Renewed calls for Castletownshend to remember Edith Somerville

August 20th, 2018 10:06 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Author Martina Devlin with a drawing from Edith's Discontented Little Elephant.

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There have been new calls for author Edith Somerville to be honoured in her home village of Castletownshend.

THERE have been new calls for author Edith Somerville to be honoured in her home village of Castletownshend.

The co-author of The Irish RM series of stories, which later became a hit TV series, wrote at length with her cousin, Violet Martin.

Martin wrote under the pen-name of  ‘Ross’ and the two women became the very successful Somerville & Ross writing duo. 

This week Cllr Joe Carroll told The Southern Star he would be happy to support the calls for something in the village to carry Edith’s name, like a plaque or other marking.

Edith lived at Drishane House on the edge of the village, and later moved into the village itself, where she lived at Tally Ho – a terraced house on the main street, until her death.

At the opening night of the recent Maritime Festival in Castletownshend, author Martina Devlin gave a talk on the talented writer.

Martina, herself a regular visitor to West Cork, is currently researching the life of Edith and has been availing of the extensive archive of letters and other writings in Edith’s home, Drishane House.

The house is still the family home of the Somervilles, and indeed Tom and Jane Somerville attended the talk on their ancestor, which included stories of her correspondence with Lady Gregory, Maria Edgeworth and also her commissioning of the famous Harry Clarke stained glass windows in nearby St Barrahane’s Church.

Edith Somerville was a witty and gifted raconteur, as her letters prove, and had a great relationship with the writing duo’s literary agent, ‘Mr Pinker’, evidenced by the wonderful to-and-fro of letters from West Cork to London.

Edith and Violet’s relationship was indeed a unique one – Violet being a committed Unionist and Edith tending more towards the Nationalist cause.

Edith also wrote a number of children’s books – her The Discontented Little Elephant also includes wonderful illustrations by the author herself.

Both women were also very involved in the Suffragist movement – the peaceful but no less passionate version of the Suffragettes.

As writers, both women mastered the often elusive art of dialogue and, in particular, the witticisms of the local Irish. Martina told us that Edith was known for continuously scribbling down snatches of conversation she would overhear – many of which Martina discovered during her research.

She loved the frankness of the Irish but hated books that romanticised them. After Violet died, Edith continued to write using the Somerville & Ross name – Martina says she was well aware it was a great ‘brand’ and, luckily, Violet had left her plenty of notebooks to work with.

The two women were very spiritual and Edith believed they were in contact after the cousin’s death. Even though Violet was living at Ross House in Connemara, they are buried alongside each other in St Barrahane’s cemetery.

Martina congratulated the Somervilles for the wonderful archive which, she said, was beautifully maintained and she said the Irish should cherish it. There are also some letters in the US and others in Trinity College.

Fergus O’Mahony of Mary Ann’s said he even remembered his own father talking about Edith, from her time at Tally Ho in the village, and her great sense of humour.

After the talk, there was a call for more recognition of the two writers and for Castletownshend to mark its association with Edith Somerville.

Tom and Jane Somerville said they would fully support any recognition for the writer and this week Cllr Joe Carroll added his backing.

He told The Southern Star that he would bring up the suggestion with the relevant people in Cork County Council. ‘I think it would be a wonderful idea,’ he said, ‘and very important for us to mark her connections to West Cork – and especially Castletownshend.’

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