by Rosemary Mahoney
The author, an American with dual Irish citizenship, moved to Ireland for a year in 1991 to gather material for this informal study on the plight of women in that country. Much of her research was done over pints of Guinness in Dublin pubs, and in Corofin, a small village in County Clare.
While Mahoney contends that she visited at a time of momentous change for women—the country’s antiabortion laws were being challenged and its first female president, Mary Robinson, had just been sealed—readers will more likely conclude that change has yet to come, and women’s rights have advanced little against the constraints of the Roman Catholic Church.
Mahoney includes observations from Robinson and other prominent women like poet Eavan Boland, but her narrative is funniest and most absorbing when she lets ordinary-women speak for themselves. She captures the profanity, the colloquialisms, the sense of despair in their voices.
Mahoney’s portrait of rural life is especially bleak. The people of Corofin have none of the gentle charm of characters in a Maeve Binchy novel. They’re lonely, alcoholic and have few prospects for decent jobs. The men dress badly, drink too much and are often still living with their mothers at age 50. Social life consists of pub crawling. Not too surprisingly, conversation there is frequently inane and crude, and much of it is reported verbatim. Readers might wish Mahoney had adhered more strictly to her stated purpose for the book, and not diminished it by wasting so many pages on purely drunken blather. (Houghton Mifflin, $21.95)