JUDY KRAVIS

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Monday, 21 September 2020

Coney Island, family history,

Sitting upstairs looking over to Rosses Point and Ben Bulben, one afternoon on tiny Coney Island in Sligo Bay, I read The Keeper by Miranda Doyle, descendant of the family who once lived in a two and a half room cottage a few yards up the road. There's a photograph of eleven of them in their Sunday best outside the cottage in the 1920s. The book is hard to read if you don't have a focus. So many people, so many names and those relationships that fall naturally as winged seeds from a tree if you are an insider.

Eventually I fitted into the picture the owner of the house where we're staying, and the author of the book, who is her niece. More obscure is the (older) woman who vowed to publish this family history, and most compelling her note, in bold typeface, about having changed the emphasis of parts of the tale, to spare living relatives. 

There is spoken testimony from family members, some of it glorious.

One house we came to. The man. He was in bed. You could see he was riven with Tuberculosis, or what we called in those days Consumption. Because of the dampness and the sheer everythingness of it.

Menfolk knew their Milton and their Shakespeare and their Shelley, even if some of the books got burned to keep the fire going. A copy of Virgil survived and now lives on a shelf in New Zealand. One at least wrote poetry, in the high literate tone that obliterates content. When literature meant something just by being as remote as possible from the dirt floor and the over and over slippery babies hitting the straw.

Babies were born onto the straw. Sometimes in houses that only had three walls, making for a lack of boundary between the inside and the out.

Just a small thing, which over time became the bricks and mortar built between people who have nothing more to say to each other.

I was not surprised to find, when I got home and googled Miranda Doyle, that she had later written a memoir called A Book of Untruths. Nothing in bold typeface here, and emphasis exactly as it should be. The sheer everythingness of it brought up to date.

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