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I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I'd never heard of Máirtín Ó Cadhain, nor of his masterpiece, until this book was reviewed in the University Bookman. But many of us are not familiar with him because he quite consciously chose to write in the Irish language, indeed to use his writings as a way of preserving it. But Yale University Press has done us all a great service in bringing out not just one but two simultaneous English translations of the book, one rendered in more colloquial language and the other more formal and scholarly (packed with footnotes to guide the reader). They were kind enough to send us this more scholarly edition.

As Ó Cadhain explained the origins of the text thus, he was helping dig a grave one winter (1944-45) when the following occurred:
We dug two graves but we didn't find the right coffins in them. The map of the graves was sent for, but the map was as if a child had been doing his sums with the poker in the ashes of the fire. It was getting late and the funeral was due at any moment. We said that we would dig another grave and that would be that. Going home, one of my neighbours said: 'do you know where we got rid of her in the end, but down on someone whom I'll call Red Micil.' 'Oh', said another, 'Oh dear, but isn't there going to be the grammar down there'.

The resulting novel consists of that imagined "grammar" as it takes place among the dead and buried in a Connemara graveyard.

While many voices are heard from, the core of the story consists of the rantings of Catriona Paudeen, a bitter harpy who carries on her earthly feuds underground and frets constantly about whether she was buried with the expense she believes she deserved. Her chief battle in life, and now in death, was with her surviving little sister, Nell Phaidin, who stole the man she loved, Jack the Scolog, and who is her competition for an expected inheritance from their older sister. Also present and grinding his own axe is the Big Master, who hears--from newer corpses--that his widow is being courted by and eventually marries Billyboy the Post. Ó Cadhain weaves a tapestry of profanity and invective that puts paid to notion of the grave as a "resting place."

Nearly the entire text is in the form of spoken word and, even with the footnotes, it's often hard to tell who is speaking, about what, or the meaning of certain words. But much of it is very funny and there's something to be said for wrestling with a difficult read once in awhile. All credit to YUP for finally getting the book(s) into the hands of English readers, even if there is some irony involved in that translation from Ó Cadhain's beloved Irish.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Irish Literature
Máirtín Ó Cadhain Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Máirtín Ó Cadhain
    -BOOK SITE: Graveyard Clay : Cré na Cille by Máirtín Ó Cadhain; Translated from the Irish by Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson (Yale University Press)
-BOOK SITE: The Dirty Dust : Cre Na Cille by Mairtin O Cadhain, Alan Titley (Yale University Press)
    -GOOGLE BOOK : Graveyard Clay
    -ARTICLE: Life imitates art as Ó Cadhain's voice heard from beyond the grave (Lorna Siggins, January 03 2021,
    -AUDIO PLAY: Cré Na Cille le Máirtín Ó Cadhain (RTE, 3/29/12)
    -ESSAY: Cré na Cille: Ó Cadhain’s squabbling corpses revived in English: The challenge in translating the greatest Irish-language novel is capturing something close to Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s linguistic energy in English (Alan Titley, 3/30/15, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY: Máirtín Ó Cadhain's "Cré na Cille": A Narratological Approach (Brian Ó Broin, Autumn - Winter, 2006, Irish University Review)
    -PROFILE: “Wake Up, I Tell You”: The Vibrant Afterlife of Irish Writer Máirtín Ó Cadhain (Mark Harman, MAY 27, 2016, LA Review of Books)
    -TRIBUTE: Remembering Máirtín Ó Cadhain (PEI, 1/12/16)
    -ESSAY: Introduction: Introducing Máirtín Ó Cadhain (Louis De Paor, Spring 2008, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies)
    -FILM INFO: Graveyard Clay (2007) (IMDB)
    -REVIEW: of Graveyard Clay and Dirty Dust by Máirtín Ó Cadhain (William Brennan, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Graveyard Clay and The Dirty Dust (Stephanie Bastek, American Scholar)
    -REVIEW: of Graveyard Clay (Máirín Nic Eoin, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of Graveyard Clay (Frank Freeman, University Bookman)
    -REVIEW: of Graveyard Clay and Dirty Dust (WEst Camel, European Literature Network)
    -REVIEW: of Graveyard Clay (Patricia Lundy, Dirge)
    -REVIEW: of Graveyard Clay (Philip O'Leary, Dublin Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of The Dirty Dust, by Máirtín Ó Cadhain (Colm Tóibín, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Dirty Dust (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Dirty Dust (Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Financial Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dirty Dust (Darragh Mcnicholas, Words Without Borders)
    -REVIEW: of Dirty Dust (NIAMH NÍ MHAOILEOIN, The Millions)
    -REVIEW: of Dirty Dust (Patrick O'Connor, 3 A.M.)
    -REVIEW: of Dirty Dust (Kevin Barry, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Dirty Dust (Colin Dwyer, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Dirty Dust (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Dirty Dust (John L. Murphy, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of The Key (An Eochair) by Máirtín Ó Cadhain (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Key (Ruairi Casey, Totally Dublin)
    -REVIEW: of The Key (Eileen Battersby, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Dregs of the Day: by Máirtín Ó Cadhain (John L. Murphy, Spectrum Culture)
    -REVIEW: of The Quick and the Dead: by Máirtin Ó Cadhain (John L. Murphy, Spectrum Culture)

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