Tom Phelan comes to the blog today with his memoir of his early years as a boy in 1940’s Ireland and narrated by Gerard Doyle
We Were Rich and We Didn’t Know It
Mostly because I was enchanted with Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, and then got all involved in the PBS Show, My Mother and Other Strangers, Ireland of the 40’s has always held an interest. While we’re all familiar with ‘the troubles’ and the information about the ‘Irish Issues” has been written about endlessly – no matter what side you lean toward, I’ve always wanted more from the outer counties and people as I learn about the time, struggles and choices of residents not always highlighted in the tales of struggle or lore. Tom Phelan takes us to his own childhood in an exploration of relationships, both within the family and with the ever-present and occasionally domineering Catholic Church, as they struggle through both good and lean times, find and chase dreams, opportunities and choices, and above all, maintain that peculiar tether to land, family and the “Irishness” that binds them all together.
Taking us from his infancy through to the point he leaves for boarding school to study for the priesthood, we are treated to that ‘simpler’ sense of the days without internet, when chores went from sunup to sundown with everything having a time and a season, and the sheer repetition bringing that sense of belonging and purpose to every day. Prose that is simple and deceptively complex as it details daily life – from being bullied to great moments of triumph – all under the close watchfulness of neighbors, family and the church. The simplistic lessons that his father was teaching them – perhaps to avoid bringing undue notice or setting them “apart” from others and thus making them more of a target of those who don’t have options, the struggles to keep ‘thoughts and acts’ to oneself, and the actual detailing of people being people – not good, not bad, but opportunistic and availing themselves of the opportunity and the moment which often determined the ‘morality’ of the moment. It was an interesting tale that seeks not to glorify or vilify the rural life in middle-counties Ireland in the 40’s, but to show it, warts and all, allowing readers to better understand those of that generation and perhaps better understand the changes, or lack thereof, within the same areas.
Narration for this story is provided by Gerard Doyle, who captured the accent and the lyrical delivery with aplomb. My single complaint was with transitions, as paragraphs weren’t clear or distinct, and often one did not clearly lead into another, allowing for a bit of “catch up” for ears and brain to regather themselves. It was easy to acclimate to the accent, and his voice did manage to present with tone and volume changes as appropriate, allowing for auditory interest that kept me engaged and intrigued.
Stars: Overall 4 Narration 3 Story 5
Title: We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It
Author: Tom Phelan
Genre: Biographic / autobiographic, Biography / Memoir, Family Saga, Historic Elements, Humor elements, Irish, Setting: Ireland, Small Town
Narrator: Gerard Doyle
Published by: Gallery Books, Simon & Schuster Audio
Published on: 5 March, 2019
Source: Simon and Schuster Audio
Audio Length: 6 Hours: 13 minutes
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦ Book Depository ♦ Google ♦Audible ♦Direct from Publisher
In the tradition of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and Alice Taylor’s To School Through the Fields, Tom Phelan’s We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It is a heartfelt and masterfully written memoir of growing up in Ireland in the 1940s.
Tom Phelan, who was born and raised in County Laois in the Irish midlands, spent his formative years working with his wise and demanding father as he sought to wrest a livelihood from a farm that was often wet, muddy, and back-breaking.
It was a time before rural electrification, the telephone, and indoor plumbing; a time when the main modes of travel were bicycle and animal cart; a time when small farmers struggled to survive and turkey eggs were hatched in the kitchen cupboard; a time when the Church exerted enormous control over Ireland.
We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It recounts Tom’s upbringing in an isolated, rural community from the day he was delivered by the local midwife. With tears and laughter, it speaks to the strength of the human spirit in the face of life's adversities.
A copy of this title was provided via Simon and Schuster Audio for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.