Friday, 25 July 2014

Connemara Journal

Connemara Journal. Ethel Mannin. Westhouse, London, 1947. pp 190. Wood engravings.

This review was written on January 16th 2010

Illustration by Elizabeth Rivers
This journal in the rough form of a diary was written by the author after the Second World War when, with the exception of a week or two in London, she was living alone in her cottage in Connemara. She was born in England of Irish parents who had long since emigrated to their host country. She was a writer who visited Ireland in the late 1930s and fell in love with Connemara where she bought an abandoned cottage on the Atlantic coast. After returning to the UK for the five years of the war, she returned to her cottage where she was soon to write this journal. She was apparently married to somebody whom she called Himself but she and he had decided that they could continue a loving relationship best away from each other.

She had fallen in love with Ireland and with her little restored cottage in Connemara. Her love for Ireland and the Irish was frequently expressed in glowing and sentimental terms. She describes her views of the beauties of Connemara on several occasions but I found her descriptions of the sky, sea, mountains and their colours, and the ubiquitous bogland and the surrounding vistas difficult to visualise. She is at times breathtaking in describing the colours and their changes which she sees. It was hard to imagine the greens and the gold, the brown and the red, and her description of the changing skies and mountains. She was besotted about Connemara despite her frequent reference to the wild wind, the storms and blinding rain.

She underlines the uniqueness of the Irish country people. She is proud as an English person of Irish parents of the long fight for our independence. She is aware of the divisions between the Irish and the English in terms of culture, religion and tradition, and of the failure to change the Irish and their independent spirit over the centuries. She is over-sentimental in her devotion to the country and her affection can be expressed in somewhat cloying ways.

In later pages she talks about one’s outlook about death, religion, the brutality of Man, particularly during the last Great War, the meaning of love and its expression amongst the people. She talks about love, passion and passion’s relationship to morality. She tends to talk gloomily of love and its withering but she is not gloomy about her own personal relationship with her mostly absent husband or companion, who remains a very shadowy figure in the background and whom she mentions only a few times. She meanders about death and wonders whether death is best endured suddenly or after a long and declining period of disability and illness or as a result of ageing. She clearly has no moral or other objection to suicide, and as a stated atheist, this seems understandable.

A Connemara Village - Paul Henry
In looking at life and its meaning she provides many literary quotes which are relevant to her writings. Her paragraphs on Thomas á Kempis might please her as she quotes his  "love of solitude and silence" and freedom ''from superfluous talking and idle visitors, ----", both consistent with her contemplative life in her Connemara cottage. One might agree with her when she is critical of Thomas á Kempis who also wrote "all carnal joys ---- at the end bring remorse and death" but this seems too gloomy in to-day’s society where the more liberal aspects of sexuality are widely shared (and enjoyed). I can only say that love, both spiritual and carnal, brought me great joy during my lifetime.

Ethel Mannin apparently came into close touch with Dublin society.  She talks of social occasions in Dublin and mentions a number of well known nationalists including Countess Markievicz, Maude Gonne McBride and Douglas Hyde. There is probably some name dropping. She was careful not to mention the Civil War in her approval of the nationalist movement, despite her admiration for Maude Gonne and Markievicz, who were noted for their extremist notions on the Treaty but I would expect that her sympathies are with the anti-treaty minority although she might be reluctant to accept the civil war as a response to the rather limited restrictions imposed on Ireland by the Anglo-Irish Treaty. She would not be the first English person to be converted to the Irish cause and who would to be extremist in her views about Irish nationalism.

No comments:

Post a Comment