Cathal Póirtéir on some great books in the Irish language—for gifts, or for your holiday reading, and he reveals his tottering to-be-read pile…
by Cathal Póirtéir
Irish language writing for adults and children has been reaching new heights for a number of years now with very impressive contemporary fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
With well over a hundred new books a year it’s impossible to read everything that you might like or enjoy, so, from my own reading I’m going to suggest a few volumes that I’ve really enjoyed in the past year and that you might consider putting on your Christmas wish list.
Madame Lazare by Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin (Barzaz)
This multi-award winning novel is a most enjoyable mix of mystery and detective story. A young French woman becomes intrigued as her grandmother’s growing dementia starts to reveal a past history which doesn’t fit with her traditional family narrative about escaping persecution and death as a Jew in Europe during the Second World War.
Readers discover that the past may sometimes be falsified to make the present safe. The unexpected truth lies in Madame Lazare’s hidden past and in the waters off the Arann Islands.
Bláth na dTulach, eds. Réaltán Ní Leannáin, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde agus Mícheál Ó Domhnaill (Éabhlóid)
For lovers of the short story this is an absolute gift. Twenty-eight stories and writers from Ulster have been brought together in this selection of contemporary writing which spans urban and rural settings, writers from the Gaeltacht and outside it, men and women from both sides of the border.
Not surprisingly then there is a great variety here in both tone and style with well-established writers being joined by newer voices to give us a volume that showcases the talents of northern Irish writers.
Khalil, by Yazmina Khadra, translated by Máirín Nic Con Iomaire (Barzaz)
Another recent prize-winner, this translation from French is an imaginative look at how a young man from an immigrant background is radicalised and becomes involved in Islamic terrorism, including the attacks on the Bataclan and the Stade de France.
He is pulled one way then another as he tries to deal influences and an ideology that seem to promise him salvation.
Toraíocht na Dea-bheatha by Antain Mac Lochlainn (Leabhar Breac)
This non-fiction work is a whistle-stop tour through the history, personalities and teachings of classical philosophy, and shows how some ancient precepts may still contain lessons to help us towards the life well led.
The author has the gift of being enlightening and entertaining throughout, with references to contemporary life and Irish writing that may raise a smile more often than they furrow a brow.
Súil an Daill by Darach Ó Scolaí (Leabhar Breac)
This sophisticated and atmospheric historical novel takes us back to sixteenth century Gaelic Ulster and the jostling for succession, as Conn Bacach Ó Néill, Lord of Tyrone, gets ready to pass on his pivotal position to one of his sons.
Our narrator is a renaissance influenced cleric who works to see the lands pass to one of the sons, Feilimidh Caoch, a potential modern European prince. Internal rivalry between the native factions and the external threat of the encroaching English combine to cast doubt on the future of Gaelic Ulster.
The research and the writing here are top class with telling detail and constant tensions which provide a challenging and rewarding work. Excellent reviews and literary awards recommend it to serious readers.
The to-be-read pile
I’m looking forward to tackling my tottering book pile over the winter. In poetry, I’m excited about: Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh‘s Tonn Teaspuigh (Éabhlóid); Bríd Ní Mhóráin‘s Flóra na Samhlaíochta (FÁS); Áine Uí Fhoghlú‘s Mná dár Mhair (Coiscéim); Ceaití Ní Bheildiúin’s Lig don nGiorraí Suí/Let the Hare Sit, and Rogha Dánta/Selected Poems with translations by Paddy Bush (Dedalus Press).
Diarmuid Johnson‘s recent historical novel Ceallach: Cín Lae Fíréin AD590-620 (Leabhar Breac) is there, while Seán Ó Muireagáin‘s science fiction short stories in Bádh B’fhéidir (Éabhlóid) sound promising, as does the sci-fi translation Tinte na Farraige Duibhe by Tim Robinson (Leabhar Breac).
Also near the top of my pile of good intentions are the debut short story collection Imram from Róise Ní Bhaoill (Éabhlóid), and Dave Duggan‘s novel Ór agus Mil (Clór Iar-Chonnacht).
On the back-burner is the impressive looking Pobal na Gaeilge, Daonra, Institiúidí, Stádas, agus Cumhacht by Pádraig Breandán Ó Laighin (Cló na nGael).
Apologies to all the writers whose work I didn’t get to review or read in 2022. So many books, so little time.
Due out in Spring 2023 is my own book on nineteenth century landlord-tenant relations in famine-era Donegal, An Tiarna George Hill agus Pobal Ghaoth Dobhair (Cló Iar-Chonnacht)—which I won’t be reviewing, so please forgive the shameless plug!
Cathal Póirtéir has specialised in researching, presenting and commissioning Irish interest material in various radio formats and in books, including history, literature and folklore in Irish and English, as well as current affairs and drama.