What did I expect when I started to read this? Truth be told, I wanted to see how much of the man was left when politics was removed from the situation. I wanted to see if politics COULD even be removed from the situation. I was curious and having heard Michael Healy-Rae speak on occasion in the Dail, I was often struck by how intelligent and eloquent he is, if I didn’t always agree with what he was saying. To review his book, is to review him as a man, because both are inextricably linked.
The book is written in a very enjoyable succession of anecdotes peppered with the wit and honesty of a Kerryman. The strength of him as a politician and the secret, if there can be a secret, behind his enduring likeability in his constituency is surely his ability to make and maintain life-long friends who form an essential part of the fabric of the book. Each chapter tells the unique stories of these friends and what emerges is a Kilgarvan man, with a strong sense of community running through his veins.
A narrative weaves through the book as Michael Healy-Rae is portrayed, canvassing door to door in all weathers. He described his father, the late Jackie Healy-Rae as being very forward-thinking, proposing the introduction of a nudist beach in Ballybunion and the establishment of edible takeaway containers to reduce waste. All of these recollections are written in a Kerry dialect and heavily humorous. Yet, there is a very clever method behind these recollections as they serve to portray a very political family in an accessible way that offers an inside into the Dail from a Kerryman’s perspective.
A meeting was held in Dublin, which called for the attendance of then Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Leo Varadkar and other government officials. Healy-Rae recalls sandwiches being served in lieu of hot food. On complaining, a tender was issued for hot food providers, which meant a lot of hungry politicians. “Put out the tender? For the lunch? No wonder the country is fecked.”
While this book may be a smart political decision, it is unquestionably an invaluable cultural resource. Voices from rural Ireland are found on every single page of the book; from Dermot Callaghan, owner of the Failte Bar, Killarney who carried a drunken woman who fell in his hotel, across the road to a neighbouring hotel so he wouldn’t be sued for the damages; to Bertha, Ireland’s oldest cow who celebrated her 48th birthday with a pint of Guinness in the local with Joe Duffy. This string of individual narratives knit together to paint rural Ireland, the small communities who continue to uphold and embrace a traditional Ireland.
I picked up this book expecting to hate it, I picked it up curiously but I put it down feeling enlightened and immensely reminded of the importance of human connection. In a world of busy jobs and lives and where there never seems to be enough hours in the day, that connection can be forgotten and with it, an entire culture. A man shaped by a lifetime of politics, shaped by rural communities and regularly followed by controversy concludes his book with a quote (from himself!) “On average, a person will see 30,000 mornings. Don’t waste one of them.”
A controversial man, perhaps, but this collection of witty and poignant anecdotes and recollections was beautifully written and will serve in years to come as a captured history of rural Ireland.
(c) Dymphna Nugent
Dymphna Nugent blogs at The Book Nook on Facebook
Order your copy of A Listening Ear here.