Baker Frank Brudair in Dromcollogher is one of the workers featured in the book
MARIE-Louise O’Donnell is a woman of many parts: an educator, an actress, a writer and also a senator. But she is best known to the public as a broadcaster, a woman who was reared on the “word music” of radio and a woman who has made her mark as one of the most distinctive voices and presences in Irish radio.
Now, she has transformed this radio word music on to the page in a new book called Irish Working Lives, published by Veritas. It is by any standard a very handsome publication, telling the ordinary but extraordinary stories of 14 different people from around the country, all beautifully balanced with high-quality photographs by Eric Luke.
Between the covers are the stories of modest men and women, living quiet but purposeful lives. The Builder, The Thatcher, The Embalmer, The Carmelite, The Postman and more are all there and between the covers too, we find The Baker, Frank Brudair from Dromcollogher and The Weatherman, David Meskill from Ardpatrick.
In her foreword to the book, Marie Louise explains how these stories of working lives began on RTE Radio 1, first with Pat Kenny and then with Sean O’Rourke, stories that dealt with “the human heartbeat of everyday life in Ireland.”
“But it was always the energy of the people behind these various activities and stories that stayed with me,” she writes. “The fresh everyday uniqueness and morning-to-evening ordinariness and extraordinariness of what people do for a living.”
“Each of the encounters is written as a moment in time,” she continues. “Their time.”
“I walked with them, observed them, got to know them and stayed with them until it was time to finish their day’s work, and go home.”
In the case of the two Limerick men included in the book, she also got cake: cake freshly made in Brudair’s or cake bought to go with the tea in David Meskill’s home, below.
Indeed, her story about Frank is called: The Diet Ends Here and the opening paragraph is a very long and mouth watering list of the cakes, buns and dainties that he and his employees produce each day. But it is also more. It is, Marie Louise writes, a story of an early loss of a parent (Frank’s father) and a story of an exceptional making and creating life, gifted from Betty to her son Frank. “What a sweet legacy she has left her county, and beyond,” writes Marie-Louise.
Later in the book, as David Meskill pours tea for her in his kitchen, he tells of his life “under the protection of the mountains”.
“He talks of his love for the seasons and especially April and May …. He remembers the smell of hawthorn coming into bloom, of elder blossom, honeysuckle and woodbine in the hedgerows and the divine aroma of his world after a light shower of rain.”
“He speaks like a poet about bird song in Glenmore,” she writes.
All this noticing and listening and watching are important, she discovers, as they feed into his understanding of the world and of weather, weather which he backs up with daily measurements.
“Do people stop and ask you about the weather?” Marie Louise asks him.
“No,” he replies, “that side of my life is worn quietly.”
This is a book that equally can be worn quietly, a book that can be enjoyed slowly and with relish.
Irish Working Lives is published by Veritas and costs €24.99.