Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Confessions of a Shanty Irishman

Confessions of a Shanty Irishman was Michael Corrigan's first book. He's written several since, and all are well worth reading. In all his stories and novels, Corrigan uses his Irish history to great effect. He mixes a smattering of truth, a dash of fiction, then laces everything liberally with blarney and Irish spirit. From my first reading of his first book, he's been a favorite writer of mine.

Confessions of a Shanty Irishman
by Michael Corrigan
ISBN 978-1591292289

Michael Corrigan has a gift to share. From the erin green covers to the morsels of his memories within them, the author serves himself up to the reader like a meat and potatoes stew. Alternately dark with pathos, then light with sudden bursts of humor, this story lives. The author's way with words is purely Irish, through and through.

His San Francisco home is shared by an old country grandfather who worked hard and proud to make America his home; a calm and sensible grandmother who unfailingly nurtures all three men she loves; and a handsome father who works and pays the bills despite his losing battle with the demon drink. Moving in and out of the Michael's life are kinfolk who are all apples off the same Irish tree, each with their own personality and contribution to the author's childhood memories. A mother who abandoned her Irish Catholic husband and infant in search of fun is an occasional visitor, a mystery throughout the author's life.

Mr. Corrigan cooks up a fine, rich broth with his memories. I was intrigued by his family, his lifelong friends, the nuns who taught him as a child, and the priests who took him from innocent altar boy to a manhood full of doubt about his faith. A genetic love of drink plagues him from early on. His struggle with the Irish Catholic faith is honestly relayed through thoughts or spoken words. And his appreciation of the fair sex is sometimes humorous or sad. But it was the author's relationship with his father that, for me at least, put the shine on this novel. His father dies young, a dissipated remnant of the once darkly handsome, charismatic man who raised his son without a mother. The author's memory of that day haunts me:

"The old days of Irish wakes with ice lifted off the corpse for drinks had passed. Now it was only a rosary, and relatives listened to the priest reciting before the open coffin. I wondered if the Vikings weren't right to put the body on a ship and riddle the vessel with fire arrows, rather than lay the body out for morbid viewing. I couldn't accept that plastic-looking empty husk as my father. Thomas. It was too much of a contradiction, a furious denial of what he had been in life. Where was the person who took the wheel of his brother's boat and waved at the home movie lens? When would we hear that warm baritone again with its Bing Crosby resonance?"

Confessions of a Shanty Irishman is selling well and finding an audience. Deservedly so. Michael Corrigan's voice is strong, resonant. I like to think he inherited that resonant voice from his father, and that somewhere in the afterlife, Thomas Corrigan is proud.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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