Friday, 6 March 2020

I Wouldn't Start from Here: The Second Generation Irish in Britain

One of Headingley LitFest's contributions to the Leeds Lit Fest 2020

5 March in Headingley Library

Conrad Beck writes:
More than fifty were there in Headingley Library, all of them appreciative, plenty of them as middle-aged as my diplomatic self and most of them, at a guess, with strong links to Ireland made by memories of living there, memories of long-ago childhoods or memories of stories told by parents. How many were second generation I do not know. The evening was, of course, about identity, a nebulous concept which has interested many an essayist, a word which can stir up stark sentiments, perhaps the equivalent of the German Heimat.  

Kath McKay
Kath McKay read from the contribution to the book of  one of those essayists, Moy McCrory: 'Memory and Authenticity' is a well-researched academic exploration of 'how the role of imagination and embellishment in storytelling contributes towards how we view the past as it challenges ideas of authenticity and belonging'. Ian Duhig spoke about his outsider childhood in London, where the Catholic secondary school he attended was divided into four houses - Irish, Italian, Polish and The Rest - until the system disintegrated. His contribution, 'The Road', full of literary references, was witty and laughter-provoking, for example when he got to this:

My father had been a wrenboy in his youth but when I mentioned this at a poetry reading once, I couldn't understand why people were coming up and congratulating me for my brave revelation: eventually, one of them explained that they all thought I'd said he was a "rent boy". 

Ray French spoke about his upbringing in England, his father's permanent state of rage at leaving behind a rural past by the sea where the most common meal was fish and potatoes, and the conflict about his identity:

Ray French
My mother however was delighted when I lost my accent. When I was eighteen she told me I was English.
    'How could I be English? I was born in Wales, you and dad are Irish. Where's the English in that?'
    'But you speak properly, not like me and your dad.' 

Teresa O'Driscoll
He compared the Irish to the Poles and the Italians.

The fiddle music before the first and second halves was provided by the brilliant Des Hurley and the equally brilliant young Owen Spafford. Teresa O'Driscoll sang a little (why so little?) and wore the best hat in the room.

All the books in a small consignment from the publisher (why so small?) were sold out in about thirty seconds. You can buy it online, published by Wild Geese Press in 2019.

Des Hurley and Owen Spafford listening, Ian Duhig speaking

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