O Turaisc’s Civil War Child Memoir
I Am Lewy is a fresh, contemporary translation by poet Mícheál Ó hAodha of Ó Tuairisc's late novella An Lomnochtán (Mercier, 1977), which brings alive Lewy’s vivid, impressionistic account of a tumultuous few months in the early/mid 1920s.
The autobiographical novella plays largely around the centre of Ballinalsoe – St John's Church of Ireland, Dunlo Hill, the Fair Green, St Michael's Square. The Earl has left, but Lewy's family now pays their rent to a solicitor in town instead. The residue of the Civil War is still to be felt and a Free State soldier has had his head blown off by a bomb in the Square, according to Lewy. Irregulars roam east Galway and south Roscommon, especially around Dysart. Car stealing and a variety of other non peace time acts are vividly portrayed through the lens of a very young boy.
At the fair with his demobbed, slightly shellshocked father, under his seamstress mother’s table while she measures the clients, minding his siblings on the Green across from the Workhouse, entangled with memories of ‘Brazenface’ Rosaleen McNally, and the skeleton in the sandpit, pitying the Orphans fed on the Nuns’ Pee-Soup, Lewy tries to get his head around it all.
Eoghan Ó Tuairisc (1919–1982) was born Eugene Rutherford Watters on Dunlo Hill, Ballinasloe, where he grew up in one of the sadly now-derelict houses. His parents were Thomas Watters, a shoemaker, who had been wounded at the Battle of the Somme in France. His mother, Maud Watters (née Sproule), was a seamstress and clairvoyant.
After attending Garbally College and graduating as a primary school teacher in 1939 from St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, he taught in Finglas, Dublin for many years, and completed a Masters in UCD in 1947. He is remembered best as a writer with a prolific output through both Irish and English, of poetry, stories, prose, novels and plays. He received numerous literary awards throughout his life for his bilingual writing and was elected as one of the early members of Aosdána.
Ó Tuairisc is buried in Creagh Cemetery, next to his first wife, the painter Una Watters (d. 1965), whose work has recently been revived. An exhibition of her work was held at the United Arts Club in Dublin earlier this year.
Ó Tuairisc is survived by his second wife, Rita Kelly, herself a bilingual poet and writer of note, brought up in Clontuskert and Brackernagh, who is the rights holder to all his work. Her support for and editorial input to this translation of An Lomnochtán was invaluable, according to publisher Bridget Farrell of Bullaun Press.
I Am Lewy is available to purchase online from Kennys Bookshop, Co. Galway, and is also stocked in Salmons Department Store, Ballinasloe.
For more information, see this recent blogpost on Eoghan Ó Tuairisc’s archive at NUI Galway
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