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Midlife Irish: Discovering My Family and Myself    by Frank Gannon order for
Midlife Irish
by Frank Gannon
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

In this memoir, First-Generation Irish Frank Gannon tells us that 'Growing up, I knew that I was Irish in much the same way I knew I had asthma. I knew I had it but didn't know anything about it.' So he makes a pilgrimage to Ireland to find his heritage. His parents, Bernard and Anne, rarely spoke of the land of their birth. In fact, Bernard spoke very little at all about anything.

Frank and his wife Paulette planned their trip to Ireland in great detail prior to boarding the plane for that first journey to the 'auld' sod. They soon discovered that plans were unnecessary, and perhaps not even a good idea, when traveling the length and breadth of the island. Just going where the mood or the road took them worked very well. The bed and breakfasts they stayed in gave them entry into the Irish way of life. And the call of the Catholic Church, while not strong in New Jersey, was magnetic in Ireland.

While this book is written with tongue in cheek a great deal of the time, Gannon's conclusions about the country and its people are well thought out and presented. His take on the 'troubles' is the best explanation and easiest to understand that I have heard to date. The history of Ireland is filled with hundreds of years of horrendous treatment by the English. Even so, when they were forbidden their own language, the Irish conquered English and made it their own. Their literary legacy is extraordinary. The Irish have a way with words that softens the language they use and makes it belong to them.

Gannon talks of Irish belief in the fairies. He explodes the myth of the Irish drunk. And he comments on the changeable weather. Although he seems to have run into a longer spell of bad weather that I myself have ever been plagued with while there, his descriptions of the mist and the 'lashing' rain are quite accurate. And where else would one be content to watch a man working in a peat bog for an hour and be charmed by the experience? The author delves into the potato famine of the middle 1800s. While boxcars of grain were shipped out of Ireland, families were turned out of their homes and left to die of starvation by the roadside. The famine is spoken of there as if it were yesterday.

My late husband and I did essentially what Frank and his wife set out to do - look for roots. Frank found his, as did my husband. Jim's Irish family welcomed us as though we had just been to the store and back, rather than the reality that we walked into their lives for the first time. There is an Irish saying: 'There are no strangers in Ireland, just friends you haven't met yet.' Frank and Paulette found this to be true. And they decided, just as we did, that their first trip would not be their last.

With St. Patrick's Day on the horizon, Midlife Irish is a great book to give as a gift to Irish friends, or to keep as a treat for yourself.

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