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Singer/songwriter’s second novel reveals courage and hope despite Great Hunger

The genre doesn’t seem to matter, because Declan O’Rourke is simply a master storyteller; whether it’s through his music or as a novelist, it is his ability to breathe life into a story that captures the imagination every time.

The Dubliner – long domiciled in his ancestral neck of the woods in Kinvara – is, of course, best known as a singer/songwriter whose debut album Since Kyabram was a huge success back in 2004.

The album’s stand-out track, Galileo, was famously cited by the Modfather himself, Paul Weller, as the song he most wished he’d written from the past twenty years.

Arrivals, Declan’s most recent release, was his eighth album – and to square the circle, it was produced by Weller, who remains a huge admirer of his work.

But even then a parallel world had emerged as the songsmith turned to another kind of writing.

He didn’t pick an easy subject for what will turn out to be a trilogy – the second of which, A Whisper from Oblivion, was launched last week at Kenny’s Bookshop.

But the way he sees it, he didn’t so much choose to write about the famine as much as the Great Hunger found him.

The first trigger was when the family discovered that Declan’s grandfather, Miko Killeen, was born in the workhouse in Gort.

Miko features in the beautiful Stars Over Kinvara from Declan’s Arrivals album, with the image of him cycling home to the village from Galway on starlit nights as one of three magical moments for different generations of the one family, along with his own arrival and that of his new-born baby boy into the place he has always felt so at home.

Shortly after discovering his grandfather’s birth story, he says he ‘stumbled upon’ a book, the Workhouses of Ireland by John O’Connor.

“And on page one was an account of the Ua Buachalla family where it spoke of the man who carried his wife home from the workhouse, mile after weary mile, to their old home and he was found the next morning dead with his wife’s feet held to his chest as if he’d been trying to warm them,” says Declan.

“That was so powerful, it was the most tragically beautiful thing I’d ever heard – in spite of this horror and tragedy what this man had managed with the last warmth of his body; it was a triumph that was greater than the horror,” he said.

Photo: Declan O’Rourke at the launch of his latest novel in Kenny’s bookstore last week. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

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