A SKIBBEREEN bookseller’s chance encounter with an Italian tourist during the Taste of West Cork Food Festival revealed that he is the author of a book about the famine.
‘I was flabbergasted,’ Cathal O’Donovan of O’Donovan’s Bookshop said when he met Luca Maestri from Genoa, who is the author of the only book on the famine written in Italian, by an Italian, living in Italy.
Incredibly the book’s title – An Gorta Mór – is in Irish but every other syllable between the covers is Italian.
Cathal said he had no idea that Luca, who is a teacher by profession, had such specialist knowledge when he struck a conversation with him outside the shop.
‘I could see him looking at the display in the window, half of which was devoted to the food festival, and the other half to the Coming Home famine exhibition at the Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre,’ said Cathal.
‘I asked him is there anything there that interests you? And he said he had an interest in the famine and had read a lot about it. I was sufficiently encouraged to ask him to hop into the car and come with me to see the famine burial plot at Abbeystrewery.
‘We looked at the famine pits and when we came back into town I told him about the Uillinn and the Coming Home exhibition, as well as the more permanent famine exhibition at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre.
‘It was only then that he told me he had written a book about the famine,’ said Cathal. ‘And, as surprising as that was, I could hardly believe it when he told me the title.’
About a week after Luca Maestri returned home, he sent Cathal two copies of the compact book – one for Cathal himself and one that he asked to be displayed in the shop window.
Cathal duly obliged and took a photograph of the book about the famine in Skibbereen – which was the epicentre of that terrible tragedy – and sent it to Luca.
In return, Luca sent a letter thanking Cathal for his time and for accompanying him to the cemetery.
He also expressed his pleasure at having the book proudly displayed alongside other famine memorabilia in the town of Skibbereen.