Author: Tomás O'Canainn
Home to Derry"Five of them struggled to close the suitcase on Monday morning. It was a big old-fashioned expanding one which normally lay under his mother's bed and still carried the old labels with their Coleraine and Glasgow addresses. The four children sat on it and ever so gradually the two halves of the lock came nearer and nearer together. His mother encouraged them in their efforts, but Jenny saw the funny side of it: 'We can't get any heavier, Mammy, no matter what you say.'
'Push hard,' his mother urged. 'All together now.'
Sean was seated nearest the stubborn lock. He jumped up and landed again with a thud. The lock clicked into place and the job was done."
extract from Home to Derry by Supreme Bard, Tomás O'Canainn
Home to Derry is the first novel from Tomás O'Canainn, the Derry-born Irish musician, academic and author of an acclaimed biography of Sean O'Riada, the celebrated Irish composer and musician, which was featured on The Book on One, RTÉ Radio 1. The novel was a first foray into fiction for Tomás who reveals that some of the stories were semi-autobiographical: ask him which bits and he becomes a little more coy!
The Derry of the late Thirties was still a place very much connected to the country and this delightfully funny and touching picture of a Derry childhood will ring bells with many 'Maiden Citiers' of a certain age. Trips out to the country relatives, feeding calves, and collecting blackberries in tin cans and homemade butter are things that a lot of people will remember. Then there's the fun of halcyon days on holiday in exciting Portstewart brought to life with affection and some nostalgia for more innocent times when an ice-cream in Battisti's ice-cream parlour in Portrush was the height of sophistication and happiness.
Times were not easy: as we look back through the eyes of Sean, one of five children brought up by a young widow in Derry, there was a lot of hardship too. The family lost their father due to illness so money was tight and the children learnt to mend and make do as best they could. Lack of money could not curb boyish enthusiasm for the highlights of life in the city; the acquisition and loss of a longed-for pigeon; a visit from an American uncle' the move to 'big school'; and the seduction of the Maiden City by the flamboyant American Forces as the Second World War came ever closer to home.
These and other episodes of childhood and early teenage years are skilfully set out against a backdrop of Derry City during this memorable era when life seemed much simpler but was sometimes even more complicated. How do you walk a girl home? Where did his baby rabbit go? And just how were they going to get home from Fahan? Tomás isn't giving the game away, you will just have to read Home to Derry to find out these answers for yourself!
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