Wednesday 13 November 2019

River runs through

Trevor Sweeney speaks with Pat McCarrick, author of a book on the River Moy, a reworking of an old classic of the same name published in 1972 by Reverend James Greer

Pat McCarrick
Pat McCarrick

It's a truly gorgeous thing, this rare work of Pat McCarrick's; this carefully crafted and richly evocative picture book- travelogue - memoir and meditation, this "Windings of the Moy: Revisited."

In taking a much-loved and widely-read natural history book, "The Windings of the Moy ," published in 1927 by the Rev. James Greer - about the grand salmon river's journey from its source in South Sligo, to the sea at Killala - choosing select chapters and illustrating these with his own atmospheric photographs, McCarrick has performed a distinct kind of literary alchemy.

The result, which he describes as "a modern reworking and revisiting of an old book, reviving it in a fresher, more visual way," is a triumph in not alone breathing new life into something old and lovely, but also in creating something new and wonderful.

"I wanted to honour and commemorate the original work," says Pat. "It was very well known locally in Sligo and Mayo.

"Almost every home along the bank of the river had a copy. It was the only book published in those times that detailed life along the river, local place names and indeed local personalities. The book was republished in 1986 and that reproduction is still available, though copies of the 1927 book are now very rare."

Another welcome service provided by Pat's very clever restoration work is that for many people, this writer included, who don't readily think of the Moy as a Sligo river, is in reminding us that it has a long and meandering and very real presence in the lives of those who live in the South and West of the County

"Being a Sligo person, for me the Moy is one of our rivers; in a set with the Owenmore or the Garavogue, " he says. It flows in South Sligo for many miles draining the east face of the Ox Mountains for more than 40 miles.

"I was born and reared just a few hundred yards from the river. As a child I bathed in it, fished in it and saw it flood our fields when heavy rain bust it's banks. It was quite an influence in my life."

Greer helped to make the Moy famous in his time and Sligo people were very impressed with this, Pat says and he goes on to remind us that people in places like Knocknashee, Cloonacool , Aclare and Banada, which were never really written about before, were delighted with the recognition.

"It was the modern equivalent to these same localities now featuring in an international television documentary. I think this built pride and ownership for local people in the river Moy."

Celebrating the river that runs through his life has long been been a point of pride for Pat. He and his wife Rita operate their own business, Moy River B&B in Cloonacool, which also hosts regular, popular house concerts known as the Moy River Folk Club.

Both venues have attracted visitors and performers from many parts of the globe, all of whom take with them the idea of the Moy as very much a Sligo river. But it was when he came upon a rare copy of the original book that Pat's imagination was fired. It was a chance to bring some attention back to the attractions of the Moy, for sure, and restore the river's reputation within the county while also reviving the writerly delicacies of the almost 100 year old original and, further, creating it anew for today's audience.

In doing that, carefully choosing select chapters from Greer's work and pairing them with his own perfectly evocative photographs, Pat has enacted a sort of combined act of local scholarship and preservation with something utterly original from his own mind.

It takes a special kind of intimacy and respect and admiration with one's subject to create a work as distinctive as this; a work that considers a very familiar, unshowy and rather prosaic locale along the banks of the Moy and invest it with a kind of poetic beauty. The Reverend did that in his first contemplations of the place, a very twisty journey that took him some 100 miles. Greer was not a well man and the writings were, he said, to help with chronic insomnia - "written in lone hours, when man, bird and beast were buried in sleep" without any thought of publication. Thank heavens they were published then, and again here by Pat McCarrick, for we are honoured twice now with a book that is, to read, almost an act of mindfulness in itself.

Consider these impressions of the baths of Enniscrone:

"How different are the bath-houses in Enniscrone from those in puffed-up watering places - all things bright, clean and bracing...Six feet long, three feet deep each basin. Let the ma' or pa' take in the darling and bring therein a frog; let the frog be set swimming in the bath and let the darling look on in wonder...

Or these thoughts on modest, though perfect little Lough Talt, between Tubbercurry and Bonniconlon and one of Greer's favourite lakes in Ireland:

"My advice to those tired of our sea resorts and the melancholy ocean and suts and sounds of towns and cities is to turn their thoughts to Lough Talt, its boats, its fishing gear, its mountains, cliffs and gorges, and its cosy hotel, and spend a week there as a pleasing, profitable and healthful variety."

It's an usual word that, "suts, and I've never heard it. Yet, it is the perfect-sounding word for what he is describing and it's easy to feel. `Much like the rest of this perfect book, that in its words and pictures brings an elegiac quality to the great and green swathe of the Southern and Western parts of our county and on through the eternal beauty of Mayo.

It's a lovely piece of work indeed, this "Windings of the Moy: Revisited," not just put together but curated, carefully considered by Pat McCarrick - with a huge debt to Rev. James Greer 100 years ago - and Achonry-based graphic designer Jeff Kay of JDK Design, whose sharp and sensitive sense of design brings a very modern feel to the book.

With the invaluable support of Foxford Mills, one of the spots whose interesting origins are heralded in its pages, the book will be officially launched at Liber Bookshop, O'Connell St. Sligo on November 6th starting at 6:30pm.

Sligo Champion