Thursday 22 March 2018

Books: Tales from down the country

Non-fiction: Around the Farm Gate, Ed by PJ Cunningham, Ballpoint Press, pbk, €14.99

Around the Farm Gate Ed by PJ Cunningham
Around the Farm Gate Ed by PJ Cunningham

Frank Coughlan

Living in urban Ireland is much like living in urban Anywhere. We all set our clocks to the same frenzied timetable, have similar stresses and Talk to Joe about ditto concerns. So sometimes it is no harm to remind ourselves that few can boast townie DNA that traces itself back more than a few generations.

Dev, the man who more than any other created the narrative of the early independent State, would have been very content if that rural idyll had never been breached. But it had to be, of course.

Subtitled A Treasure Trove of Stories From 50 Authors, this is a fascinating look at an Ireland that's vanishing in front of our eyes. Not only are these well-crafted vignettes of country life, but collectively they become something much more: a piece of social history.

Most of the names here will be unfamiliar and are unpractised at the art of storytelling, but that brings an honesty and intimacy to the writing, lifting this collection beyond the mere whimsical.

Not that these yarns spare farm life, either - it can be a harsh, unforgiving business - but what shines brightest is the humanity, and that comforting sense of place.

At a time when rural life is under more sustained threat than ever, these stories are a reminder of what we are carelessly throwing away. PJ Cunningham, who edited this collection, is the author of two volumes in a similar vein: The Long Acre and A Fly Never Lit (also Ballpoint Press). Together the three would make wonderful Christmas reading for recently retired IFA executives with time on their hands.

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