Cowslips and Chainies is a poignant memoir of childhood in 1930s and early ’40s Dublin. Best-selling novelist Elaine Crowley’s account of tenement life is by turns hilarious and intensely sad. Her beloved, consumptive father – generous, handsome and fickle – works at the local undertakers. Her proud, resourceful mother, struggling with privation, alternates slaps with kisses in a turbulent relationship with young Nella.
Through the eyes of a natural storyteller, we enjoy scenes from a receding past vividly enacted: the teeming life of the Iveagh Market; the street-games and domestic strife; the stratagems for survival among pawnbrokers and money-lenders. We share in Crowley’s wide-eyed witness of a pre-school plot to murder the neighbour’s toddler, the excitement of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress, the trauma of leaving the Liberties for a Corporation house on the city fringe, attempts at sex education thwarted by nuns, her first job in the sewing factory at the age of fourteen, an outing to foil her father’s ‘carryings on’, and his moving death from TB in the early part of 1942.
Cowslips and Chainies is infused with wonder and particularity, and conveys an overwhelming love of place and persons. It is a classic of Irish autobiography.