David Monagan’s top 10 Irish journeys

David Monagan is an American writer, currently a resident in Cork. Jaywalking with the Irish (Lonely Planet) is his tale of the pleasures and pitfalls, challenges and frustrations of relocating with his family in 2001 from Connecticut to Cork, and their struggle to come to terms with their new life and ‘fit in’.

1. The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien

The perfect companion for a trip to Ireland, The Third Policeman is a journey into a looking glass of doomed eccentricity, absurd introspection, cracked metaphysics, and circumlocution without end. Hilarious and mind-bending, it is set in a two-dimensional police station that turns out to be Irish hell. Framed for murder by quare constables – who are obsessed with the atomic properties of bicycles and struggle to maintain the barometric balance of Ireland – the protagonist occasionally wanders down the road to heaven, but can never bring any of the riches out. Fortunately, he is helped toward enlightenment by his soul Joe. Flann O’Brien, a brilliant columnist for the Irish Times, was the greatest oracle of Ireland’s eternal oddness. Alas, he stashed this great work until he died of the drink in 1956. Read it with his earlier masterpiece At Swim Two Birds.

2. Twenty Years A-Growing by Maurice O’Sullivan

This memoir of one of the last residents of Great Blasket Island off the Dingle Peninsula is an elegy to a world altogether insulated from modern civilization, a coming of age story so resonant with timelessness and magical thinking that one might guess that it was written 500 years back, rather than in 1933. Flip to any page and out jumps an effortless music: “Well, in the far end of the night, everyone was pretty merry, the soft word and the hard word coming together.” The author’s sea-wracked innocence is finally shattered by his inevitable move, at age 20, to the until then unknown mainland world of the 20th century. Twenty Years A-Growing is one of the sweetest, saddest, and most lyrical books you will come across, sad because it is also a story about the vanishing of an entire culture. The book is so beautifully translated that the reader is transported into a separate linguistic universe. To finish it is to reluctantly wake from a dream.

3. The Truth About the Irish by Terry Eagleton

This one is a light, myth-busting snapshot-take on all ludicrous things Irish, written by a contemporary son of Ireland. Shrewd observations and plenty of laughs inside.

4. Irish Journey by Heinrich Böll

A masterpiece of travel writing, this is a delightful and penetrating meditation on the German Nobel laureate’s encounters with the singularities he found everywhere while traversing the west of Ireland in the 1950s with his wife and children. Böll settled for years into an Achill Island cottage and described the beauty, heartbreak, and endearing quirkiness around him with exquisite precision and style. Out there, he said he was “playing truant on Europe.”

5. Woodbrook by David Thomson

Woodbrook is an enchanting, poignant tale of the English writer’s 10 youthful summers spent tutoring in a crumbling great house in the Sligo hinterlands in the 1930s, where he fell into hopeless unrequited love. Thompson’s (1914-1918) work casts a beautifully observed light over the gradual collapse of one ostensibly nurturing Anglo-Irish fiefdom, with the aura of yearning relieved by deft use of history and superb writing. As Seamus Heaney said of Thomson’s The People of the Sea, the man’s gifts included “perfect grace and perfect pitch.”

6. Puckoon by Spike Milligan

One of the maddest of all Irish tales, Puckoon involves quite a bit of journeying – across the fictive border between the Irish north and south. The wickedly satirical Milligan border happened to complicate drinking, however, since it was drawn between the stools and bar at the Holy Drunkard pub. It also messed with eternity, having further split the village churchyard, thus inspiring the parish’s priest to smuggle Catholic cadavers out of the suddenly Protestant and damned end. A menacing official announces, “Any hostility to the Boundary Commission will be penalized with fines from a shilling up to death.” As Milligan’s tombstone reads, “I told you I was ill.”

7 McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy

Whoever hasn’t read this work by the sadly recently deceased McCarthy should know: this is the ultimate Irish pub tour with the only hangover one of laughter. The exceedingly good-natured traveller’s tale is droll and cleverly observed, though it perhaps forces some bits and walls out the disturbing fact of the Celtic Tiger. But it’s vivid and fun.

8. The Gingerman by JP Donleavy

A bestseller for years, The Gingerman is what is known as a “rollicking tale” of a rambunctious young American on the dole landing in the vagabond Dublin of the 1950s and drinking, rutting, blathering, and fighting along with the natives, then getting up and doing it all over again. Donleavy, with debts to Henry Miller’s Sexus and Dylan Thomas’s absurd Adventures in the Skin Trade, got the spirit of the place (then) down, and the book remains amusing and idiosyncratically stylish.

9. Round Ireland in Low Gear by Eric Newby

One of the most polished of all travel writers, Newby and his game wife Wanda took a protracted bicycle spin past Irish villages, canals, ruins, and “moving statues” in the dead of the rain-lashed winter of 1985. The audacity of the by-no-means young couple tackling mountain roads in gales is captivating in itself. This wittily described tour is no shallow gimmick – a la hitchhiking with a refrigerator – but a coming to intimate terms with the land and its history at every turn.

10. This Sceptered Isle

A robust and engaging tale of a British writer and adventurer chucking his fast-paced UK existence to cultivate a remarkable reinvention of his life in later years in County Carlow.


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/mar/16/top10s.irish.journeys