At the halfway point of the century, rural Ireland in 1950 was very much a world in transition. The hard years of that decade marked the beginning of the end for the rhythms and rituals of an isolated village and country life. In two vignettes, Cyril Kelly—born in Listowel in 1945—here recalls those years with a divided heart. "October Fair" evokes the charmed excitement of an annual cattle-trading day, a carnival-like occasion that called together the farmers from surrounding parishes as well as the hucksters, peddlers, and local characters that naturally followed the event. "The Cure," in contrast, notes the sheer vulnerability that was a fact of life in his youth—a time when a common disease like ringworm infestation could be treated only with folk medicine and with prayer. Cyril Kelly is a regular contributor to RTÉ radio, and his memoir pieces often appear in the "Sunday Miscellany" feature.
The role of violence in Irish life has lately, and belatedly, begun to attract the attention of historians. In this issue, Dr. Maria Luddy considers an extraordinary aspect of this history in nineteenth-century Ireland —the practice of carrying off women in order to compel a marriage. Almost always a naked attempt to secure the woman's fortune, abductions were harrowing experiences in themselves—and frequently involved the further terror of rape. Luddy's exhaustive study leaves no doubt that abductions were much more widespread across all classes than has been generally believed. And though a crime, in the majority of cases the abductors and their associates were acquitted or never brought to trial, usually owing to intimidation and the need for the woman to prove she had resisted. Maria Luddy is a prolific scholar of Irish women's history. She is one of the co-editors of the Field Day Anthology's two volumes of Irish women's writings, and her many books include Prostitution and Irish Society, 1800-1940 (2007).
Across six collections of poetry, Paula Meehan (b. 1955) has, as Dr. Kathryn Kirkpatrick remarks, always taken a "multileveled" approach to her writing. Our [End Page 5] present ecological crisis, and its links to gender and economic imbalances, stand as two of the deep contexts in which to read her poems. Kirkpatrick discovers that Meehan's work is (surprisingly, for a definitively urban poet) replete with garden imagery. As she tracks the trope of the garden through Meehan's oeuvre, Kirkpatrick finds that the image evolves: the gardens in her early work speak of colonialism and exploitation, while in later collections, "Meehan's transformed garden relations involve restoring the full range of human capacities to both women and men, a change that allows for a broadly human partnership and reciprocity with non-human nature." The author of six books of poetry, Kathryn Kirkpatrick contributed to the 2009 special issue of An Sionnach on Paula Meehan and has lately written on animals in the works of Maud Gonne. Her long poem about Gonne, "Her Small Hands Were Not Beautiful," will be performed this summer at the Yeats Summer School.
The characteristic playfulness and wit of poet Tony Curtis will shine through again in his next collection Pony, a collaborative effort with painter Dave Lilburn to appear later this year from Occasional Press. Each of the three dozen poems in his new book departs from the image, or sometimes simply the name, of the Connemara pony. In this selection for New Hibernia Review, Curtis becomes a shape-shifter of the familiar. In "Old Books and Riverbanks," six speakers struggle for the words to describe the animal's smell. Elsewhere, Curtis gives us the pony as the subject matter of an admiring "Artist on the Bog"; as a loved member of a family in "Naming the Ponies"; and in "Pony Time"—in which "They hunker down and just get though"—we meet the pony as an icon of endurance. Tony Curtis is the author of eleven books, and a member of Aosdána, the Irish academy of creative artists.
The titles of early children's books are apt to strike present-day readers as quaint, didactic, or just plain boring: a good example would be Learning Better...