From My Bookshelf
Please note: Africa Magazine and St Patrick's Missionary Society do not stock books that are reviewed. Details of publishers and suppliers are given in each review.
Africa, Sept/Oct 2021, Vol. 86 No. 7
Review by Fr Tommy Hayden
Diary of a Young Naturalist
by Dara McAnulty
If you are publishing a one-year diary, there is something very apt about choosing March 21st as your starting and finishing date. Since it is the vernal equinox, there is a sense of balance around it. In the case of Dara McAnulty there was the extra balance that it was the year from his 14th to his 15th birthdays. That is how his Diary of a Young Naturalist came into being and he had it completed before his 16th birthday. It was his first book and within 6 months of his 17th birthday it had won the Wainright Prize for nature writing.
All that gives the impression of moving at speed, which is also the feeling you have when you take up this book and start into it. In fact, some of the judges of the Wainright Prize would agree, since they said they were “almost breathless from reading it.” For the reader, there is the sensation of being on some kind of fairground roller coaster, where you are taken along rather than being in charge.
In this one-year gallop the reader is treated to an intimate connection with the youthful, but extremely knowledgeable and skilful author. The readers find themselves practically part of Dara’s family of Roisín, Paul, Dara, Lorcan, Blathnaid and the rescue greyhound Rosie. You accompany them on a series of field trips and explorations, first of all, in Co Fermanagh and then in Co Down. You also feel yourself involved in the momentous move from one part of the country to the other. For good measure there is a trip to Glendalough in Co Wicklow included.
It seems to me that three very important things we all make use of as we try to understand our world, to make sense of it and to cope with it are – Horizon, Framework and Lens. Dara and his family have the broadest horizon possible – the whole Universe in its wonder, beauty and giftedness, taking in the phenomenon of modern communications and social media. Their framework is the flora and fauna, as well as the historical backgrounds of Fermanagh, Down and Wicklow. As for lens, there is the very particular and fascinating one of autism, which both opens up and hones in on the captivating world of nature. It is a gift and joy to take part in this world along with Dara and family. It is also an eye-opener to feel along with Dara the response to difference of a less-than-sympathetic world. True to the meaning of his name (Dara = Oak), he is quite capable of putting the experience of bullying behind him.
Dara’s family name is McAnulty which means “son of an Ulster man” and the book’s title immediately leads to comparisons with another son of Ulster – Seamus Heaney. While there is an obvious link in name between Death of a Naturalist written by Heaney back in 1966, and also much similarity in the language used and the familiarity with nature, an alternative title to this book could have been “Flowering of a Naturalist”.
For people who already have a strong connection with nature and those who might want to get an introduction to the fascinating world of which we are a part, this is a book not so much to read as to experience. These two quotes from Dara give a taste of the treasure that lies in wait.
“My intertwining isn’t with people but with the elements, with nature, and it has become inseparable from my daily life, my own story.”
“I’ve also found that focusing in on a local level, on my immediate surroundings, is where I can be most effective and a force for hope and change.”
Diary of a Young Naturalist – Dara McAnulty
Published by Little Toller Books
Prices: From €14 / £10
Available in bookshops and online.
Africa, July/August 2021, Vol. 86 No. 6
Review by Fr Leo Traynor
Walking the Camino
Philosophy, Poetry and Song
Let me at the outset say I loved this book. There are many reasons for this, chief among them the fact that the author walked almost exactly the same route to Santiago that I did in 2015 and at much the same time of the year. So, in reading this account of a Camino I was filled with so many rich memories. My strongest feeling after my Camino was the call to simplicity, how little I really need and how it is companionship that is so important. I suspect that in these pandemic times we are all a little more aware of that deeper truth.
Prior to my walk I had read a few books in preparation and devoured Brierley’s Camino guidebook, which like Michael Brophy I found invaluable. In the years since my journey, I have read a few more books on the Camino de Santiago in order to gain some more insights from fellow pilgrims. There has been a huge interest in the Camino, as its simply called now, over the past twenty years or so. Several St Patrick’s Missionary priests have walked it and many different forms of books have been written on it. Each book brings its own gift to the reader and this one is no exception. As Michael lays out his story day by day, often accompanied with a timely quote or humorous comment, I found myself walking with him. That is one of his gifts to the reader – you feel connected to the journey, you want to move to the next day and find out what happens next, so in that sense this book is a page turner! A rare enough thing for a book of this kind.
The whole book is beautifully laid out, wonderful photos, pieces of poetry, (one being a great description of drinking a pint of Guinness p199) and a steady sharing of wisdom. Like I said above I loved it. The photos are all clearly labeled, and page referenced so it’s easy to pop to the page and get the story behind the photo.
This is a very personal read. Michael has given us a great sense of himself. Reading his book was like listening in on a conversation as he reveals his feelings, his thoughts, his challenges. At the heart of his journey is the Knitted Heart – a book he carries of ‘In Memoriam’ names most especially Rita his wife (see pages 49 and 95), Sean his brother and Mairead his mother-in-law. In some ways another title for this diary of his Camino could have been ‘the way of the book’. Buy it and read it and you will know what I mean. In this book we are privileged to share in intimacies, and they touched my heart making the book a compelling read at a deeply human level.
I feel lucky to have been asked to review this special book. Having walked almost his route and passed the night in many of the same villages I can say it is a very honest reflection of this Camino route, warts and all. If you have walked this route, you will enjoy this book, if you haven’t but hope to do so then this is a read for you. And if you wished you could make the journey but know it’s beyond you now then join your heart to Michael’s and walk it page by page from within your heart and spirit.
A final few comments, the A to Z of Personal Learnings on the last few pages is profound and challenging. If you’re a Dublin GAA fan then buy this book as Michael’s love for his team literally bounces off the pages. In a short review like this I cannot cover all the gems this book offers and why would I? The joy of gems is finding them for yourself.
I’ve been listening to the radio as I typed these few words. Brendan Gleeson has just come on making an appeal for St Francis Hospice in Dublin. The same hospice that supported Michael and his family during Rita’s journey to her death and all proceeds from this book go to St Francis Hospice. Another good reason to buy it.
Walking the Camino – Michael Brophy
Published by Rainsford Press.
Price: From €20 plus postage
Available from St Francis Hospice, Dublin. Link: www.sfh.ie
Africa, June 2021, Vol. 86 No. 5
Review by Fr Frankie Murray
Live While You Can
A Memoir of Faith, Hope and the Power of Acceptance
Fr Tony Coote
Father Tony Coote had a flag outside his Church in Mount Merrion, Dublin. It read “Love not Judgement”. This could easily be the title of this book, the sound track of Tony’s life written with honesty, great humility and always the kind word. The book tells the story of three journeys, the story of his family, interwoven with the story of Tony as a priest in the Archdiocese of Dublin. It interweaves another journey that Tony makes through the sudden diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease (MND). It is a journey Tony makes with great courage, totally aware of the awful physical and emotional suffering but also aware of the friendship and the faith that keeps him going. Finally it’s a story of a journey that he led from his wheelchair from Letterkenny to Ballydehob, the length of Ireland, raising awareness and funds for MND.
One of the first things that struck me about Tony’s book is the number of names that he mentions, that “people” all these three journeys. His great gift was to reach out and include people and a desire to help and care for others in need and to inspire others to work with him. In the end, an even greater gift was his capacity to allow others to help and to care for him.
Growing up in Fairview, Dublin, on his 8th birthday Tony’s infant brother Alan died. He writes poignantly about being left at home during the funeral, staring out the window, refusing to move until his parents returned, and when they did no word was spoken into the pain of his struggle to understand. Because of violence at home, his mother was forced to leave their home taking her four boys with her. Tony remembers how this was a stigma for his family as they experienced what it is like to be poor, an outsider and to be forgotten.
Twenty-five years later Tony spent Christmas with his dad in Texas. Leaving for home, his father said “Tony I am sorry for all the ways I have hurt you.” It lifted a great burden for Tony, but he remarks “My father gave me this apology as I was about to leave. I have often found that important things are said when there is little time for discussion”.
Life as a priest was happy, active and fulfilling. Chaplain in Ballymun secondary school, he was pained by the prevalence of a drug culture that he was unable to change but nevertheless he was inspired by the goodness and generosity of the young people and staff in the school. As chaplain in UCD, his work brought him on trips with young volunteers to India, Haiti and Nicaragua. He grew to love the people in these countries and many of those young people became lifelong friends. Many of them who may not go to Mass but have a tremendous generosity and care for others, of them Tony says “we need to broaden our understanding of what practice of the faith means”.
On New Year’s Day 2018, now working in Mount Merrion and Kilmacud, he had a bad fall. Tony was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. It was the week of a very bad snowfall. Leaving the Beacon Clinic, the landscape was transformed by the snow. On that day Tony’s personal landscape was transformed beyond recognition in a way that would never thaw out to the familiar reality of his life again. Reaching home, numbed by the diagnosis, he writes: “I sat in my sitting room and prayed, as I have always done, in my own simple and inadequate words asking Jesus to be with me through these days and months”.
Never content to rest in the armchair of self-pity, Tony decided to organise that walk, the length of Ireland. “Walk While You Can”. In no time at all he gathered an army of people to help and support him, a unique gift Tony had. He intended to walk himself but the disease had developed so rapidly he made the journey by wheelchair. Through towns and villages in the West of Ireland, Tony experienced kindness, generosity and hospitality and as always names many of those he met along the way.
As mentioned Tony loved to give people their name. One name that he mentions again and again is the name of Jesus: “I have always known Jesus has been with me, but with this illness I see it lived every single day and every moment of the day through the kindness, help and love of other people.”
Fr Tony’s ministry was built on three words, Inclusivity, Compassion and Love, perhaps another name for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Tony invites us to share the journey with him, as he calmly and courageously faces each new day and every new and horrible limitation to his physical movement. Always he shares this story as it is transfigured by the kindness and care of so many people evoking in him a sense of gratitude and prayer.
“My prayer everyday is simple. I just rest in the presence of God…… I awake very early. I literally place myself in a presence in the darkness. It is at this time, I reconcile everything going on within me and around me. This is when I am at my most calm and I hear the words of Jesus to Peter: “Courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:27
On the last page Tony imagines that he is on a fast train, “When the train stops, I will step on to that platform with hope and no fear”. Tony’s train stopped on August 28th 2019.
For me turning the last page was like the end of a powerful film. You need to sit awhile as the melody and the words of the sound track continue to play in your memory.
Live While You Can, Love Not Judgement, Walk While You Can….Inclusivity, Compassion and Love.
Some books educate, some entertain, others challenge or disturb. Fr Tony’s book is Fr Tony. You meet a friend who inspires you to be brave and to be kind and to live, walk and above all to love while you can.
Live While You Can – Fr Tony Coote
Published by Hachette Books Ireland.
Price: From €13.99 and from £9.99
Available from bookshops and online.
Africa, May 2021, Vol. 86 No. 4
Review by Fr Pat Murphy
Let Us Dream
The Path to a Better Future
Let us Dream is Pope Francis’ latest book, which is written in collaboration with Austin Ivereigh, a British journalist. It is a book that was ‘born in lockdown’, so its major subject is how we can emerge from the crisis, that is Covid 19, in a better way. It has three basic sections following the See, Judge, Act methodology, with a prologue, epilogue and finally a postscript by Austin Ivereigh himself.
Pope Francis begins the prologue by telling us that this time of crisis is a time of reckoning. It is a moment to dream big and to rethink our priorities. He repeats what he has emphasized in his other writings, that we need new economic and political systems. Economies that give everyone access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life, to land, lodging and labour. Politics that can dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable. This is a time where we need to slow down, take stock and design better ways to live together on this earth.
The first main section of the book is entitled “A Time to See” where the Pope looks at the world as he sees it in this present time. He believes strongly that you must go to the margins of society to see clearly, and that when God wanted to regenerate the World he went to the places of exclusion, suffering, illness and sin. Among the issues that worries Pope Francis are hunger, violence, racism, clericalism, indifference and climate change, as well as the plight of persecuted people like the Rohingya. The measures to combat Covid has exposed the problems of lack of housing and clean water. He warns against narcissism, discouragement and pessimism, as ways of escaping reality, while the remedy is to commit to small positive actions. The Pope prays for the health care workers who gave their lives in service to others and says that they are the “antibodies to the virus of indifference”.
After seeing reality around us we must choose, which demands that we spend time to discern the signs of the times and listen to each other and the Holy Spirit in a synodal approach. Pope Francis confesses that he finds the advice of women more valuable than men, noting also that the countries that have reacted better to the coronavirus, are where women are prime ministers and presidents.
“A Time to Act” is the third section, where Pope Francis calls us to abandon individualism and elitist ideologies and cultivate solidarity and fraternity which today is our new frontier. “Solidarity is not sharing the crumbs from the table, but to make space at the table for everyone”, is another of our Pope’s memorable expressions. While he condemns the politics of populism, he encourages popular or people’s movements which promote the change we need. He offers a critique of capitalism and calls for an economy with goals beyond the narrow focus on growth, that puts human dignity, jobs, and ecological regeneration at its core.
Let us Dream reveals how Pope Francis sees the world today and how he would like the future to look. It is an easier way to discover his views on issues, that he explores in more depth in his official encyclical letters. It is a worthwhile book for all of us to read and reflect upon, especially those who hope to build a better world.
Let us Dream, The Path to a Better Future – Pope Francis
Price: From €9.99, From £8
Published by Simon &Schuster UK Ltd.
Available from bookshops and online from Veritas: https://www.veritasbooksonline.com/
Africa, March 2021, Vol. 86 No. 2
Review by Carmel Beirne Francis
One for Everyone
More Poems I love
Compiled by Kathleen Watkins
At the time of writing, it’s a dark November evening in London with the colour of the autumn leaves that’s so good for the soul slipping away. It’s the eve of Diwali, the Hindu festival of light and love, outside the skies are lit up with fireworks and in every window of our South Asian neighbours the biggest and brightest lights shine. This year their spectacle of lights is like never before, showing us we need light brought back into our lives in abundance. Diwali means making a fresh start, a new beginning, it illuminates the country with its sheer magic and brilliance and dazzles people all over the world with celebration. We receive light and joy in the most unexpected ways and earlier this week a little package dropped through my letterbox from my cousin in Ireland, a collection of poetry compiled by Kathleen Watkins, called One for Everyone.
Kathleen Watkins is the widow of Gay Byrne, the legendary RTÉ broadcaster who sadly died in 2019. She has written and published stories she originally told her grandchildren and is now the bestselling series for children, called Pigin of Howth. Kathleen has always loved poetry and has just published One for Everyone a second collection of her favourite poems with several written for and dedicated to Gay. In her introduction she fondly remembers her school days, learning poetry by heart with the nuns at her Dominican convent boarding school, saying the nuns gave her an appreciation for the rhythm and the flow of poetry. Kathleen was a well-known harpist and folk singer and became the first continuity announcer to appear on Teilifís Éireann, (Ireland’s National Public Service Media) in 1961.
What has captivated me about this latest collection of poetry is, it includes poets I don’t readily know as well as the literary champions like Eavan Boland, Derek Walcott and Patrick Kavanagh to name but a few. These poets take us back to bygone days, stir memories that have been buried deep only to be freed by their beautiful words and images. I wanted to include every poet but space would not allow. The first poem I’m drawn to is called Calling the Kettle by Dennis O Driscoll. Most people can relate to sitting down with a cup of tea, especially if you’re Irish or English to hear whatever the news is, ‘No matter what news breaks, it’s impossible to think straight until the kettle has been boiled’. Eavan Boland’s Ghost Stories also struck a chord with me, as it took me back to my childhood memories of Hallowe’en where my mother had us ducking for sour apples from a basin of ice cold water in the middle of the floor. Boland’s poem depicts a bright moon over Iowa, with every porch, every doorstep, having candles fluttering in pumpkins. Carving pumpkins into jack o lanterns is a popular Halloween tradition that originated hundreds of years ago in Ireland. Back then they were made out of turnips or potatoes, it wasn’t until the Irish emigrated to America that a new ritual was born. She captures Halloween in this short poem and reminds us she is a stranger in Iowa. She was one of Ireland’s finest poets and the warmth and empathy with which she wrote will live on in her work.
I loved John Sheehan’s poem The Chimney Sweep, it conjured up memories of the talk in our house every year about getting the chimney cleaned. The precision of this poet’s words is parallel to the stiff-bristled brushes strapped to the crossbar of the chimney sweep’s bike.
I’ve only ever known Imelda May as a singer but this year she released a spoken word album and wrote a powerful poem called, You don’t get to be Irish and Racist. It’s all encompassing and lashes out at hypocrisy, we love our own country, our songs and our ballads as others love theirs. She encourages us to be more open, to let go of the old fear of difference, to welcome and to learn. We emigrated / We immigrated/ We took refuge / So cannot refuse…
2020 saw us yearn for a meeting with a friend, to see a familiar face, to talk with someone who knows us well and in Sean Brophy’s poem simply called Friendship, he has all the ingredients that really matter.
Kathleen Watkins has truly brought poetry to everyone with this highly acclaimed collection of poets chosen for this wonderful book. These are the poets we go back to over a lifetime, the poems we learned by heart at school, poems that are in our heads and hearts, poems that take us back to our ancestors as well as poets that are new to us but essential and timely in their own unique way.
One for Everyone by Kathleen Watkins
ISBN: 9780717190232, Hardback 144pp, Price: €13.99
Published by Gill Books. Available from bookshops and online.
Africa, January/February 2021, Vol. 86 No. 1
Review by Fr Pat Murphy
Spirituality & the Senses
Living Life to the Full
by Catherine McCann
Most of us desire to live life to the full but not all of us achieve it. For author Catherine McCann, her life has been full of rich and varied experiences which she has written about in her previous publications. Her latest is a smaller book, where she shows how our lives can be enriched by more consciously attending to our five senses.
Spirituality & the Senses: Living Life to the Full is based on Catherine’s experience of being curator of Shekina Sculpture Garden in the Glenmalure Valley of Co Wicklow, Ireland. In this one acre of land Catherine has set up home, and over many years has created a thing of beauty with shrubs, flowers and twenty-one sculptures in stone, bronze, iron, stainless steel, wood, enamel and glass. This enchanting garden is open to visitors who are encouraged to explore the garden and become more in touch with their inner spiritual self. Walking on bare feet, meditating, sitting and using all the senses is how one can get in touch with some issues that may need attention in order to live a fuller life. Drawing on her own study of theology and being a trained spiritual director, Catherine offers guidance to each visitor who wants to go deeper and harvest more fruit from their time spent in the garden. It is these encounters, that have led to the writing of this book.
The book emphasizes the fact that there is both an outer and an inner sensing. When we become more attentive to our different senses, we can learn a lot about ourselves and be alerted to something significant in our lives. The book gives an overview of the nervous system before going on to describe all the five senses in both their outer and inner aspects. There is a section on intuition which is a way of coming to know reality and is close to what the author understands by inner sensing. We get an insight into Catherine’s motivation for writing this book when she offers a summary on page 26, “the more acutely we are aware of our senses, the more useful, pleasurable and insightful they can become in enriching our lives”.
This book invites us to appreciate the gifts that are our five senses and laments the fact that Covid 19 has restricted our use of touch and diminished our ability to smell. The beautiful pictures in the book will make you want to visit Shekina garden, which will not disappoint, as this reviewer can testify. It will also motivate people to take time to “stand and stare” in gardens or parks nearer home, or indulge in a visit to similar places when it becomes safe again.
Spirituality & the Senses – Living Life to the Full by Catherine McCann ISBN: 9781788122924
Paperback 64pp, Price: €4.95 / £4.50
Published by Messenger Publications
Tel: +353 1 6767491, Email: sales@Messenger.ie.
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