Book review: Manhattan to West Cork: Alice’s Adventures in Ireland

ALICE CAREY’s memoir is both entertaining and thought-provoking, telling several stories. 

Alice Carey

The Collins Press €14.99

Alice is a colourful character, now in her sixties, still with her trademark flame-red hair, something of a style icon at her other home in Greenwich Village, and featuring regularly in the fashion blog Advanced Style – Older and Wiser. 

She is also a born writer, with a pleasant turn of phrase and a good ear for local expressions, who has kept a diary since the age of ten, and contributes to the Huffington Post.

At the core of her book is a lively account of how she and her husband Geoffrey bought a ruined Georgian farmhouse and stable on the Sheeps Head peninsula in West Cork in November, 1994, that had been uninhabited for some 60 years, and brought it back to life. 

With the help of a relay of local builders and tradesmen over the years they have restored it to a beautiful, comfortable home with four acres of gardens.

But unlike many other people who have had similar experiences, Alice’s decision to create a home in Ireland was also an exorcism of personal ghosts.

Her parents, Alice Slattery and Denis Carey emigrated from rural Kerry to New York, and as a teenager she and her mother made regular visits back to the Slattery family farm near Killarney.

Her Irish mother had raised Alice with Irish values and traditions, even though she grew up in New York, making home hard to identify, leading to conflicted feelings about being Irish and American. Sensibly young Alice concluded that her real home was Manhattan, not America.

Meanwhile, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, her husband Geoffrey worked for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and Alice volunteered for the same organisation. 

These were terrible times for the gay community: she tells us she stopped counting by the time 107 people she and Geoffrey knew had died of AIDS.

Then she fell ill herself, with a mysterious AIDS-like illness, but thankfully recovered.

So in 1994, she and Geoffrey, who had never wanted children, stopped and took stock of their lives. At that time they lived between a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village and a much-loved house on Fire Island. 

When Geoffrey asked where she would like to be living at the turn of the century, they both agreed on “anywhere but New York”. The first possibility they investigated was West Cork: problem solved.

The most interesting parts of the book, however, concern Alice’s adolescence. Her parent’s marriage was not a happy one, due in part to her father’s heavy drinking and bad temper. 

As she puts it, “…Carey ran away from Kerry to become the playboy of the western world, but wound up a janitor at the Radio City Music Hall.”

Home was a cold-water flat in Queens, freezing in winter and boiling in summer. To make ends meet, her mother, Big Alice, worked as a maid. 

Luckily for the young Alice, her mother’s boss was a legendary Broadway producer, Miss Dalrymple, who had a stylish town house in the Upper East Side, where Alice became the pet of a warm- hearted gay coterie, and discovered Style with a capital S.

Her happiness there contrasts sharply with awkward visits to Kerry as a teenage ‘Yank’.

Though the Slattery farmhouse, not far from Killarney, was newly built, it had no indoor plumbing and she had to “piss in a pot”, kept under the bed. 

Even worse was the need to dodge the advances of her creepy uncle, Father Bob, in the days when those with a priest in the family believed he could do no wrong.

Her story highlights how much things have changed in relatively little time, and is a pleasure to read.


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