Saturday, March 3, 2012

An Irish country childhood

To School Through the Fields, Alice Taylor

The subtitle of this book is "An Irish country childhood."  I used to collect books about Ireland, under the influence of Maeve Binchy and Maura Laverty, as well as the books Niall Williams & Christine Breen wrote about moving from New York to a small town in County Clare in the 1980s.  But it's only with the TBR challenge that I got around to reading this book, which according to the cover is "the biggest bestseller in Ireland's history" (it also features an admiring blurb from Maeve Binchy).  I see from googling Alice Taylor that she has published four other volumes of memoirs, as well as novels and poetry.

Taylor sets out the theme and tone of the book in the first chapter:
"This is the story of a childhood. In its day it was an ordinary childhood but, with the changing winds of time, now it could never be. . . Ours was a large family in a close-knit rural community that was an extension of our home. . . The old were never alone as the neighbors joined hands around them and the young, too, were included in the circle. . . Sharing was taken for granted, from the milk in the winter when some cows went dry, to the pork steak and the puddings when the pig was killed.  Work was also shared . . . So please come back with me, to where we had time to be children and life moved at a different pace."
Taylor, who was born in 1938, is writing about the Ireland of the 1940s.  Her book is less an autobiography or memoir than a series of anecdotes, linked by her blank verse poems.  She tells stories of her family and neighbors, of work on the farm, of her mother's cooking, of school and church.  Hers was a happy childhood and this is a serene book.  Her family was not rich.  Everyone worked hard on the farm, whose crops and animals provided much of the family's food.  The detailed descriptions of the farm work reminded me of Maura Laverty and Flora Thompson.  One section about her father's moving machine, with its gleaming "diamond-shaped edges called sections," took me straight back to Laura Ingalls Wilder and A Long Winter, where Laura and Carrie go to town to buy a new section after Pa breaks one in the mowing.

To me, much of this felt like familiar ground, and the anecdotes seemed unconnected, even by chronology.  I can understand though how this would appeal to many people as a warm and nostalgic look at country life and childhood.


  1. I usually like books about farming, small towns, etc, but the structure of this book sounds like it might put me off. It does sound good, though.
    Your mention of the Little House books reminds me that I need to start reading them. I am about 99.9% sure I will love the series so I don't know what I am waiting for!

  2. Oh, Anbolyn, you haven't read the Little House books? that brings out all the book evangelist in me!

    Alice Taylor clearly struck a chord with a lot of people, since this book sold so very well and she went on to write others - it might be just your cup of tea.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!