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Rosenheim & Windermere:

Adam Wyeth reviews Brian Lalor's new memoir





Adam Wyeth in Southword Journal

ADAM WYETH was born in Sussex in 1978, and moved to Ireland, County Cork in 2000. His debut collection Silent Music was published by Salmon Poetry in 2011 and was commended by the Forward Poetry Prize (2012). His poetry has won and been commended in many competitions, including The Fish International Poetry Competition (winner, 2009). His work appears in several anthologies including The Forward Prize Anthology (2012) and The Best of Irish Poetry (2010). His poems have appeared in many literary magazines and journals, including: The Stinging Fly, The SHOp, Poetry London and Magma. Wyeth is a member of the Poetry Ireland Writers in Schools Scheme and runs an ongoing online Creative Writing workshop at creativewritingink.ie. He is also a freelance journalist with a regular column in The Southern Star and contributes book reviews and features regularly for The Irish Times.






Rosenheim & Windermere reviewed in Southword Journal

Rosenheim & Windermere

Brian Lalor

(Somerville Press, 2011)

ISBN: 978 0 9562231 66


Buy from Somerville





Portrait of the Artist as a Young Boy



With the proliferation of Irish memoirs over the years overflowing with poverty, alcoholism and institutional abuse, (Angela’s Ashes and The Raggy Boy Trilogy immediately spring to mind) one might be forgiven for thinking that such events were the order of the day for every child growing up in Ireland. But Brian Lalor’s new book, Rosenheim and Windermere proves it wasn’t all misery and mud, and that you don’t need to have an unhappy childhood to produce a good Irish memoir.

Set during the 1940s around the College Road area of Cork city, where Lalor was born, Rosenheim (his widowed grandmother’s home) and Windermere (his parents' home) is a tale of two houses positioned only a few streets apart. But within each home, and between them, a wider world appears round every corner and on every page.

            Struck with polio, and thus kept out of school, the young Lalor moves to and fro between both family homes, witnessing the life of his parents, their friends, housekeepers, maids and his bedridden grandmother. The memoir is also a book of two different times. It opens with Lalor describing his grandmother lying "like a jaded odalisque, dying throughout the entirety of my childhood".

            In her home Rosenheim imbues another world, a fin de siècle Victorian age with nicotine-stained floral wallpaper, deep maroon velvet curtains, winking mirrors and brass hand-bells, "that modulate the activity of the house".

            But if Rosenheim is a house of death, history and intrigue, then Windermere by contrast, is light, airy and alive with the world of the living. His father, an officer in the Irish defence forces, has a calm demeanour, while his bookish mother enjoys peppering every conversation with literary allusions and quirky etymological revelations.

            Despite Ireland’s neutrality during World War II, the war has a continual presence in the Lalor household, so much so that even the family dog is named Blitz. While his parents are both Nationalists, neither seem to have much concept of a Gaelic Ireland. Lalor relates how traditional Irish music and Gaelic games were neither heard of nor mentioned in Windermere. "The four green fields and dancing at the crossroads, as foreign to them as the rituals of Kalahari nomads", he says.

            For all these cultural discrepancies, 1940s Cork is brought bustling back to life. Not attending school allowed Lalor the freedom to, as he puts it, be "curious about anything that moved on the street and would take note of any familiar or strange adult, child or dog, delivery-man or streetwalker as they passed".

            Everyday events, such as neighbours awaiting the delivery of milk by a handsome pony and cart, are graphically captured: "The women, girls, maids emerging from the houses with ceramic jugs and galvanized gallon cans to collect the milk, which was dispensed in an attractive hissing stream of milky foam … "

            To contrast the milk of human kindness, Lalor describes the delivery of fuel in a more sinister tone as it arrives, not pulled by a handsome pony but, "an elderly and asthmatic dray horse, dragging a float stacked high with sacks of coal and turf". These light and dark juxtapositions, continued throughout, make a fitting metaphor for the Rosenheim and Windermere households. So attuned is Lalor’s ear to the world around him, he is able to detect the location of each house by the gates’ "screeches and rusty creaks" which were "as individual as human voices", he says. "Some gates cried out in anguish, others stuttered, one whinged loudly, a few were left swinging in the breeze and, to grandmother’s irritation, gossiped incessantly."

            Whether Lalor is looking out onto the "tall, handsome redbrick houses with their well-tended gardens and firmly curtained windows … " or watching his grandmother resting like Sleeping Beauty with her long coiled hair, he evokes the period with great panache. Art also makes a strong impression on the young Lalor’s imagination, as he describes experiencing a dual existence, living both within and outside a dark 17th Century Dutch landscape painting that hangs over the mantelpiece of his parents’ drawing room. He writes how he could "move into the painting or emerge from it, bilocating with consummate ease, while sitting on the floor playing with my toys or observing and listening to the adults talking".

            These formative years offer insight into how a child’s imagination and curiosity lead Lalor to pursue a distinguished career in which the disciplines of art, archaeology and writing have merged. Lalor studied at the Crawford Municipal School of Art in Cork , then later worked in architecture, before moving into archaeology where he made significant discoveries on the architecture of classical Jerusalem. In 1974 he moved to West Cork where he’s continued to write and work as a respected printmaker, writer and artist.

During the 1990s, Lalor was General Editor of the internationally award-winning Encyclopaedia of Ireland. In one of the many amusing anecdotes from the memoir, Lalor recalls receiving his first encyclopaedia, while simultaneously receiving his first experience in editing, as he discovers several pages under the letter B (for babies) torn out prudishly by his mother.

            Lalor’s love of the fairytale, which has inspired some of his art, also plays into the book. If his grandmother resembles Sleeping Beauty then his fearfully snobbish aunt, who frequents both homes too often, is the wicked witch.

            Light and dark, nuanced and wry, Rosenheim and Windermere is not just a the portrait of the artist as a young boy, but a fascinating account of life in the forties in Cork. Without hardly leaving his street, Lalor opens a refreshing window on the world by scrutinizing an under-documented side of Irish social life.



©2012 Adam Wyeth




Author Links


Adam Wyeth at Poetry International Web

Wyeth's author page at Salmon Poetry

Nuala Ní Chonchúir interview with Wyeth







©2009 Southword Editions
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