How a trip to Cork inspired collection of moving stories
Published 27/02/2014 | 05:26
A TRIP to Mitchelstown to find out about her late father proved to be the inspiration for a moving and thought-provoking new book of short stories from the pen of critically acclaimed English writer Maria C McCarthy.
Prior to her visit in 2007, Maria had written to internationally acclaimed author William Trevor, who was born in Mitchelstown in 1928, the same year as her father, Jim McCarthy.
While Trevor did not know Mr McCarthy, he was able to put Maria in contact with Liam Cusack, organiser of the annual Trevor/Bowen literary festival.
He in turn introduced Maria to an old school friend of her father, Jim Parker, and cousins from the North Cork area. During the process she learned why her father had been left with his aunt as a baby, while his parents went to live in England.
The experience, along with a wealth of tales garnered from her mother's side of the family, led her to pen 'As Long As It Takes', a moving collection of stories giving voice to the 'lost generation' of Irish women who went to England for work during the middle of the last century.
Although a work of fiction, the book is a hauntingly accurate representation of the often stark choices faced by women during the period.
Using the interwoven stories of an immigrant family, McCarthy skilfully weaves the historical and cultural significance of Anglo-Irish relations into a half-century of family life.
McCarthy admitted the whole process was a hugely emotional experience.
"It was a painful journey," she said.
"Both the trip to my father's hometown and subsequent writing of the book."
One particularly haunting story in the book, 'More Katharine than Audrey', was inspired by her father's cousin who left Mitchelstown in the 1940s to train as a nurse in London. During a visit home she had a row with her father, who did not approve of her smoking or staying out late. She returned to London, never to be heard from again.
"It haunted me, what happened to her. She could still be alive in England," said McCarthy.
"Her sister's efforts to trace her had drawn a complete blank. Her sorrow was evident, even after all these years," she added.
In other stories, Irish uncles 'come over' to England to live in digs and work 'on the lump' and women are weighed down by the expectations of the Catholic Church and motherhood, all the while having to live in a society where the saying "no dogs, no blacks, no Irish" was an all too familiar mantra.
As Long As It Takes is on sale in the Favourite Newsagent, Mitchelstown priced at €12.50.