Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Glen to Glen and Down the Mountain Side

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Glen to Glen and Down the Mountain Side

Article excerpt

HUNGRY FOR HOME By Cole Moreton Viking

288 pp., $23.95

In a technical age throbbing with virtual experiences and second- hand opinions, some of us feel starved for trustworthy accounts of real experience. Cole Morton, the author of "Hungry for Home," is acutely aware of this, and especially of the value of intergenerational contacts.

He is captivated by an island community that spoke a pure form of Irish and gathered by turf fires to hear tales handed down from ancient times. Its members eked out an existence on the barren, wind- swept island of Great Blasket off the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, the most westerly point of Europe.

Through interviews with members of one family - the Cearnas (anglicized as Kearney) - he reconstructs the last phase of the great Irish diaspora, using historical documents, eye-witness accounts, the customs of the time, and an inevitable sliver of dramatic license.

The diaspora began in the 1840s with the potato famine, and has only finally been reversed by tourism in the west of Ireland.

From chapter to chapter, Morton alternates between third-person narration of daily life for the Kearneys and first-person accounts of his findings as a journalist. This is Morton's first book, and there's a breathless sense of adventure in his writing not unlike that of the young Gaelic-speaking lads who sailed the high seas in the hope of finding a better life in the New World.

But Morton leaves us in no doubt that as rooted as most of these exiles became in American culture, they never lost their sense of home. For example, when one of them appeared to deny his origins and was asked, "If you are not an Irishman, what are you?" the reply was swift, "I am a Blasket man, my boy!"

The book sizzles with this fierce pride in the island, despite the ferocious elements that fill the air with "terrible wailing. …

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