Saturday 18 August 2018

The tale of Blind Nanny Keeffe comes to life in book

Newmarket author Paudy Scully has written his third book

Maria Herlihy

Scéals from long ago can have tendency of sliding into oblivion when one generation replaces another. But for Newmarket author and musician Paudy Scully, who now calls Germany home, he has made a spectacular, splendid habit of hearing and retaining stories from long ago and then including them in books. 

This time he stressed he has produced a slice of historical fiction which is based around a killing which did take place at Newmarket horse fair back in 1942.

There are mammoth slices of fiction, but running in conjunction to this there are characters who did exist. 

The book, 'The Prophecy of Blind Nanny Keeffe" who did hail from Glenlara just outside Newmarket and, according to the Census, lived in a one-room cottage with no windows. 

"They lived next to each other in Glenlara, and Blind Nanny Keeffe was said to be like a bean feasa, a wise woman, in that she also had the ability to heal people, and she was very religious and regarded as almost a saint. Apparently she used to walk from Glenlara to Newmarket on her own and wasn't afraid of anything. She would go into a field with bulls and wasn't afraid of dogs or anything," he said. 

The introduction to his book by a fellow Newmarket native, Tadgh Ó Croinín, who works at UCD and, like Paudy, has a fierce grá for music. 

He notes that while Paudy's previous books were set in an Ireland under foreign rule, this story is set at a time of transition when the structures of the state were still in the process of being created and the people were facing all the challenges of a new and independent Ireland. 

The story begins with a brief description of how 'Young Dan' returns from America to care for his ageing mother and decides to set up a dance hall and shebeen at Clamper cross. On a sunny Sunday evening, this dance hall is the scene of what appears, at first, to be a minor incident which quickly spirals out of control. 

At the centre of this is Jerry McMahon, a farmer from Meendorcha,  whose fate had been prophesied by a warning given to him in his youth by Blind Nanny Keeffe. 

As events escalate it becomes obvious that Jerry will not be the only one affected by the prophecy, and a diverse cast of characters are inevitably drawn into a tragic series of events which leave none unscathed. 

Paudy has spent the last four years writing this book and said the idea came to him from listening to elderly people in Duhallow telling stories. He found the task extremely difficult but interesting, as he was "trying to remember" what he had heard and then allowing his imagination to go full tilt. This is Paudy's third book and it follows on from 'I forgive Them All' and 'The Turbulent Times and Travels of Peter McAuliffe.'

To write this book while living in Germany was also a feat in itself. So how did a Sliabh Luachra man with music in his bones end up in Germany?  "I was playing music in London and met my German wife, Cristine...I moved to Germany 18 years ago, where I have been ever since," said Paudy.

The couple have two children, Benjamin (18) and Karoline (15), who are both fiddle players. The family are currently home in Newmarket on holidays. While they will sadly miss the famed Scully fest this year, Paudy vowed to be back for the 2020 session. He said his new book is going down "very well with the locals." 

The Prophecy of Blind Nanny Keeffe is on sale at Scully's bar in Newmarket for €10.