Longford Leader Columnist Mattie Fox: Memories of bygone days in Seán’s great book never to return

Mattie Fox

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Mattie Fox

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Longford Leader Columnist Mattie Fox: Memories of bygone days in Seán’s great book never to return

Writer Seán Ó Súilleabháin with Brid Sullivan and Colm Ginty. Photo: Michelle Ghee.

Seán O’Súilleabháin hails from Aughakine, Colmcille. His memories of that time, growing up, are written in his new book - a social history - called ‘Under the Thatch: Memories of a Longford Childhood’.

We attended the launch - or more accurately, the second of three launches - in Longford Library on Wednesday night last.

The real full scale launch was in Colmcille the following night.

We’d have loved to be there, but a previous appointment had to dictate.

The first launch was in Leitrim the previous night.

The opening was performed by Longford County archivist Martin Morris who was naturally well informed.

The next speaker was Longford Municipal District Cathaoirleach, Cllr Seamus Butler, again a Leitrim native, who spoke compellingly, and was very focused and sharp. He recounted how society growing up in Leitrim was just like Sean’s.

The launch proper was handled by Mary Carleton Reynolds, a very fitting and engaging choice.

Mary referred to her times long ago, knowing Seán, and how she was a Leitrim woman being librarian in Longford, while Seán was a Longford man who became librarian in Leitrim.

Mary is a wonderful person, who gives a great deal of time to preserving the status of the library, and since it came under her wing has grown from strength to strength.

She’s one of those people who has perfected the art of making haste slowly. A neat trick to pull off. She’s always really busy, yet, manages to cover every inch of the library, without ever seeming fussed. A rare art to perfect.

Her introduction to Seán was marvellous, sincere, and genuinely interested in, and by, what he had written.

Seán was a riveting presence.

Someone remarked that he was like John McGahern in his gentility, in an unaffected but compelling language.

It caused me to recall McGahern, speaking at one of his own launches, and telling how when The Dark was banned, he lost his job teaching.

One of the main people in the INTO was talking to him and said that “ah sure it wasn’t thoul’ book at all, it was more that you married that wan - a foreigner, when the tongues of local girls were crying out for a man”. McGahern added, “none of the tongues were pointing in my direction”.

This was the nature of the author's talk.

Seán was humorous, most enjoyable, punctuated by hearty laughter.

He’s articulate, with a great wry sense of humour. He told the real Irish story, which when related simply, can be very compelling.

He could have gone on for hours, and still he’d hold the people in the palm of his hand.

He told stories that were almost unbelievable, but absolutely true to life, as lived in those times of the 1950s and ‘60s.

His entire book is concerned with facts and recollections from those far away, bygone days. Now changed irrevocably, never to return.

At times he comes across provocatively such as his comments on the demise of dancehalls.

“The local dance hall was an incredible institution which has no parallel today. Of course there was no alcohol then, but you could smoke all you wanted. Nowadays, in a strange turn of events, you cannot smoke, but can drink ‘til you drop.”

Leaving a question loudly unanswered.

The book is a project of great love and care, mirroring Seán’s own attachment to the times, and life in Aughakine. Younger people will be astonished at some of the true facts contained in the book.

I’d encourage young people to read this book.

For me, it’s a great record, told in unaffected, unassuming language, of a period that was steeped in innocence, not all good, not all bad, that has been overturned by an out of control tsunami seeking perpetual modernity.

Funny, how our great preoccupation about being slavish and downtrodden, has become a stick to beat us with, and has instead turned us into an even more slavish people than ever before.

Everybody is afraid to say what they think.

This is an important book, of a time when rural Ireland was populated by a different species, but can now be seen in the context of what Ireland has become.