Book review: Liffey Green Danube Blue — The Musical Life and Loves of László Gede

EIBHLÍN Mac Máighstir Gede begins her biography of her late husband, László Gede, by praising the unsung heroism of quiet lives, the extraordinariness of the ordinary, which can give hope and courage to others. 

Eibhlín Mac Máighstir Gede, with Antoinette Walker

Merrion Press €24.99

László’s life was one such, she claims. 

She is far too modest to add that she too has had moments of heroism in her life. By writing her husband’s biography, she has also written her own story, and it will resonate with many Irishwomen.

Eibhlín was born in 1945 and grew up in a terraced house off Dublin’s South Circular Road.

Her father was an electrician with CIE, and her mother, a Maddison from Donegal, took in paying guests. 

It was a religious, Irish-speaking household with a blue light at the altar to the Blessed Virgin Mary and a red light before the Sacred Heart.

László was born in 1915 in eastern Hungary, into a Calvinist family. 

His father worked as a clockmaker for the Hungarian State Railway, and his mother was from a farming background.

His father taught him carving and metalwork, hoping his son would become an engineer, but his heart was set on a musical career. 

Military service allowed him to escape to Budapest, where he took up the clarinet.

László was talented, hard working and resourceful, and became a clarinetist at the State Opera House, while running his own jazz band, and building his own house. 

Thrift and hard work were consistent characteristics all his life. He was active in the resistance, and survived the siege of Budapest in which 40,000 civilians died.

Shortly after marrying Irén, he was arrested on a charge of money-lending, and imprisoned. On his release in 1956, he and Irén fled to Austria as political refugees, settling in South Africa. 

Alarmed by the violent atmosphere under apartheid, in 1969 they moved to Dublin, where László had friends.

In 1976, Irén was diagnosed with cancer. She was cared for by Eibhlín, a staff nurse at St Vincent’s Hospital, and this was how she met László. 

The couple and the dedicated nurse became firm friends until, in 1983, Eibhlín entered an enclosed Carmelite convent. 

She had tried convent life as a teenager, but left after six months due to ill health. Her initial contentment was replaced by unhappiness, and a breakdown, then hospitalisation. 

On her way back to the convent she decided to visit her father, thus breaking a fundamental rule of contemplative life: Never revisit your home.

The nuns ordered her to leave the very next day. She was 40 years old, with no possessions and only the convent habit to her name.

Friends and family rallied round, and she moved in with her ailing father. 

Eventually she wrote to László, who had moved to Luxembourg, and shortly afterwards he turned up on her doorstep. Gentle courtship ensued, followed by marriage in 1988.

She explains the absence of boyfriends in her early life by recounting sexual abuse by a priest when she was nine. 

She gave up her nursing career at 50 after her father’s death, in order to move to Luxembourg with László . 

Her admiration for László’s kindness and his many talents is fulsome, but she also admits he had no sense of humour, and it is clear his frugality was excessive.

With the help of Antoinette Walker, Eibhlín has produced a thoughtful, well-crafted book that deals admirably with Hungary’s complicated history, and tells a touching story of recent reunions with the Gede family. 

Equally impressive is her own ethos of serving others, keeping cheerful, and never being a burden.

It is only a pity Merrion Press did not correct the numerous editorial gaffes — quite for quiet, lustrous for illustrious, Sachar for Sacher, and so on. This admirable labour of love deserved better.


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