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Book Review

Deirdre Unforgiven by Eamon Carr

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Publisher: Doire Press, paperback

1 of 1 Deirdre Unforgiven marries ancient myth and recent troubled times
Deirdre Unforgiven marries ancient myth and recent troubled times

As a founding member of that legendary band, musician and lyricist Eamon Carr was a significant contributor to Horslips’ concept albums, The Táin and The Book of Invasions. Those two albums, in particular, drew vividly on Irish myth, its battles and gods and harsh lessons.

But it is reasonably safe to say that Horslips' use of such myth in the 1970s employed the stories pretty much for their dashing derring-do, for illustrations of male valour and fearsome strength, lyrical scenarios that were fresh and new, just like the music. There was no apparent attempt to update the myths as parables for the Troubles through which the band deftly negotiated their best years. 

Over four decades have elapsed since Horslips formed, but Carr’s interest in the Irish myth hoard has not flagged, and he is interested too in Greek tragedy and Japanese Noh plays. Correspondingly, both these dramatic forms have had a certain bearing on Deirdre Unforgiven - A Journal of Sorrows. These influences are alluded to in a helpful, sympathetic introduction by Shannon McCrae, an Associate Professor at New York State University.

15 years after Horslips first disbanded in 1980, Carr was working as a journalist, covering stories across Ulster. This salutary experience is at the core of Carr’s adventurous new reading of the Deirdre story. These experiences are at the core of Carr’s adventurous new reading of the ancient tale of bloodlust in which the scheming Conor usurps Fergus as king of Ulster. The usurper's subsequent lust for the young Deirdre - who cannot abide him - forces her to flee with her lover Naoise, and his two brothers, Adran and Ainle, the three sons of Usna.

The question of returning but risking summary punishment in the process is central to the tragedy of the sons of Usna, a theme which has obvious echoes in Ulster’s recent past. As Carr’s Chorus, Old Woman and Young Man (news reporter) weave back and forth from the mythical past to the recent Troubles, such echoes reverberate and accumulate in Carr's sturdy text.

A central motif is the funeral of Jason, Richard and Mark Quinn, the three brothers killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force in a fire-bomb attack on their home in Ballymoney, County Antrim, on July 12, 1998.

Carr may be fixated by the tremulous power of ancient myth, but working in the North as a journalist 20 years ago taught him a thing or two about the jargon of death dealing too, which he doesn’t seem to have forgotten.

Carr's incantatory but potent testament runs to 63 pages, with line drawings by artist John Devlin. www.doirepress.com

Paddy Kehoe

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