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[Book description]

Galloping Green: From Dear Distant Damp Dublin chronicles an Irishwoman’s invincible spirit that took her to America alone at the age of twenty, excited to have $10 in her pocket “to finance my new life.” Rejecting her mother’s conviction that “life is a cross we have to bear,” she set out to find a better life someplace else.

A unique aspect of this memoir is O’Connell’s use of her voluminous childhood dairies, in which she had written daily about her family and Dublin life. These diary entries permit her to write with an intensity of detail that is solidly grounded in the social and religious environment of the 1950s and 1960s, without embellishment by faded memories. Ireland was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and many of its citizens had succumbed to a melancholy apathy due to decades of repression, poverty, unemployment, and emigration.

In her childhood thoughts and voice at times, the author provides a keyhole into the perceptions of a young girl. Picking raspberries in her Grandma’s garden, she wondered how the lush berries were able to travel up the skinny raspberry canes. And when the nuns in school collected money for “Black Babies” in Africa, she sacrificed her penny so the naked natives wouldn’t spear the missionaries and boil them in a pot of “Irish stew.” Her precious penny was for a liquorice pipe, one with pink sprinkles on it. And she describes her terror that the crumbling chimney on their house would come crashing down during storms and kill her in her bed. As she became more politically and socially aware, she had the notion to volunteer to be “shot into space” after Sputnik was launched, and writes humorously of the Catholic Church, Joseph, and Mary, with the freedom of an irreverent heretic confessing into her diary.

The author is the daughter of a woman known in the late 1950s as “Catholic Mother” in the Irish press, who dared to break the public silence concerning the abuse of Irish schoolchildren by “servants of God.” The widespread controversy about corporate punishment in schools reached into the Dail Eireann (the Irish Parliament). O’Connell writes of her support for her mother’s crusade but reveals her teenage internal conflict with the amount of time her activist mother gave to the crusade versus to her children. “It is all very well to try and do so much for other people’s children but it should not be at the sacrifice of one’s own,” she blurted into her diary one day. O’Connell also spotlights what people now know of the extent of that violent and sexual abuse by the clergy and what the government of Ireland has been doing about it.

In America, O’Connell continued to document her activities and thoughts. She wrote each day about her new “stars-and-stripes life” and, with a new computer, began writing lengthy journals, which she used as a resource for the authenticity of the second half of Galloping Green.
On her first day in America, we see her ordering a hamburger in New York, as though we’re sitting on the stool beside her. Never having even seen a hamburger before, she was horrified to get a five-inch-tall sandwich, topped with “birdseed,” which the waitress expected her to eat without a knife and fork. Her immediate adjustments continued with her struggle to understand American terms and expressions. The Draft was prominent in the 1962 news, but when she heard football teams announcing their “first draft picks” she wondered why the best footballers were being sent to Viet Nam.

Over the next years, she energetically strove for that better life for which she had emigrated, and to achieve a feeling that she “belonged” somewhere. She describes as “the immigrant’s lament” the dilemma of not knowing where “home” is. With the realization that her heart beat for the rolling green mountains and blustery sea around Ireland yet was happy to be removed from the dreariness and depression of Dublin, she longed to integrate the two halves of herself.

Published: Xlibris on
ISBN: 9781469112510
List price: $9.99
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