||Flanker Press (Canada) and Brandon Books (Ireland, Europe and the UK)
||Jan 1 2002
"Limerick has its Frank McCourt, Dublin has its Peter Sheridan and now Kilkenny has Theresa Lennon Blunt (The Kilkenny People)."
Myths and legends, ageless rivalries, ghosts from the past and spirits awakened: these are the playthings of a child's imagination in Kilkenny. The true story of one woman's coming of age in the 1940s, here we hear Theresa's own nostalgic, poetic and tenderly heartbreaking account of childhood innocence, followed by the tumultuous pain of growing up in a world and a family that are both headed for destruction. As she tries to find peace and independence for herself, solace finds her in the form of an old man who would help her find the truth.
Years and years ago when I was still a child in the marble city of my mind, I sailed the sky in a silver ship with an old man and his goat. He was a fool they said, a crazy intractable old fool filling our heads with silly notions and shouting his insanities to an indignant world. Well, maybe he was crazy. Crazy like an old fox at a farmyard feast. He had no home that I knew of when we first met, living out his days in some secret place and appearing at night like a phantom sheik to fill our world with his magic. Ah! but it was a long time ago, a time of innocence and trust when old men revelled in deeds long done and the days went on forever.
How well I remember it all the same. Sitting naked-like on an old log with only the sky for shelter, listening to a bedraggled old man telling tall tales and pouring his vinegary voice across the wind in an arrow of derision.
From Stephen Street to a Silver Ship (Kilkenny People)
I am standing in a queue in the Book Centre in High Street to have a book signed. The last time I did this was back in August 2000, during Kilkenny's Arts Festival. It took me forty-five minutes to get to the author, Richard Ford, one of America's leading fiction writers.
Today's queue isn't quite that long. In fact today's queue is short and I am damn glad I came along. When I get to the table, a petite, elderly lady with auburn hair and warm, intelligent eyes greets me. Shaking her hand I introduce myself and heartily compliment her on the publication of her book which she graciously signs.
The lady in question is no famous author. The lady in question is not famous at all. She is no Edwina Curry or Ulrika Jonsson. She is no Maeve Binchy or Alice Taylor. Her name is Theresa Lennon Blunt; she hails from Stephen Street in Kilkenny and is at present residing in Vancouver in Canada. Theresa, fair dues to her, has just launched "I Sailed the Sky in a Silver Ship" - her first book to be published.
"I Sailed the Sky in a Silver Ship" is, to quote the blurb on the cover, about "coming of age in the Marble City" in the 'forties and 'fifties. It is about the life and times of Theresa Lennon Blunt or Tess Lennon as her contemporaries would have known her. It is a book about the hard times, tough times, marital breakdown, unemployment and alcoholism. It is also a book filled with nostalgia and love and tender childhood reminiscences. Above all it is a book based totally in Kilkenny.
On the odd occasions that I have written about Daly's Hill or Caesar's Lane or Tom Brett's sweet shop - I have had wonderful responses from readers of the Kilkenny People. People love reading and hearing about these places. Just as I, along with thousands of others, have enjoyed reading Jimmy Rhatigan's (he of nine page fame) recent pieces about old Kilkenny.
Anyone who enjoyed those articles will absolutely love reading Theresa Lennon Blunt's book. The Fairgreen, The Waterbarrack, the Closh, Woolworths, The Boot Factory, the great flood of '47, The Black Quarry, the famous or rather infamous San or Sanatorium, The Meadows, The Monster House, the Metropole Hotel, matinees in the Regent - they all feature. As do such characters of the time as Sean Byrne, Jimmy Murray, Jack Mulcahy, Galtee Murphy, Tommy Murphy and a host of others. Indeed, if you're a certain age you may well find yourself in the pages of this book.
Although Tess Lennon is writing of events and circumstances before my time, nevertheless the book resonates with places and characters and carry-on that I knew only too well. Things hadn't changed all that much by the time I too was catching brickeens in the Breagagh or praying fervently for special intentions in the back of the Black Abbey.
I had never heard of Theresa Lennon Blunt until last week when I saw her book in the Book Centre window. However, I as avidly leafed through the pages I realised that I most certainly knew, or was aware of, her younger brother Jimmy. Jimmy Lennon was, to our childish eyes back in the fifties, the Elvis Presley or perhaps the Frank Ifield of Kilkenny.
Jimmy was cool, Jimmy was the real thing - tall with black slicked-back hair, he played guitar, and sang and was a member, if not co-founder, of the famous Black Aces Showband. He emigrated to England later and even cut a record. "He taught me to Yodel" it was called or was it "She taught me to Yodel" - damn it. I can't be sure but someone taught Jimmy Lennon to yodel and boy did he do a good job on it.
Now, almost forty years on, things are beginning to connect for me. That house in Stephen's Street that I would have known only too well because of its proximity to my primary school; the faces and figures I would have seen coming and going are all coming back to me now - thanks to this book. And Jimmy is still singing and playing across the water, Theresa informed me, with his own group, The Four Aces, which includes two of his sons.
Theresa Lennon Blunt is no spring chicken (and I'm sure she won't mind me saying that) but by God there's still a spring in her step and a twinkle in her eye. I think it's wonderful that she has written this book and captured a period of Kilkenny that I certainly remember all too well. Or as well as can be expected for someone who came of age in the 'fifties and 'sixties in the Marble City.
"I Sailed the Sky in a Silver Ship" is a book written from the heart but a book that is nevertheless uncompromising with the truth. It is a gentle, innocent, honest and at times hard-hitting memoir about coming of age in the Marble City.
Limerick has its Frank McCourt, Dublin has its Peter Sheridan and now Kilkenny has Theresa Lennon Blunt. For the memories, Tess, the good, the bad and the ugly - thank you.
© Copyright The Kilkenny People
Factory Girl: Corker from Kilkenny hot off Flanker Press (Newfoundland Herald)
Theresa Lennon-Blunt doesn't care if she gets rich off Judas in Kilkenny. She could care less if she ever writes another book -- she never wanted this one published in the first place. In fact, the only thing she hopes is readers -- ten or ten million, it doesn't matter either way -- enjoy her story.
"That's payment enough" she says in her lilting Irish brogue, by phone from her home in British Columbia. "I'm not a young writer -- I'm 70 years old, dear -- and money isn't the bottom line for me. It's (writng the book) helped me stand up for myself and fell good about myself. Now, I can hold my head up with others."
With Judas in Kilkenny in her hand, lennon can hold her head high in literary cirlces, too. It's the story of a childhood in Kilkenny, littered with family problems, including her mother's alcoholism. And most of all, it's about a little girl who searches for friendship and herself in Ireland's Marble City and finds both in the most unlikely place.
As a bright child, Lennon grew up wanting something more. To escape her rough home life, she devoted herself to school, only to end up -- at her mother's insistence -- slaving away in a boot factory, until she moved to England at age 21, and ultimately immigrated to Canada with her husband in 1957.
In those days, says Lennon, people never talked about their problems. Within her parent's marriage, there wasn't much room for communication.
"Some marriages are never meant to be," she says, in retrospect. "I think people do start out loving each other, but at some point, love dies."
With her childhood over and Ireland far away, Lennon's own marriage -- 46 years and counting -- is strong and her relationship with her only child Alan is "beautiful." Plaqued by memories of her own childhood, Lennon found the incentive to make sure her son would always have what she never did, including a university education.
Twenty years ago, at therapist's office in Ottawa, Lennon couldn't bring herself to open up. With years of bottled up anxieties and issues, Lennon built a wall around herself too thick for even a therapist to penetrate. To encourage his patient to open up, the doctor suggested writing down everything she could remember about life in ireland. Lennon penned what would ultimately become a 700-page manuscript, ultimately chopped down into a published novel just shy of 300 pages.
When she moved west fours ago, Lennon threw the pages into the garbage, only to rescued by Alan, who offered to have them bound. With her sister Jane diagnosed with terminal cancer, lennon once again started on the manuscript, only to see Jane die before it reached completion.
Diagnosed with cancer three years ago, Lennon found herself back in the therapist's office, and once again she found she couldn't express herself without breaking down.
"I couldn't talk about my personal life. When the therapist heard about the manuscript, she wanted to read it and I gave it her," says Lennon. "When she gave it back, she said ' If you don't try to this published, I'll never speak to you again."
With little self-confidence, Lennon held little faith in her own work. Her therapist offered the names of a few publishers and Lennon and her husbamd Keith set to work finding a publisher.
"I got lovely letter back from them, telling they loved it, but they were busy with other projects," she says. "I said to Keith, 'if this is ever published, it will be published in Newfoundland, because the people there will be able to identify with my Irish roots."
Right now, you may be saying to yourself, "Self, I read Angela's Ashes. I even saw the movie. Does the world need another book about the plight of the Irish?" let's stop and smell the potatoes for a minute.
Judas in Kilkenny is a powerful biography, It's a beautifully written page-turner with a strong cast of characters. (All names changed, as the book is set for publication in Ireland to avoid any legal action).
Above all, it's full of life lessons. Just ask Lennon herself, who let go of years of anger towards her mother to admit today she now understands her mother's ways.
From shattered Christmas presents to shattered fingers at the hands of the school Nuns to shattered dreams, Judas in Kilkenny is a fast way for all of us to become a little older and a lot wiser.
© Copyright The Newfoundland Herald
A Crazy Old Man and a Teller of Tall Stories (The Harp)
I Sailed the Sky in a Silver Ship is the title of Theresa Lennon-Blunt’s first book and memoir. Lennon-Blunt’s beautifully written book is about a young girl coming of age during the 1940's and 1950's in Kilkenny, Ireland. Throughout the book the author captures with poignancy the bleak reality of her existence, an existence which is blighted by alcoholism, embedded in poverty, and touched by cruelty.
Although the story is punctuated with moments of sadness and despair, the author balances the harsher aspects of her life with the innocent and carefree escapades of her youth. This balancing act creates an atmosphere that conveys the austere environment of the author’s youth without drowning the reader in sentiments of self-pity and resentment.
From the opening passages of the book the reader is swept back in time and place through the author’s descriptive powers, rich narrative, and exquisite use of metaphor. It is during these opening passages that the reader is first introduced to the Old Man, Malachi Dempsey, a local character who becomes friend and confidant to a young Theresa.
“Years and years ago when I was still a child in the marble city of my mind, I sailed the sky in a silver ship with an old man and his goat. He was a fool they said, a crazy intractable old fool filling our heads with silly notions and shouting his insanities to an indignant world.
Well, maybe he was crazy. Crazy like an old fox at a farmyard feast. He had no home that I knew of when we first met, living out his days in some secret place and appearing at night like a phantom sheik to fill our world with his magic.
Ah! but it was a long time ago, a time of innocence and trust when old men revelled in deeds long done and the days went on forever. How well I remember it all the same. Sitting naked-like on an old log with only the sky for shelter, listening to a bedraggled old man telling tall tales and pouring his vinegary voice across the wind in an arrow of derision.
"Sure ye can knock forever on a dead man's door," he would say to us in exaggerated tones whenever Matty Cavanaugh the rent collector passed close enough to hear, or, "Tis huntin' with th' hounds an' runnin' with th' fox that a man meets his folly," to Barney Callaghan the chief constable.
Little we cared about the motives in his mind, the hidden meanings in his metaphors, as around him we would gather like moths around a flame, blinded by the grandeur of his rhetoric and driven by the lure of his legends.
All that has changed now. The Old Man is long dead, as are most of the others. Their voices stilled forever in the stony silence of their graves, their faces broken unclear images floating in and out of my consciousness like gnats on a summer breeze...”
© Copyright The Harp
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