


Knitwits crosses the generations. On Saturday in Scribes we had

A grandmother and granddaughter; Patricia and Katie

A grandmother and grandson; Mary and Kiernan


A mother and daughter: Mary and Clíona

Studies have proven that knitting is therapeutic. People suffering from dementia, if they have learned to knit when they were younger, when given needles and a ball of wool will settle to knitting. In Denmark some day care centers feature a knitting circle as part of their therapy. So, do your children a favour. Teach them to knit.


Listowel FCA 1955


The Square last Friday. I'm told the digging up was to lay a broadband cable.


St. Malachy

An interesting read for any superstitious Catholic.

No comments:

Post a Comment