Monday, June 20, 2011

Saints & Sinners

The week before last I went to a reading by Edna O'Brien and Gabriel Byrne at McNally Jackson in Soho. In a sea of Barnes & Nobles, (though admittedly, and perhaps ominously, a dwindling one) this is one of the city's real gems of a bookshop. It's not huge, but what it has is well selected and well priced and even in the trendiness of Soho it has a neighbourhoody feel, or at least a feeling of having a loyal crew of regulars. In addition to great books and greeting cards and coffee, they do a good series of literary events.

The reading was lovely; engaging and intimate, and followed by a warm and engrossing Q&A between Gabriel Byrne and Edna O’Brien. It was strange to be sitting in New York City in 2011, and hear this veteran Irish writer speak about an Ireland which seemed very far away. Not just geographically, but chronologically. When O’Brien’s The Country Girls was published in 1960 it was seen as scandalous, and was banned, burnt, and denounced from the pulpits of Catholic Ireland. In a time and city where it feels like anything goes, its supposed evils seemed so laughably tame, and the reaction it garnered so impossibly unfair.

Fifty-one years on, I picked up a copy of the author’s 30th publication Saints and Sinners and while getting it signed I had a few words with the gracious (and at 81, extremely elegant) Ms O'Brien. It has been just one in a glut of really pretty amazing Irish arts events I’ve seen recently, under the banner head of Imagine Ireland. I was on my way out the door when I fell into bad company, and ended up enjoying a few post-reading plastic cups of wine with a very entertaining assortment of acquaintances and new faces. A bunch of us continued the merriment after our polite eviction from the bookshop, and long, long past what would typically constitute the sort of time you’d get home from a literary reading. It was a great night, and introduced me to lots of smart, fun new people.

Among the grouping was Gwen, a journalist who lays no claim to Irish-ness other than a love of it, particularly as a fiddle player. A few months ago she set up her New York Irish Arts blog as a forum to cover many of the great events going on in the city. I had met Gwen just a few days previously, at the Irish Film Institute’s Revisiting the Quiet Man film series at MoMA (another event at which our apparently indefatigable Cultural Ambassador was also actively involved, including a very funny interview with Jim Sheridan. And all this in the same week as the man found time to impersonate Jedward on The Late Late Show!)

Gwen’s commitment to the blog and passion for Irish arts has her keeping a very busy schedule and between, quite literally, the jigs and the reels, she wasn’t able to cover one concert she’d very much wanted to, Julie Feeney in Joe’s Pub at Lafayette Street last Wednesday.
So last week I went to see Julie Feeney. For my thoughts on the gig, and for lots of great write-ups of all of the other interesting things of an Irish arts bent that are going on about the city at the moment, check out I hope to be keeping it up – both getting to more and writing more!

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