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A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghroífa

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Memoir

By Grace O’Reilly

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This book was published in 2020, by Tramp Press, and won the ‘An Post Book of the Year’ award, as well as being shortlisted for ‘Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year by Odgers Berndtson, in association with ‘The Irish Business Post’, and shortlisted by ‘TheJournal.ie’ for ‘Best Irish-Published Book of the Year’.

Love and loss, as well at the Irish language, history and feminism are all dealt with in this book.  The tale itself is centred around the lives of two woman, one of them being the historical poet and Irish noble woman, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, from the 1700’s, and the writer Doireann herself, living her life in modern day Ireland in county Cork.

The writer first came across the famous poem or Keen/Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire when she was a distracted child in the classroom.  The Caoineadh is at the end of the book, both in the original Irish language and also translated into the modern-day English language.  A Caoineadh deals with the dead and is considered to have poetic elements set to vocalise sorrow and grief passionately.  In this book, we not only see Eibhlín’s pain, but Doireann makes us readers feel the pain, and sorrow and loss and love and despair and injustice throughout the book, from the first page through to the last.  A Keen also deals with the tale from a genealogical aspect of the deceased and praises the deceased, while emphasising the turmoil and heartache that is left instilled in the living, in the form of grief.

Doireann became intrigued with the Caoineadh, and of the life of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, experiencing both, in her earlier years up until she wrote the book.  She really got down to studying and investigating her curiosity with Eibhlín and the Caoineadh, on her third child.  Eibhlín seems to disappear off the radar and it tells of how the writer searches on what happened to Eibhlín and where she ended up, as well as dissecting every inch of the Caoineadh to Art O’Leary.  She goes to extremes to find information, borrowing a friend’s college ID to gain access to a library, travelling to places with her small children in tow, and reading and writing while her family sleeps.  She was certainly dedicated.

The Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire tells the story of how a young Eibhlín fell in love with Art O’Leary and ran away with him to wed.  It tells the story of their children, the story of Art’s murder and of Eibhlín’s sorrow and anger, it tells the story of her pain and the curses she bestows on his murderer and others.

Balance is ongoing, running throughout the book and trying to manage it.  In between both women’s lives in the early 1900’s was the Irish Literary Movement which dealt with translating works from English to Irish, and vice versa.  The balance for equality for men and women, the balance of language and having both Irish and English, the balance between living in the here and now versus the 1700’s, the balance of dealing with love and hate, the balance of dealing with joy and sorrow, the balance of day and night, the balance of dealing with dark and light, the balance of dealing with pleasure and pain, the balance between justice and injustice, the balance of having morals and being immoral and the balance between black and white.  Life is usually many shades of grey.

This book is dedicated to all women, everywhere, and from all times.  It is dedicated to the hard work that women did hundreds of years ago, and still do today.  Thankfully in Ireland, as well as many other places around the World, how women are seen, treated and portrayed have evolved for the better, resulting with woman having more rights, openness about their feelings, bodies, their dreams and desires.  Women are seen as more than just a baby factory, birthing machines and feeding vessels.   Although the fact that woman can do all of them things, but now by choice rather than forced by the ways of older times, is amazing, beautiful and a wonder.  We are all wonder women.

The writer was interested in biology and the workings of bodies both male and female, before taking a different career path in literature.  For us readers, it was a blessing that Doireann decided to do so, because she writes from the heart with such passion, it is conveyed to readers, and not having her share her work would be a truly tragic waste of talent.  Through her short medical studies, she discovered fascinating facts about placenta’s, DNA and the next generation.

At one-point, Doireann writes about a cardigan that was knitted by her mum for her child, “a female text in which every stitch is a syllable”.  A woman’s hands were used to cook, and sew, knead bread, soothe children, feed, wash, clean and nurse, not to mention knit and write, weaving words of history and feminism, still done now in 2021, and for future generations to come.   However, Eibhlín came from a time where women were just for baby making and domestic purposes, a time where woman couldn’t dream to be a doctor or a writer by professional means, although woman were cooks, and cleaners, and nurses and seamstress and more in their household, but only ever in their household, never as a profession, and they were never seen as anything more than that.  The fact that Doireann is an established writer would be such a huge thing to Eibhlín, as she would not have been a writer in her time, but through Doireann, Eibhlín has become one, as she has her Caoineadh at the end of the book and gives Eibhlín’s tale a voice, hence the ghost of Eibhlín is in Doireann’s head and voiced in words in this book.  Another, huge fact to mention is that Doireann writes in several areas throughout the book, ‘A Female Text’, because to Eibhlín in her lifetime that would never have even been a thought, never mind a real thing.

One last note on Fiachra McCarthy’s cover design.  They say to “never judge a book by its cover”, however do very much so, on this occasion, as the beautiful cover design that was done by Fiachra, does himself as an artist and Doirean’s writing justice.  The art and words combined work as well as strawberries and cream accompaniment.  The black background with the green leaves and brightly coloured flowers contrasts beautifully, showing the gap between the living and the dead.  The inside cover is a lovely olive green, contrasting from the black background on the outside cover, and it is nice the way that the inside cover flips, as a makeshift bookmark.

(c) Grace O’Reilly

Order your copy online here.

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