emigration

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It’s a wonderful thing to wake up, make a cup of tea and devote your morning to an engrossing book without a thought to the dishes in the sink or other household chores. I had such an opportunity over the July 4th weekend, and devoured Nuala O’Connor’s brilliant novel Miss Emily.

Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor (US cover)

Nuala O‘Connor is one of Ireland’s greatest writers of short stories and flash fiction, but she’s also an excellent poet and novelist. Raised bi-lingual, O’Connor — who publishes under her Irish name, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, in Ireland — has a great ear for the playfulness of language, for double meanings, and the layers that get lost in translation. She brings that same perceptiveness to her understanding of her characters and the nuances of their dilemmas, which is especially useful when telling tales of people crossing borders or boundaries from the known to the unknown. Read the rest of this entry »

im-not-perfect-but-im-irish-which-is-way-better-a7ba9I’ve always been proud of Ireland, and keen to pass along a sense of being Irish to my daughters, who were born and are being raised in the US. However, as my eldest has officially entered the “Obnoxious Teenager” phase (Oh, such a barrel of laughs!), she appears to have internalized a lesson I did not intend: that everything is better in Ireland. Read the rest of this entry »

The Blog Awards Ireland is an annual award the recognizes excellence in Irish blogging. I’m happy to announce that ATriptoIreland.com is a finalist!

[Update: It won! Woohoo!]

blog_buttons_FINALISTATriptoIreland.com qualifies for the “Best Blog of the Diaspora” category in the 2014 Blog Awards Ireland. Last year, I made it to the longlist round of the competition; this year, the blog has made it all the way to the finals. I’m honored to receive this recognition and acknowledgement.

This is a good opportunity to outline what ATriptoIreland has become, and where I intend to take it next.  Read the rest of this entry »

There’s an intriguing event taking place in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, Monday, March 17, and it’s being live-streamed around the world.

Trailblaze: We need to talk about Ireland

“We Need To Talk About Ireland” is billed as a “90 minute creative celebration of Ireland’s past, present and future,” exploring “what it means to be Irish in 2014.” The event — which sounds like a TED-type mix of performance and talks — is organized by Trailblazery, a collective who create community events designed to spur debate and create change. “We Need to Talk About Ireland” will take place in front of a live audience in The Round Room at Dublin’s historically significant Mansion House.  Read the rest of this entry »

Ah, Mother’s Day is a bittersweet holiday for Irish emigrants for several reasons. The bond between a child and their mammy is usually very strong, so this is a time when we think of the family we left behind and get all maudlin and stuff.

What's an emigrant lad to do when Irish Mother's Day is two months before the American one?

What’s an emigrant lad to do when Irish Mother’s Day is two months before the American one?

However, it’s also the single-most problematic holiday for the Irish in the US on a strictly practical basis: American Mother’s Day falls on the second sunday in May, but Mother’s Day in Ireland falls two months earlier! So, if we rely on the festive hoopla in the media and the avalanche of cards in the stores to remind us, it’s too late! (To be fair — and stereotypical — this is mostly a problem for emigrant Irish men, as the Irish women I know seem to have little problem remembering anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays…)  Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Lynch’s ambitious debut novel, Red Sky in Morning, aims to examine the current historical moment through a mythic lens.

Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch (US cover: Little, Brown)

Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch
(US cover: Little, Brown)

Beginning in 1832, we watch as a young Irishman, Coll Coyle, tries to prevent his family from being evicted by a brutal landlord. A fight ensues, and the landlord is killed. Our young hero is forced on the run across the mountains and bogs of Donegal, to the bustling port of Derry, and thence to America. He’s pursued by Faller, the landlord’s brutal enforcer, who opts not to involve the constabulary (as he puts it), but to track down and kill Coll himself (along with almost everyone Coll comes in contact with).  Read the rest of this entry »

I must be the only Irishman in the world to have ever bought stones.

Stone walls in Co. Clare. (credit: mirsasha/Flickr via creative commons license)

Stone walls in Co. Clare.
(credit: mirsasha/Flickr via creative commons license)

It all started when we decided we wanted someplace to sit out and have dinner or a few drinks when friends came over.

(I blame that film “French Kiss,” when Kevin Kline’s family are having sunday dinner at a huge table under a tree in a vineyard on a gorgeous summer’s day, drinking wine and arguing with each other in French. It always sounds so much more romantic when you can’t understand the words. Love that film!)

Right, so!” says I. “I’ll build a patio.Read the rest of this entry »

I savored every word of Colum McCann’s elegant new novel, TransAtlantic. McCann has always been a writer who aims for a perfect image or a poetic turn of phrase, TransAtlantic is told in a gentle, unhurried style, almost a series of reminiscences, and the format allows McCann to give full play to his poetry.

New Irish fiction, Irish authors

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (US Cover)
–source: www.colummccann.com

The novel is anchored by three historical events (in the order they appear in the novel: Alcock and Brown’s first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland, Frederick Douglass’s reading tour of Ireland during the great famine, and Senator George Mitchell’s negotiations that lead to the Good Friday Agreement that enabled power-sharing in Northern Ireland and brought about the apparent disarming of paramilitary organizations), but the meat is in the story of four generations of Irish women whose lives intersect with these famous men and events briefly (the herstory to balance the history, if you like).

If any novel can be said to have a single theme, or central focus, perhaps the unifying factor behind the stories in TransAtlantic is the individual’s desire for a freedom from external hinderances. The characters work for the abolition of slavery, the defeat of the Germans in two world wars, the end of religious strife in Ireland, economic independence, equal rights for women, the right of a woman to publish under her own name, the freedom to be accepted as an unmarried mother, the right to have ones’ children and grandchildren grow up safely, and centrally, the abolition of distance (physical and metaphorical): the normalization of crossing the Atlantic and the vast improvement in humanity’s ability to understand and help each other that this represented.

In 1845, Frederick Douglass inadvertently inspires a young woman, a maid named Lily Duggan, to leave Ireland and go to America in search of a better life. Lily survives a horrific passage on a coffin ship, to find life in the teeming streets of New York City much less hospitable than she hoped for. A survivor, Lily eventually marries an ice-farmer in the upper mid-west, and becomes the matriarch of a line of women whose story drives the novel. Her daughter, Emily, who lives to write, yet must publish under a male pseudonym for years; her daughter Lottie, who takes to photography as her art; and finally Hannah, who must deal with both the death of her son during the troubles, and the economic ruin of the current financial crisis.

Irish Fiction Expert

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (UK/Irish cover)
–source: Bloomsbury.com

The novel looks at a long series of characters trying to better themselves and their fellows, often in some way that unites Ireland and America: Douglass raising awareness of the cause of emancipation, Mitchell negotiating for peace, Lily making a better life for her children, Lottie quietly working to support the peace process. But it is the final characters who enter the tale, a very modern Irish family — an inter-racial marriage, never mind an inter-denominational one — that wraps up the story, and brings it firmly into the present day. In this, McCann with his characteristic hope and optimism points out the small but potentially significant seeds of change being sown in modern Ireland: a nation now absorbing an increasing number of immigrants, with new ideas, bonds, and possibilities taking root under the surface. In his more-inclusive conception of family, McCann seems to be observing that the future will depend less on family solidarity and dynastic inheritance (the cornerstone of Irish politics and community), and more on communal support, the exchange of new ideas, and an enlarged sense of community, beyond religion, beyond race, beyond blood ties.

The last lines of his early story “Wood,” (from his excellent book Everything in this Country Must) in which a young boy watches trees “going mad in the wind,” the branches mindlessly “slapping each other around like people,” before the 12th of July marching season, have always struck me as one of the most apt metaphors for the discord in Northern Ireland ever put to paper. That McCann can now write a novel that is so optimistic, and chronicles such change a mere 15 years or so later, speaks volumes for how vast the changes in the political climate in Ireland have been. If novelists truly hold a mirror up to society, then it appears that the society McCann is reflecting in TransAtlantic is becoming a much less polarized one than he had to depict two decades ago. In TransAtlantic, McCann captures the great arc of globalization that increasingly shapes our age through the lens of one family’s history and some of the pivotal events that helped shape it, and leaves the reader with the hope that a corner has been turned, that Lily Duggan’s dream of a better life is finally coming to pass.

— Rich

 

Notes
Visit Colum McCann’s official website
Buy the US edition of TransAtlantic
Buy the UK edition of TransAtlantic from The Book Depository… (free shipping worldwide)
Buy the IRL edition of TransAtlantic from Kennys.ie… (free shipping worldwide)

Colm Tóibín‘s new novel, Brooklyn, is a deceptively simple story of one young woman packed off to Brooklyn in the 1950s.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (US cover)

Eilis Lacey is a younger daughter with no firm prospects for either work or marriage living in a small town in Ireland during the early 1950s. So, her spinster sister and widowed mother arrange a new life in Brooklyn for her through a visiting Irish priest. When she arrives in this strange land, Eilis finds a job, a room at a boarding house, and church duties all waiting for her, but she feels bereft of the generations-old social network that surrounded her at home. Much to her surprise, she gradually makes a place for herself in Brooklyn, and even strikes up a relationship with a well-intentioned Italian man. However, despite the material success, she can’t fully commit to her new life in Brooklyn because her heart is still in Ireland.

When tragedy brings her back home, she discovers her time away has made her appear exotic and interesting to the men of her town, and her American experience makes her more attractive to employers. Of course, along with the good there’s also a newfound appreciation for the bad, as she has a new understanding of small-town spitefulness. Finally she has to decide between assuming the role others would choose for her, and the life she could choose for herself.

“She would never have an ordinary day again…”

The most striking thing about Tóibín’s Brooklyn, besides the beautiful prose and atmospheric evocation of both communities, is the terribly unfashionable lack of irony. Despite the hardships and unfamiliarity, the possibilities represented by emigration are painted in a positive light. Eilis may dwell on the differences and mourn her easy friendships and almost unconscious understanding of the least aspects of social life in Ireland, but despite herself she is thrilled by the differences: the amenities of a big city, the mix of nationalities, and the opportunity for interesting work.

Eilis lives in a boarding house with a group of women representing the range of accommodations immigrants make to a new culture: form stubborn denial through total capitulation. Despite the opportunity to attach herself to the established ex-patriot community, Eilis seeks out new experiences and company. Tóibín cleverly underlines that even these seemingly daring choices are easy when in a completely new community. It’s only when Eilis goes home, ostensibly just for a month’s holiday, that she discovers how even small changes can be judged harshly by the community. She must choose whether or not to embrace her new life fully, or else deny her experiences in Brooklyn like a summer fling, and take her place in the unchanging routine of the small town. The decision is a hard one, and one that most novels about emigration either never broach or telegraph on the first page through an ironic tone and constant degree of condescension towards the old world.

It’s a tribute to Colm Tóibín that his even-handed treatment of both communities allows the reader to feel the full weight of Eilis’ decision.

 

Links

Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn has been adapted as a film starring Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey, with Jim Broadbent, Julie Waters, and the in-demand Domhnall Gleeson.

Author’s website (a little out of date)

If you enjoyed Brooklyn, you must read Colm Tóibín’s latest novel, Nora Webster, which is fabulous. (Review…)