First published in Irish by An Gúm in 1965, Seosamh Mac Grianna’s magnificent autobiographical novel Mo Bhealach Féin is translated here for the first time into English by Míchéal Ó hAodha. With notes of Dead as Doornails and The Ginger Man in its absurd comedy, Seosamh Mac Grianna pens his reaction to an anglicised, urbanised, post-revolution Ireland, demonstrating his talents at their peak.
This Road of Mine relates a humorous, picaresque journey through Wales en route for Scotland, an Irish counterpart to Three Men in a Boat with a twist of Down and Out in Paris and London. The protagonist follows his impulses, getting into various absurd situations: being caught on the Irish Sea in a stolen rowboat in a storm; feeling guilt and terror in the misplaced certainty that he had killed the likeable son of his landlady with a punch while fleeing the rent; sleeping outdoors in the rain and rejecting all aid on his journey. What lies behind his misanthropy is a reverence for beauty and art and a disgust that the world doesn’t share his view, concerning itself instead with greed and pettiness.
The prose is full of personality, and Ó hAodha has proved himself adept at capturing the life and spark of the writer’s style. His full-spirited translation has given the English-reading world access to this charming and relentlessly entertaining bohemian poet, full of irrepressible energy for bringing trouble on himself. As well as the undoubted importance of this text culturally, Mac Grianna is able to make rank misanthropy enjoyable – making music out of misery. The voice is wonderful: hyperbolic but sincere.
Seosamh Mac Grianna (1900–90) was the most high-profile modern writer in Ulster Irish and possibly the greatest Gaeltacht writer of his day. He was born into a family of poets and storytellers in Donegal at a time of linguistic and cultural change. He trained as a teacher and was involved in the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War. Mac Grianna’s work developed considerably before he was struck by a severe depressive psychosis in 1935. In 2016, BBC Two Northern Ireland broadcast the documentary Ar Mo Bhealach Féin (This Road of Mine) in which Seán Mac Labhraí retraced Mac Grianna’s steps of his 300-mile journey through Wales.
Mícheál Ó hAodha was born in Galway and grew up between the west of Ireland and the north of England. He is an Irish-language poet and a translator and a part-time lecturer at the University of Limerick. Two of his most recent books include Seán Ó Ríordáin: Life and Work (Mercier, 2018) and a volume of poetry entitled Leabhar na nAistear II (The Book of Journeys II) (Coiscéim, 2019).
‘A forgotten classic … a paean to a lost world. Stark and beautiful, the book explores the dissonance between one culture and another, one language and another, one form of survival and another. A visionary work, This Road of Mine poses questions about the nature of reality in this, the supposed post-truth era, an era where the very nature of truth itself is a source of anxiety and debate. What appears, on the surface, as a simple “road-trip” is really one man’s journey into his inner soul and his generous humanity.’ – COLUM MCCANN