Patrick McCabe is led astray in 'The Stray Sod Country'
“What it really means is if you take a wrong turn you could be in trouble,” McCabe tells the Irish Voice during a phone interview on Monday.
“I first heard it in London in a restaurant when an Irish woman in her forties came bursting in with an umbrella and stated to her friend, ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph I’m really sorry I’m late. I fell into the stray sod back there near McDonald’s.’
“It’s a bit of the folk memory leaping out at you. When people are in a state of extremis their true nature comes out. I just lassoed the phrase.”
The tension between Irish traditions and modern life is a recurring theme in The Stray Sod Country.
“It’s probably the major subject of the book. If you look at Ireland now you see the chickens are coming home to roost in many ways. The consequences of our actions are now visible,” he says.
“I’m not making any moral comments on the wildness or excesses of the people because it’s in me too. If there is a certain lack of rigor it will have consequences. I’m not saying its wrong to behave in that way, but if you admire the man who builds the big lump of a house on the hill and no one knows where he got the money for it -- and they don’t really care -- well, when the banks go bust there’s no point in whining because you’re complicit in it as well.”
Timely as ever, in The Stray Sod Country McCabe explores what happens to a small community as it dies. It will reconstitute itself, he shows us, but the community it was will be transformed into something else. The implications of that are unavoidable.
“I’m not a nostalgic freak. Things always change and we’re caught in the pincer jaws of change, especially right now,” McCabe says.
“But for the Irish some things are consistent wherever you meet them. They want to know where you’re from. The want to know the town, then the town land, then the lane or street. It’s not what class you’re from, it’s where about you’re from.
“The sense of place seems particularly pronounced in the Irish psyche. And I think that’s what the stray sod is -- a kind of tipping into a new field you don’t know.”
Another Irish writer McCabe’s work echoes is Brian Friel. He agrees that there are resemblances and doesn’t bristle at the comparison.
“He grew up in a village, so did I, and the stereotypes and archetypes he knew would be the same as mine. It’s a matter of how we treat them.”
This is an understatement. No other contemporary Irish writer even comes close to McCabe in terms of his modernity.
Rock and roll and sex and madness and religiosity and hypocrisy and more besides are always threatening to rip every community he writes about wide open, usually from the inside, and usually from the first paragraph.
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