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Into the West – six great books to read this winter – all with a local flavour

December 21st, 2022 11:45 AM

By Southern Star Team

Conleth Hill as Sgt PJ Collins sitting at Tralispean beach near Tragumna, apparently near the ficitional village of ‘Duneen’ in the recent TV adaptation of Graham Norton’s book Holding, which was filmed in West Cork, which was almost a character itself.

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On these cool winter nights, what could be better company than a good book? And, even better, what about a read that is set here in West Cork? Aaron Hennessy from Bantry Library chooses his personal favourites

The sea-brushed coast of West Cork and lush but rugged countryside we all cherish has often set writers pondering. Quite a few have set their stories here. Other have taken it a step further and set down sticks. What better time to chill with a good book set in your own surrounds than a frosty winter’s evening. Here are some that will make the story all the more exciting for its setting.

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular books set in, and inspired by, West Cork in recent years. The novel chronicles the narrator’s journey through motherhood. She finds support in her research, and ultimately her translation of the 18th century epic Irish poem, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire (The Keen for Art O’Laoghaire). To even call this work a ‘novel’ seems reductive. 

She blends aspects of autofiction, factual historical accounts of Macroom and Cork in the 1700s, imagined historical passages, translation and poetry into a prose that transcends form. 

This book is something vital and new.  

Another historical novel, set in the 19th century, Marianne Lee’s A Quiet Tide traces the short though productive life of Ellen Hutchins, who carried out extensive botanical research in the Bantry area in the 19th century. She was Ireland’s first female botanist. The book is so deeply researched and felt by Lee that the reader quickly slips into the historical Irish setting and the daily lives of the Ballylickey residents. 

Martina Devlin’s Edith, yet another historical novel set in West Cork, delves into the life of Edith Somerville. An upper-class Irish writer, Somerville’s ancestral home was Drishane house, Castletownshend. In Devlin’s hands she is a witty and eccentric character who floats around London socialising, dabbling in the occult and writing; but she is always drawn back home. 

Ireland of the 1920s is not as welcoming to an Anglo-Irish aristocrat as previous decades, yet there’s a strong sense of nostalgia for the modern reader as Edith pulls into Skibbereen train station and fights to hold onto her home and identity.

No accounting of West Cork literature would be complete without including Bandon native, Graham Norton. 

His novel Holding which was adapted for the silver screen is currently being shown on Virgin Media, so anyone who missed it the first time around should be sure to brush up on the mysteries and intrigue haunting the seemingly sleepy village of Duneen.  He always makes West Cork a character in itself, such is his love of his native region.

Speaking of mystery, Catherine Ryan Howard’s latest, Run Time is a meta thriller set, again, in the West Cork countryside. We follow a down-on-her-luck actress who accepts a role in a horror film set in West Cork. 

Reality quickly starts to imitate art as events from the script are being copied in real life. This is a classic thriller, shot through with dark humour.  

Our final recommendation is Falling For A Dancer by Deirdre Purcell, set on the Beara peninsula. 

Idealistic love is undone by scandal when Elizabeth, the protagonist, becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Purcell’s beautiful and moving story tragically takes the reader through the terrible reality of women’s rights in 1930s Ireland. This novel, sadly, is ever prescient.

As you can see, there is no shortage of novels set in our historic, romantic, and thrilling part of the country. It’s always fun to see your own world reflected in fiction, to feel represented – why not let some of these local and powerful stories keep you company by the fireside? 

There’s no time like the present to get stocked up. And, if possible, please support your local bookshop – or library!

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