Friday, April 14, 1995

The Lost Village - John MacKenna's book

Ten years ago John MacKenna published his second book "The Lost Village". A portrait of life in Castledermot in 1925 it was successfully launched in the local Church Hall to an audience enthraled at the prospect of a local son's venture into the literary world.

In the intervening years John MacKenna's literary star has soared. Now a highly acclaimed writer and winner of the Irish Times Fiction Award, his early venture into social history has now been reprinted by New Island Books. Available to a wider readership than was possible with the first limited edition "The Lost Village" offers an unsentimental peep into the lives of village people 70 years ago.

I am not using the words "peep" in any uncomplimentary sense but merely to convey the almost fleeting looks which the writer allows us to take at incidents and people of the day. Each short piece allows us to taste without quite swallowing. We are never permitted to become too enwraped in any one element of the story before we are whisked almost briskly, if not abruptly, into the next. This is not by way of criticism for I feel that John MacKenna's sure literary touch is evidenced even in this early work.

Football, the District Court, the Garda Siochana and Local Elections figure prominently in the narrative which brings us through a twelve month cycle in the life of Castledermot. I smiled at the many references to the County Kildare footballers, knowing the author's almost fanatical feel for the game at County level. How sorely his patience must have been tried in Clones last week as he watched, as he always does, the Lily Whites always cajoling, ever supporting, always unembarrassingly rich in his use of language designed to scold even if not to permanently mark.

"The Lost Village" is a fun book, one to dip into a will and to be transported back into a world which if not always innocent certainly seemed to lack the deception and deceit of latter day Ireland. Although one must acknowledge that even in those days collecting money from Unemployment Insurance while working was not unknown as evidenced by MacKenna's account of one Castledermot Court case. Strangely as I read that Court case I was puzzled as to whether the author was taking a little licence as I suspect he was when recounting the shooting incident at Ardreigh. However, I must acknowledge that after consulting an appropriate reference book I can only confess that his account was not only possible but more than likely accurate. I still however hold fast to my suspicion that the Ardreigh shooting incident is a colourful piece of fiction.

Whether the book is in part social history or a mix of history and fiction it nevertheless works recreating an interesting landscape for the reader to survey. The account of events in the local Court on the third Wednesday in October raised a chuckle. As MacKenna recounts it "George Jackson, the owner of a garage in Carlow, was being summoned by Guard Halloran in a technical case. Jackson had allowed a load of Mex petrol to be delivered in one of his lorries to Cope's without the lorry being licensed under the Trade Act to carry such a consignment.

"Jasus, they've little to be doin' with their time", a man at the back of the Court whispered to the woman beside him. She nodded."

It reminded me of a case I read about in another newspaper recently where a young fellow was successfully prosecuted and fined for snorting at a member of the Garda Siochana. I would love to have a sneak preview of how the social historians of 70 years hence will relate this "terrible crime".

John MacKenna's book published at £4.95 by New Island Books is now available in the bookshops and deserves your readership. If nothing else it gives you an opportunity of reading what was happening in South Kildare in 1925 before "other families came, new shops opened" and before the community of 1925 became "part of a Lost Village".

It is a lovely book, go out and buy it.

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