2003 uimh 4
THE EXILE'S WRITER
Dónall Mac Amhlaigh, who died at Northampton in 1989, was perhaps the most readable writer of Irish in the last century. He was born near Galway in 1926, and his dozen or so books, consist of novels, social history and short stories. He also produced a considerable amount of journalism in Irish and also in English. He was not a native speaker of Irish.
His first book," Dialann Deoraí" told the story of his early life as a young navvy here in England. It was an immediate best-seller and was quickly translated into English. He was an attractive and entertaining writer. All his books were truly un-put-downable. He was, and remains, a new voice in Irish language writing. Many of his works are available in U.K. and Irish public libraries today, and also in bookshops.
He died comparatively young. Perhaps he was reaching his peak with his last novel "Deoraithe". In this fine work, he drew heavily on the entire range of his life's wide experience. Many writers in Irish seemed steeped, or trapped, into a never-never land, the quaint and the fey. Mac Amhlaigh wrote about contemporary life and he was refreshingly realistic. His devotion to the Irish language was unmatched. He was an ardent Socialist. His great fictional character, Schnitzer O'Shea, was in the mode of "The Good Soldier Schweik", and not easily forgotten.
"Deoraithe" was, for many, one of the very best novels to come out of Ireland in the past century. This many-stranded work shows what it was like to be an Irish exile in England at that time. At first we meet an uncertain young man, now out in the world on his own, after finishing his stint in the Irish army. There follows the gallant struggle to start a little haulage business in a bleak Irish town of the 1950's. Then the crooked politics and hard graft of navvy work in England. The faction fights. The peculiar apolitical attitude of the Gaeltacht people, a touchy minority within a minority.
Most interesting were the close ties formed with the Baltic exiles in the U.K., mainly because of a shared religious faith. It was a happy, progressive life, but with much serious thought never far away. There was kindness too, and humour, as well as fickleness. Donall considered "Deoraithe" to be his best work.
Has anyone ever written an account in Irish of a soldier's life in the Irish army? Well, another of Donall Mac Amhlaigh's books "Saol Saighdiúra", does proudly for the Irish military what he did so well for the Irish exile in later years.