24 February 2000 Edition
New in print: Black Cat in the Window
A reliable Cork memoir
By Liam Ó Murchú
The Collins Press
The publishing world, like the movie industry, tends to be run by people who wouldn't know an original idea if it bit them on the backside.
They respond to what the market tells them. If something sells they recycle it mercilessly, although they seldom understand why the original hit was a hit in the first place.
Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes has spawned a rainforest of books on the bad Irish childhoods of yesteryear. I thought when I received this book that here was another one, Angela's Ashes set in Cork!
Well, there's a bit of that, but what I found interesting and worthwhile about this offering from the childhood memoir industry was the British ex-serviceman in the Free State angle.
Kevin Myers, in his Irish Times diary, has been banging the West Brit drum over these shunned heroes (sic). Here was the reality.
Ó Murchú's father was an ex-Dublin Fusilier, and many of his father's rather sad friends were also ex-British soldiers.
What the author discretely reveals is the extent to which these ex-soldiers were a sad lot, completely abandoned by the state they had served.
I've never been to Cork, but I've done the next best thing. For a year in the `80s I roomed with a Cork man in Leeds. He would be around the same generation as Ó Murchú. Jimmy MacCarthy was a good friend and a fine republican. Many a night he would regale me with stories of the old days in Cork.
Obviously, Jimmy's memories were those of an active republican - of Moses Khan, the Jewish lad who joined the `Ra, of Billy Dwyer's fire escape, of going on schooltrips to Kilmichael and Crossbarry -great yarns.
The strength of this book is that it painted, for me, a finely remembered sketch of what those cramped streets of Cork's poor must have been like in the 1930s if, like me, you've never been to Cork and you want an insight into the living conditions.
This is a human book, finely drawn and subtly observed. It isn't in-your-face-written-for-Hollywood á là McCourt's ``memoir'' of Limerick.
Worth a look if you've any interest in the social history of Cork or how England's Irish heroes were looked after once they'd been decommissioned.
BY MICK DERRIG