Call Mother a Lonely Field

Liam Carson
Hag’s Head; €12.99

THE notion of tearmann, or sanctuary, is central to this moving memoir from Belfast man Liam Carson. As director of IMRAM, the Irish Language Festival, he has a strong-rooted connection to the language and, as evidenced in this short book, it is central to his being. Irish becomes his family’s sanctuary as an antidote to authority.

It is a window on a simpler world of existence eked out on the rocky shorelands of Donegal.

Beginning from his early years growing up in Belfast, through to his university days in Dublin and on to his life as a father, the language is synonymous with identity. His father’s influence is everywhere – encouraging his own family in discovering new words, providing lists of verb endings for neighbours.

Love of his parents is resilient throughout. And he empathises, at a distance, with the unbearable suffering they endured during the Troubles.

This era forms a hellish counterpoint to an idyllic pre-war existence where the family lived happily in Andersonstown. Trips to the market were enlivened by visits to the Smithfield Market and its bookshops. There he discovered books about UFOs and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Adulthood arrives prematurely with the news that the market has been burned to the ground.

Like most of his peers, Carson looked to America for his inspiration and an alternative fictive world. The Marvel comic creations of Conan shone a light on another world, not too unlike the Celtic mythological landscape inhabited by an earlier set of superheroes, Fionn MacCumhaill and Cú Cuhulainn.

The description of his mother’s final days contain some of the most moving passages of familial grief in recent Irish memoirs. In the midst of intense pain, black humour shines. As his mother lies dying, his brother is enjoined to “stop roaring like a big eejit”.

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