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Jaywalking with the Irish    by David Monagan order for
Jaywalking with the Irish
by David Monagan
Order:  USA  Can
Lonely Planet, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

David Monagan and his wife Jamie, both of Irish descent, take their children (Laura, Harris and Owen) on 'safari to Ireland' because 'an inventory of achievements, possessions, and responsibilities revealed that certain intangibles had gone missing' in their comfortable U.S. life. They leave Connecticut's 'hermetically sealed' suburban worlds to seek 'adventure and renewal' in Hibernia, where both David and Jamie had traveled before. They settle in Cork, where 'chancers and dreamers and misfits' are valued.

Readers share with Monagan bar friendships; the serendipities of meeting people all over the country with connections to others that he knew in past visits and to friends of his American relatives; musings on past tragedies, in particular the horrendous impact of the potato famine; and discoveries the family make as they explore the countryside around them, and find links to history everywhere, including some of 'more than 40,000 megalithic formations casually scattered about the Irish landscape, invariably with no fanfare or visible sign indicating their existence.'

All is not idyllic however, even in County Cork where people 'laugh louder and longer ... than any other place on earth'. Local teen bullies persistently harrass the family; violence escalates in the city at night; the bureaucracy seems at times impenetrable; the culture, while ever friendly on the surface, is hard to break into, in terms of settling in and finding work; and Ireland's reaction to 9/11 includes 'heartless punditry' as well as a national day of mourning. Despite all, Monagan loves, and writes lyrically about, Eire and Cork, a 'small and irrepressible city fueled by grandiose visions, a little engine that could.'

Having grown up in the north and traveled all over Ireland in the 70s, I was fascinated to read how the country has been changed, for better and worse, by strong economic growth. I enjoyed Jaywalking with the Irish for its presentation of very many quirky characters (Monagan quotes an old friend saying 'Every person I meet makes me larger'), but especially for its welcome, insightful, and clearly focused update on a country too often looked at through rose-colored North American lenses.

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