Seductive elsewheres—Nuala O’Connor introduces Home Place, Heart Place, by Róisín O’Donnell

Seductive elsewheres—Nuala O’Connor on Home Place, Heart Place by Róisín O’Donnell, a book to get you thinking as well as moving

Foreword, by Nuala O’Connor

Ballinasloe, summer 2021

In these days of unyielding disquiet, and curbed lifestyles, there is certain joy in taking a book like Home Place, Heart Place into your hands, and getting lost in the beauty and bounty of Ireland.

We can cradle this book by our firesides and feel quietly excited to use it as a guide for making concrete escape plans. Elsewheres have always been seductive to those of us who love to travel and now the local elsewhere – the one that lies near us – is more alluring than ever. This volume by Róisín O’Donnell has the power to encourage less armchair travel and more movement of itchy feet to those quieter places, close and far-flung, that are lovingly and lyrically rendered in its pages.

O’Donnell brings Ireland to vivid life with a combination of personal reflection, gentle humour, reverence for the natural world, a concentration on art by the likes of Harry Clarke and the Yeats sisters, and a deep interest in the political and historical movements that formed this country.

Reading this book in my East Galway home, I flew happily in O’Donnell’s company to Croagh Patrick in County Mayo and, then, I was equally transported by a rove to an ancient abbey in County Louth. I found myself, too, enriched by the insider knowledge of the characters and history enthusiasts the author encountered on her travels, those generous guides who make this country such a hospitable, charming place to roam.

It is one thing to travel alone, it’s even better to have a book like this one, a welcome manual to those Irish places we may have promised ourselves to visit one day – as well as ones that might be entirely new to us – presented with a gorgeous blend of wit, wisdom, folklore, and fact.

I found myself pausing often to reflect on the narrative that details the turns of history that have brought Ireland to where it is today; on the invasions and colonisations that are reflected in some of our built heritage; and on the deep seam of creativity here that ensures the production of so much literature, music, and art.

Here is a book to get you thinking as well as moving.

Pausing in a hilly corner of Kerry, O’Donnell writes, ‘I drink in the raw localism and it feels like balm.’ This is what the author celebrates in this fine book: the welcome solace to be found in the beauty and texture of all that lies around us on this island.

Just as she says of a writer she admires, O’Donnell can make obscure places sing. I know other readers will be as captivated as I am by the locales described here, as much as the learned and anecdotal style of the book’s narrator. 

Home Place, Heart Place is as interesting as it is evocative and educational; poets and politicians people these pages, Raftery sits as surely here as Daniel O’Connell, but it is the places themselves that really glisten and that will lure readers from their homes, book in hand, and set them happily wandering.