The 32: An Anthology of Irish Working-Class Voices Edited by Paul McVeigh Unbound, €12.5 0
The 32 voices in this anthology are truly diverse, culled from all corners of our island. Some, like Roddy Doyle, June Caldwell or Paul McVeigh himself, are established writers. Others are new to writing or better known for other endeavours.
While they all share a working-class background, their voices and the memories they chose to share here couldn’t be more distinct. Singling out pieces as deserving of special praise seems churlish. If space permitted a mention would be made of each one of these gems.
Broadcaster Rick O’Shea kicks off with his energetic and upbeat memoir in verse ‘Two-Word Terms’, describing his upbringing in Crumlin, Dublin. He mulls over what it means to be working-class – a theme for many of the contributors.
June Caldwell’s ‘Geepads’ is spiky and funny, a treat from start to finish. Lisa McInerney’s exploration of her background – adopted and brought up by her grandparents, is thought-provoking and moving. “How strange to have parents who don’t want to admit your relationship. It’s one of those things it doesn’t pay to think about that much.”
Some pieces call to be read and re-read. ‘Revelations’ by Dave Lordan, a captivating account of when a clatter of new-age travellers landed in the Fairfield in Clonakilty, is one of these.
“The most shocking of the emerging stories held that one of these suddenly arrived, dreadlocked, Doc Marten-ed, combat-trousered wild ones had flashed his long, thick, swingable cock at a neighbour from some clearing in the midst of their bizarre and (to all our eyes, my own included) alien encampment.”
The great and good of Clon are agitated by the new arrivals but the people of the Bog Road, who claim moral ownership of the Fairfield, feel some affinity with these outsiders.
Rosaleen McDonagh’s ‘Nostalgia’ is a tender insight into what it means to be a Traveller in modern Ireland – the othering, the devastating cruelty of the State. “Us, with our aggravated history of misunderstanding and hostility, always the objects of the settled gaze.”
Kevin Barry, in ‘The Gaatch’, referring to his time as a court reporter in Limerick, points out “I can’t remember ever hearing a working-class defendant’s word taken over the word of a guard.”
Martin Doyle’s voice rings clear and true in ‘Dirty Linen’ – another piece to be read over and over. “Catholics did not have to join the IRA or Sinn Féin to pose a threat. Seeking to advance socially or economically was subversive enough.”
Each piece absolutely deserves its place here. The 32 is an insightful, funny and touching collection, with a range of voices and viewpoints that must be heard.