Patrick Deeley's affecting and important memoir begins with a traumatic event in his life - news of his father's serious accident in September 1978, when one of a number of trees he had been felling, toppled the wrong way, wounding him fatally.
Larry Deeley had been a skilled carpenter, joiner and a much-respected maker of hurleys, whose knowledge of and familiarity with saw-milling is still curiously impressive as revealed within these pages, almost 40 years after Larry's death.
Thus Patrick begins his story as the 25-year old national teacher travelling home to Galway on the most painful journey of his life to date. Leaving his girlfriend in Dublin, he had caught the early morning train from Heuston Station. This was at a time long before mobile phones existed, and Patrick would be unsure throughout the journey as to whether his father was alive or dead.
Deeley's six collections of verse to date have been published by Dedalus Press, so one is conscious of the poet lurking in the thicket of the prose. On page one of the 252-page memoir one particular sentence seems, in its mercurial, enigmatic effect to signal a poet at other work with language. He is, in this instance, looking from the passing train at the countryside swiftly rolling by. "A farmer waved, seeming more to beckon than to greet, and immediately was gone." There is something magically prehensile and vivid about this image, as though it were an embodiment beforehand of what had happened - his own father just as summarily gone in a flash.
Following this dramatic introduction which also describes the wake and funeral, Deeley skillfully work his tale in flashback mode. The narrative wanders delightfuly back and forth throughout, avoiding chronological sequence, as the author evokes his rural childhood in the townland of Foxhall, near Loughrea.
One of a family of three sons and two daughters, he paints himself soberly and clear-eyed, but not so that his own portrait in any way dominates the carefully-balanced weave. In national school, Patrick was the clever, likable lad who was prone to day-dreaming. He would wander alone through a system of marshy land near the family home called the Callows (not to be confused with the Shannon Callows.)
Later on, he shows a rebellious mettle in secondary school - one that the reader can only admire given the teacher in question - and having left school, becomes an apprentice barman in Galway city. His eventual move to Dublin means girls and discos and the music of Van Morrison whose voice brings him to the point of ecstasy.
Notwithstanding that engaging back-and-forth aspect of the memoir, there is a discernible point midway when Deeley gradually begins to reveal, to un-dam emotion, as it were, to uncover the occasional intimate detail that glints like a gem in the deliberately documentary texture. In the latter aspect, there is some comparison with John McGahern - one thinks of his faithful and detailed reportage from a cattle mart scene in That They May Face the Rising Sun. However, McGahern could soar into the realms of deep feeling just as he could chart the ordinary and the diurnal. It is a tribute to Patrick Deeley to say that he has a similar dexterity in his prose and he has indeed penned a masterpiece of memoir-writing.