Sunday, April 19, 2009
Before the Dawn in Erin
In Dun Laoghaire recently with a little time to spare I visited Naughton's Bookshop. A real old fashioned secondhand bookshop like those I remembered on the Dublin Quays in the sixties. A great variety of books on sale and I found and bought a copy of Before the Dawn in Erin by Daniel C Devine (1860-1942). This 308 page novel was published by James Duffy & Co., Dublin in 1913 and ran to a second edition in 1914.
The author was a teacher in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo and had previously published a book of stories called Faithful Ever; and Other Tales. The book is dedicated to the author's brother Matthew J Devine who was Parish Priest of Killoran, Co Sligo in the years 1910-1922 and PP of Mullinabreena 1922-1949. At least one of my uncles got his first confession and first communion from him. The same uncle was taught by a Kevin Devine who may have been a son or nephew of the author.
The novel deals with tenant landlord relations in Sligo in the 1840s and in particular how important the attitude of the agent was in determining the wellbeing or otherwise of the tenants. It reads very old fashioned now full of comely maidens and hardworking peasant youths. There are two priests in the story, both exemplerary assistants to the tenants. One is anxious to placate the agent while the other, younger, questions the whole basis of the land system.
The new agent is the absent landlord's son who has got a girl in trouble in England and has fled to Sligo to escape the consequences. He come to no good end and is killed in Monte Carlo at the end of the novel. Though set in the early 1840s there is no sense of the coming disaster of the famine.
An interesting read, though the language is irritatingly stage Irish. It is not without humour, one character is given to illustrate every statement he makes with a Shakesperian quotation.
The full text is available as an ebook here but I don't actually expect you to read it! Here's a taste: "Nora O'Rorke - dark-eyed Nora, as she was called - was a winsome colleen, and those who knew her were not suprised that Hugh's heart could not withstand the witching influence of her dark and lustrous eyes. Typically Irish, she was sprightly and vivacious; but remarkable withal for that child-like bashfulness which lends a peculiar charm to our peasant maids." Enough?