Review of Books
A selection of recently published books of Irish and Irish American interest.
Ireland Unhinged: Encounters With a Wildly Changing Country
David Monagan, author of Jaywalking with the Irish and Journey into the Heart, once again captures the essence of Ireland in his third book, Ireland Unhinged: Encounters With a Wildly Changing Country. Monagan, a Connecticut native with the hope and dream of finding a happy, mystical, culturally rich land, moves his family to the country of his ancestors. The Monagans settle in Cork and find themselves in the midst of the Celtic Tiger period of economic growth. Along with the changing economy, Monagan takes note of the changing culture of classic Ireland as it flourishes and falls. In great detail, he recounts his adventures all around the country to places including Dublin, Belfast, Donegal, Sligo, and Waterford. With his journalistic background, Monagan interviews a cast of characters he encounters such as his neighbors, relatives, a witch, a monk, musicians, IRA men, and famous author J.P. Donleavy. In descriptions of hilarity and heartbreak, Ireland Unhinged offers a look at modern Ireland, showing its dramatic changes and determination to hold on. Although Monagan describes the downfall of a once successful country, he leaves readers with a sense of hope, saying “somehow, I think Ireland will prevail again, because it must.”
– Katie McFadden
(300 pages/Council Oak books/ Kanbar & Conrad $28)
A Third Life: Sculptures for God, Country and Notre Dame
Jerry McKenna’s recently published memior prompts us to wonder, how does one make the transition from being a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force to becoming one of our country’s leading sculptors? A Third Life: Sculptures for God, Country and Notre Dame has the answer. Readers will know McKenna as the creator of bronze masterpieces that dot the United States and the world. His works are easily identifiable for their realism in form and attitude (take, for instance, his famous renderings of Notre Dame football coaches being lifted by their players after a victory or counseling their teams mid-game). What many people might not know, however, is that McKenna (though always artistically inclined) didn’t try his hand at sculpture until he was 42. The fact that he had already chosen a path, lived a life in the Air Force, didn’t stop him from pursuing sculpture with passion and determination. This inspirational story, complete with pictures of McKenna and of his works at various stages in the artistic process, is a real treat.
– Sheila Langan
(177 pages / Haynes / $45.00)
The South Lawn Plot
With his debut novel, Ray O’Hanlon has placed himself somewhere between Dan Brown and Michael Connolly within the realm of suspense writing. O’Hanlon, editor of the newspaper The Irish Echo, has created a thoroughly engaging plot that twists and turns and spans continents and centuries – from 15th century England to the present-day South Lawn of the White House. The South Lawn Plot opens with Nick Bailey, a seasoned tabloid reporter, getting the scoop on a most mysterious death: a priest has hanged himself from Blackfriars Bridge. As the mystery unfolds, the chances of this being a suicide quickly diminish and turn into something markedly more sinister, with implications for 10 Downing Street, the White House and the Catholic Church. Bailey makes for a likeable protagonist and is joined by a diverse and well developed cast of characters. O’Hanlon has formed a fascinating world of words; I look forward to his next one.
- Sheila Langan
(340 pages / Gemma Media / $24.95)
Celebrating 250 Years of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Not many people realize that the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade is older than the United States. But it’s true: the New York celebration of Ireland’s patron saint began in the 1760s, and this year marks its 250th anniversary. In recognition, Quinnipiac University and the NYC St, Patrick’s Day Parade Committee have issued a special commemorative book. Celebrating 250 Years of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade tells the long and fascinating history of the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration. An incredible collection of historic and more contemporary photographs mark the parade’s progress through the years and up 5th Avenue. Author John T. Ridge and editor Lynn Mosher Bushnell have created a treasure: turning through the pages, I was brought back to my childhood experiences of watching the parade, and the awe and pride it inspired. For anyone who has ever marched in the procession or braved the crowds for a glimpse of the bagpipers and societies, this book is a must.
– Sheila Langan
(146 p/Quinnipiac University Press / $49.95)
Irish Alphabet, the second collaboration of writer Rickey E. Pittman and illustrator Connie McLennan, is an A-Z guide to Irish history and folklore for children. Each letter is represented by iconic figures and words, such as Molly Malone (M), Finn MacCool (F), the shamrock (S) and tea (T). Pittman’s stanzas for each letter are delightful, and McLennan’s illustrations are vivid and enchanting. Together they creatively give the twenty-six letters a distinctly Irish personality. Notable is the passage for the letter “X,” in which Pittman writes:
“There’s no letter X in Gaelic, / Except in borrowed words / And in the names of Irish towns, / Like Foxrock and Wexford.”
In response, McLennan depicts a map
of Ireland with both towns marked with an “X.”
The last page of the book includes a mini-glossary, an alphabetical list of the thirty-two counties of the island of Ireland, and the lyrics to “Molly Malone.” For young readers, Irish Alphabet will be a stimulating introduction to Ireland.
(32 pages/Pelican Publishing Company/$16.99)
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