By Brendan Lynch
The Irish love a good pub within walking reach and Ireland’s most gifted artists and thinkers have been no exception. As Paris has it’s Left Bank and New York has its Upper West Side, for decades Dublin’s bohemian quarter has been centered around Baggot Street and Leeson Street, fringed by the Grand Canal.
Among it’s familiars were four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature and nearly every major Irish writer of the 19 century, including Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and even Samuel Beckett.
Along the way Lynch conjures long lost Dublin like a magician. He never forgets how proud the capital city is of its distinguished writers and he never forgets how disdainfully it usually treated them when they actually lived there.
Lynch clearly loves his subjects and this is no more apparent than when he disccuses playwright Brendan Behan. “We’ve a lot to thank the British for,” Behan tells the author one morning in Dublin in 1958. “Did you ever see such handsome houses or squares? As my bardic neighbor John Montague might say, you can feel the rhythm. Look at those railings. And the granite steps dancing in the sun, wouldn’t they make your granny skip?”
Love for the locality and the mad collection of intellectuals, chancers and hangers on that assembled there once, and still assemble there now, animates every page of this deeply affectionate, brilliant and brilliantly gossipy book.
Dufour Editions, $31.95.
Cold Eye Of Heaven
By Christine Dwyer Hickey
In novelist Christine Dwyer Hickey’s new book we meet 75-year-old Dubliner Farley, an old man at the close of his days reflecting over the events that shaped him.
It’s quite a trick to peel away the layers of experience to dig to the root of her subject and reveal what makes him tick, but Dwyer Hickey is equal to it. Along the way she recreates a vanished Dublin, it’s sights and sounds and it’s magical vernacular, in a conjuring trick that will beguile you from the first page. (Christine Dwyer Hickey will read from and sign copies of Cold Eye Of Heaven at The Irish Arts Center at 7:30 PM on Tuesday, September 24).
It’s instructive to watch how regret can grow and take over a life until it’s all that remains of a person, and Dwyer Hickey shows us how loneliness can be the outcome of a poor choice, and one that spreads around a life like fog.
Dwyer Hickey also has the skill to take her time, offering a leisurely portrait of a man in lyrical prose that creates his world and his legacy so vividly you’ll think that all that separates you from him is a page. This is ambitious work, elegantly crafted.
Atlantic Books, $7.99.
By Johnston McMaster
Ireland’s history, even in recent times, has been ferociously violent. Over centuries a cycle of outrage and revenge has characterized the seemingly endless conflict between warring traditions intent on giving no quarter.
What to do in a stalemate that cannot ever be won? And what of Christianity, that promotes peace but has shown itself to be all to quick to add kindling to long simmering resentments? Those questions have exercised minds for centuries.
In Overcoming Violence author McMaster explores the roots of the sectarian violence in Ireland, wresting the message of compassion and love from the destructive theology of the Old Testament.
In particular he laments the Irish myth of redemptive violence, which was all too popular with both sides in the Easter Rising and the Irish Civil war. Nothing good comes from anger and insult and McMaster wants to reminds us of the fact. Bad theology cannot be an excuse for more violence.
So what is strong enough to take the place of a culture of violence centuries in the making? A new value system, McMaster argues, and a new ethics based on non-violence that includes peace and compassion. We don’t just need to demilitarize our society; we need to do the same with our mindsets and spirituality.
Faith offers the most devastating critique of violence, and it can only work when it counters the violent theology and God that has been carefully but erroneously erected in Ireland over four centuries.
Columba Press, $26.95.