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Joyce Carol Oates – author with amazing insight into human frailty



Date Published: {J}

by Bernie Ní Fhlatharta

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most prolific writers in the United States and is one of the featured guests at this year’s Cúirt Festival.

She has written fifty novels but when Oprah Winfrey picked her 1996 novel, We Were the Mulvaneys for her bookclub, Oates became a household name all over the Western world.

It may or may not have been Oprah’s influence that led me to the book but I do remember I bought it in Charlie Byrnes Bookshop.

It was a bulky tome with a soft focus photograph of a rural homestead with barns and outhouses on the cover. It was instantly appealing as I was going through a phase of reading American modern literature.

We Were the Mulvaneys is the story of an ordinary family whose good life is destroyed by a tragic incident involving the daughter. Their world unravels slowly and sadly in this completely enthralling story.

This is one of those books that stays with you for a long time. The characters were so real, they could have been a family we all know, anywhere.

Though none of the other novels by her that I read left the same impression, all her work can be classified as modern literature. Although it has garnered her many prizes, it is a mystery why she hasn’t received the acclaimed Pulitizer Prize by now, or the Nobel Prize for Literature, which many critics believe she should get.

The latest book by her (her 57th) in Irish shops is Little Bird of Heaven and is another study of a family devastated by another type of tragedy. Again, the characters are so richly drawn that you feel you know them well by the end of the book.

It is set in Sparta, a mythical town in New York and the story is told in two halves by the two teenage characters. The author’s insight into human frailty is her specialty.

The pace is slow and the detail is incredible but well worth the read as the tragedy of an injustice unfolds. It is a very good read and evidence that Oates is still at her peak.

At 71, Oates still travels the world to attend literature festivals and readings and her soft voice and small stature is at odds with her strong subject choices.

Basically, she writes about family everyday struggles, human weaknesses and lost love. Miseries in other words, which should make her even more popular in Ireland!

Joyce Carol Oates has taught in the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she met and married a fellow graduate, Raymond J Smith, who became a professor of 18th century literature. In the seventies they founded The Ontario Review, a literary magazine and the following decade developed an independent publishing house of the same name. He died two years ago and last year Ms Oates remarried.

She published her first novel at 26 and has devoted her life to the written word since, for which she has won almost every literature award in the US.

She has also written novellas and short stories as well as several children’s books and has used the pseudonyms Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly for her thrillers.

She doesn’t do telephone interviews so there was no opportunity to speak with her before she gives her reading in the Town Hall Theatre on Saturday at 1pm on April 24 with fellow writer James Lasdun. But it should be a treat, and anyone who hasn’t yet read a Joyce Carol Oates book is also in for a treat – 57 of them actually.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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