Today is St. Patrick’s Day, the city abounds with drunken revelers, and I am keeping a low profile. Though I am not Irish by extraction (a deficit my part-Irish husband generously overlooks) I am a Hibernophile. I quite like Irish literature (though I’m no Lauren Abramo) have an inexpert but nerdy fondness for illuminated manuscripts (hello Book of Kells), and while I can pass on the Stout, I love Irish music, especially fiddling. I’ve also been known to caper around with my arms at my sides in a terrible approximation of Irish dance. I had a roommate who was a champion step-dancer, and his occasional efforts to teach me a few moves ended in gales of laughter. I’ve been to Ireland on a number of memorable occasions, and while the shamrock-splashed, boozy holiday we celebrate here seems to have little to do with the place from which it ostensibly comes, today is a fitting day to think about books by Irish writers. There is, of course, no shortage, and the contemporary scene is a rich one.
My favorites include Edna O’Brien, Colum McCann, Colm Toibin, William Trevor and Roddy Doyle, but I first fell in love with the fictional Ireland when I read a middle grade fantasy by an American children’s book author named Mary Tannen. The Wizard Children of Finn told the story of a brother and sister swept back through time to the pre-modern Ireland. It was a rip-roaring, tunic-sporting, magic-salmon-swimming adventure that thereafter hooked me on tales of Finn McCool, the Fianna, and the various spooky and strange legends of Ireland. Leprechauns are just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, aside from Finn, I had no real idea how to pronounce most any of the names. Not that I let this stop me. Because these were books I read to myself, not stories I ever heard, I simply jerry-rigged my own pronunciations–glossaries be damned. Invariably it was in some semi-public and fully embarrassing way that I learned the correct (and still confounding) way to say Maebh, Cuchulain and Siobhan. Who knew Samhain was pronounced Sow-in? Not Jessica of 2015. Jessica of 2016? Well, she’s learned her lesson.
*Never to read Irish-sounding names aloud.
Who are your favorite Irish authors, contemporary or otherwise?
(*But you can watch others attempt it here).