The News from Ireland


Because I feel bereft of words at the moment I am borrowing from the heading of this blog post from William Trevor’s short story collection The News from Ireland. Here is a 1986 review of the book from Los Angeles Times where Richard Eder says it best: “William Trevor makes being Anglo-Irish a universal condition, like the sweet futility of Chekhov’s gentry, or Conrad’s secret sharer.”

And that’s where we’ve been in our “universal condition” these days, and I’ve returned home to Los Angeles feeling like – as I wrote my sister-in-law, Eppie, yesterday – a citizen of the world instead of one of only Birmingham or Los Angeles – the two places I fly back and forth between several times a year, dog and daughter as my traveling companions.

But speaking of citizens of the world, Eppie and her husband, Ergun, are in Istanbul right now, and I’m thinking of them as I write this blog with word of bridges closing and coup attempts. Why has the world become such a scary place these days from Nice to Orlando to Baton Rouge to our crazy political landscape?

That’s why it feels like words are so useless, but then I think of the poem, “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith making the rounds now:

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful

* * *

We began our journey to England and Ireland on the last day of June London in Kensington where Kiffen’s sister, Eppie, lives with her husband, Ergun, and their daughter, Emily, but only Ergun was in town, so we got to catch up with him and his adventures. We then took the train from Kings Cross Station to Leeds to Saltaire (David Hockney and Bronte country) and spent four days in Yorkshire with our friends, Tony and Sally, celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, which I described in an earlier blog except for our day on the moors, which I’ll be writing about soon.

And then it was three days in Ireland, which was entirely too short too. Sigh. I’d like to go back again with and record interviews and spend real time in Malin Head, Donegal where my relatives are from on my paternal great-grandmother’s side.

The first picture was taken by my uncle, Michael Madden, in 1978. It was the last photograph he took of Malin Head before they left to visit more of Ireland, according to my cousin, Tricia Kelly. The second picture is one of the first pictures I took after arriving in Malin Head. Below in the frame is the cemetery where many of the McLaughlins are buried at Saint Mary’s Church or Lagg Chapel as Cousin Sally called it.

Malin Head circa 1978 and 2016.

In these two pictures, Michael, the much better photographer, got more of the water, but it’s pretty close to the same view, and I didn’t know it until another cousin, Patricia McLaughlin pointed it out, and I could see the cemetery in both pictures.

Tricia wrote the following about our great grandmother “Mommadear” (I guess it was all one word.)

“Amazing how things look so much the same-I was there 38 years ago and still so beautiful! Must have looked very much the same when our great grandmother and her family were there-my grandmother said that her mother told her how she used to go sit on the rocks to let her hair dry after she washed it-overlooking the coast, I think. Also said that “Mommadear” had pierced her ears without telling her mother, who discovered it when she was combing her daughter’s hair and the comb caught in the thread through her ear lobe…….”

Michael, an art major and a graduate of Notre Dame University, died six months after he took the picture in a suicide, which sent me to go find the Big Mickeys in Malin Head in 1982/1983 when I was an exchange student in England at Manchester University. He was only 22, five years older than me at the time, and his loss rocked me to the core of everything I’d ever known (which wasn’t much at 17.) So I wanted to go see things he loved, and Ireland was a place that Michael loved very much.

Here is one of Michael’s paintings that hangs in our home in Los Angeles. He painted it from a black and white photograph of a neighbor in Washington DC. I think the neighbor had been a boxer and then a butcher, but memory is strange but I know it was from a black and white photograph. It was Michael’s senior art project at Notre Dame, and his studio was in the old Field House by the practice football field.

michael's painting.JPG

painting of Michael closer view.JPG

A better view when it was at our old place.

* * *

And here below is a picture of when I found of the Big Mickeys of Malin Head that Christmas of 1982 and one that Michael took of Tricia and the family in 1978. The last picture is of Michael that summer of 1978 in Ireland, but I’m not sure if it’s Malin Head or not.

Just a word about this picture – I showed up with my friend, Susan, on December 22nd or thereabouts with no warning or letter or anything and said, “I’m a cousin from a America,” and Hugh, the man on the far left who was out chopping wood or peat, called back to the house, “A cousin from America!” And I was welcomed into this home where Ellen and Hugh and their eight children lived along with Aunt Rose.

Kerry with Big Mickeys.jpg

Tricia with Big Mickeys

Michael Madden in Ireland

* * *

Here is my favorite Cousin Sally story. Her daughter is Bex or Becky, and at our night at the pub in Malin Head, I asked her, “What’s Becky’s full name?”

Sally and Becky both exchanged glances in the pub over our drinks, mine a hot Irish whiskey for old times sakes, since that was my drink back in 1982 Malin Head. Sally said, “Well, it’s Rebecca Sarah,” and Becky said, “And Bridget.” And then Sally told the story of Becky’s baptism in which the Irish priest said something like, “Sure I won’t be baptizing this baby seeing that you’ve given her two Jewish names. Rebecca and Sarah. But as it’s the feast of Saint Bridget, you can add the name Bridget and then I’ll be baptizing the baby.”

So Becky’s name is “Rebecca Sarah Bridget Toland.”

I love the story. To me it sounds like the opening of William Trevor story, and I can imagine Sally as a young mother at Saint Mary’s with a baby in her arms, surrounded by family and the priest offering his Irish decree to add Bridget to Becky’s name.

And here are some more pictures of the Big Mickey McLaughlins, including the newest members: Triplets 🙂


Kara, Finn, Soairse (I think those are the names)

Big Mickeys 2016

With much of the family in Malin Head on Ellen’s birthday. Ellen is grandmother in pink.

With Sally and Charlie.JPG

With Charlie and Sally at the waterfalls near the Rusty Nail pub.

Kiffen, Sean, Charlie

Kiffen, Sean, and Charlie at Farrens in Malin Head

star wars and malin head

They shot the last scene of “Star Wars” in Malin Head (I’ll have to watch it now) 🙂

Kiffen and Becky dancing

Kiffen and Becky dancing at last call 🙂

Sally’s neighbor and friend, Sean, whose completely rebuilt his thatched cottage and it’s so lovely. He plays Santa for kids of Donegal.

* * *

And here I thought I was bereft of words, but that’s enough for now. I have to get the writing oiled up again. I’ve been in listening and wandering mode with Kiffen the last two weeks and still in jetlag now wondering what time it is in LA, Alabama, New York, the United Kingdom, and Turkey where I keep checking for news from Eppie.

Whatever time it is, it’s time to start getting the words down again, but for now here are little short movies from the pub quiz in Ireland to a visit to the Famine Village to the lowing cattle to a walk through Nottinghill that capture Ireland and then England and no words are needed at all.

The pub quiz raised over 300 pounds for the local school and got started around ten pm. We didn’t get home until 2:00 and Sally made bacon and egg sandwiches at 3:00 am.

And the next day it was time to go to the Doagh Famine Village.

This docent is describing making whiskey or potcheen.

This docent is describing evictions.

These cattle woke us up one morning right outside our window.

This was our last walk on in Malin Head.


And I will close with Elif Shafak and her beautiful Ted Talk where she says:

“In the end, stories move like whirling dervishes, drawing circles beyond circles. They connect all humanity, regardless of identity politics, and that is the good news. And I would like to finish with an old Sufi poem: ‘Come, let us be friends for once; let us make life easy on us; let us be lovers and loved ones; the earth shall be left to no one.'”


5 thoughts on “The News from Ireland

  1. Hope you get to go back to Malin Head and write stories about your relatives and this place, surely, a great source of inspiration for you and a wonderful place to hang out (there must be a grant of some sort?). And i liked the story of the Jewish names, which makes me wonder are there any Jews in Ireland? And very sad about your talented cousin, I didn’t know this when I looked at that painting in your house, I know I would have looked closer if I had.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Charlotte. I’m already thinking of ways to go back next summer and rent a place to write. I was unprepared to be so inspired by the landscape. I had just wanted Kiffen to see it, and he loved it too. I wonder if there are Jews in Ireland. I don’t know. Now I want to know. xxoo


  2. Yes. There Are Jews. In fact Dublin had a very popular Jewish Mayor in the ’80’s and don’t forget Bloom the main character in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Ireland had opened its doors to Jews following several purges in Russia in the early ’30’s


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