Have we had enough Irish childhoods?

Posted by Homan on 21 October 2017

That’s the question asked by novelist Isabel Colegate (‘The Shooting Party’ [1980]) in The Spectator (3 April 2004). She was reviewing the paperback edition of Rathcomick which had just been published by Vintage/ Random House. She was thinking of childhoods of ‘lackadaisical days remote from English stresses, charming eccentrics, amusing turns of speech, rain, religion, nostalgia: then she answered her question: ‘Well, no, not if they are as acute and funny as this tale of a Protestant boyhood in County Meath.’ Homan is the youngest of eight children of long-established farming stock. He grew up in the 1950s in de Valera’s Ireland, insulated by its neutrality in the late war, quiet and safe. Homan was the seventh Potterton to be driven daily to the Protestant school where the teacher, Miss Thompson, told him that no Potterton had ever had a brain in their head. The affection with which he recalls his relentlessly repressive father reflects credit on both. The father was serious and severe, strict and stiff and it appeared to Homan that his entire existence was devoted to disapproval; and when Homan encountered other childrens’ fathers who did not behave in that way, he had difficulty in thinking of them as proper fathers at all. His mother, possessed an extraordinarily equable temperament and held the family together with apparent serenity. Homan’s older brothers were more remote; the one immediately senior to him, not being particularly congenial, his closest companion was an undemonstrative dog of independent mind named Rusty. The book is a delight.