A heartwarming toast to all things Irish
Tired of kissing people who claim to be Irish? Not interested in wearing green or adopting a brogue for the holiday weekend? For those of you wanting to get past the cliches and stereotypes that always seem to surface around St. Patrick's Day, we've found a few books by Irish authors that should do the trick. So get in the authentic spirit of the holiday with one of these timely releases celebrating the vibrant culture, people and history of the Emerald Isle.
Admirers of Nuala O'Faolain and Frank McCourt will be happy to hear there are some new Irish memoirs appearing this month. Midlife Irish by Frank Gannon is one of the best. Gannon is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and GQ, and his story of getting in touch with his Irish heritage is both humorous and touching. "Growing up, I knew I was Irish in much the same way I knew I had asthma. I knew I had it but I didn't know anything about it," he explains. One morning, as he approaches middle age, Gannon decides to travel to Ireland with his wife to uncover the mysterious pasts of his Irish-born parents. On the way, he discusses Ireland's past, present and future in a unique and always readable voice. Whatever your ethnic or geographical origins, you'll be wondering about the untold stories lurking in your family's past after reading this book.
If it's the pot o' gold you're after, this next memoir might help you find it. In It's a Long Way From Penny Apples, millionaire Bill Cullen details his rags-to-riches journey from his early days of selling penny apples in the streets of Dublin to becoming the owner of the Glencullen Motor Group. Food was scarce, the family of 15 lived in one dank room and two of Cullen's siblings died of pneumonia, but the darker side of the author's past is glossed over in favor of amazing-but-true anecdotes. For example, he was so interested in learning that he followed his older sisters to school at age 2 and ended up graduating at 13. At age 11, he purchased hundreds of Kewpie dolls from a street vendor, dressed them as Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland with the help of his sister Vera and sold them for a profit. Bill Cullen definitely worked his way to the top, and you'll be rooting for him all the way.
Brendan O'Carroll's latest installment of the Agnes Browne series is sure to bring a smile to your Irish eyes. The Young Wan is set before the other novels in the series (The Mammy, The Chisellers and The Granny) and sheds light on Agnes' life as a child and young woman in 1940s Dublin. It's the eve of her wedding to Redser Browne, and Agnes wants more than anything to wear her mother's wedding gown. However, according to Catholic law, only virgins can marry in white. And Agnes is pregnant. She distracts herself from her worries by reminiscing about her childhood with best friend Marion Delaney. O'Carroll is a comedian, and his perfect sense of timing makes this novel as much fun as the others in the series.
For an unusual take on the traditional fairy tale, pick up Meeting the Other Crowd. Author Eddie Lenihan is an accomplished Irish folklorist. This time, he has collected tales from the elders of Southern Ireland that deal with fairies and the strong influence the creatures have had on Irish culture. Each tale is written down as it was spoken and is followed by Lenihan's commentary. He's a believer in what he calls "The Good People," and many of the stories focus on the dangers of interfering with them. In 1999, Lenihan launched a successful campaign to save a certain whitethorn bush commonly believed to have otherworldly associations from being paved over, warning workers that the fairies would have their revenge if it were destroyed. This is a book that will make you think twice the next time someone asks you if you believe in the wee folk.