The Ghosts of Kilrush web page www.joeriley.info for history and joe's music
A Review of the Book
In the early post-war years, to a stranger, Kilrush, a small town on the western coast of Ireland, would have appeared to be a pleasant but sleepy place where time had stood still. After driving over miles of unmade road from Ennis, the stranger would have reached the top of a hill from where he could view the whole town spread out below him. He would see where the mighty Shannon River discharged into the Atlantic Ocean, the small town harbor from where, decades before, thousands of Irishmen embarked on ships bound either for America or Australia, rarely ever to return. Cutting through the town he would see Francis Street, the second widest street in all of Ireland, yet few if any motor vehicles using it. Raising his eyes he would see the islands of Scattery and Hog, stoically protecting the town from the rage of Atlantic storms. He might have wondered who lived in such a place and what did they do, how did they live?
Joe Riley’s book, Ghosts of Kilrush, lifts this veil with his remarkable memories of the period, but most important of all, the people of the town. Yet, Joe Riley is not from Kilrush or even Ireland. His English father had been contracted to supervise the installation of machinery in the new flourmill brought Joe to Kilrush, and this was before Joe had reached school age. Returning to England for a Christmas vacation, he left Joe in the care of the large Deloughry family who, as he failed to return, unofficially adopted him as one of their own.
The household was dominated by his adopted mother, Auntie May and the mutual love they had for each other comes shining through. Her husband, Uncle Andrew, a retired navy man, patiently taught young Joe his fishing skills and passed his wisdom onto him. Each of their other adult children influenced Joe’s upbringing. Gerard with his motorbike trips; Sean by taking Joe with him when delivering flour by boat up the Shannon River to Limerick; Willie who founded the boy scouts in Kilrush; Katie who made Joe’s clothes; Mary with her gentleness and Lulu who met and married her Danish prince
Not all is happiness and light. Tales of the viciousness of the Christian Brothers who taught in the schools will horrify some and bring back remembrances for many. But the characters of the town are what makes this book special. The stories and tales from the lips of Paddy Griffin, known behind his back as Pollock the Liar, provide the laughter. The currach builders; the barber Paddy Hawes who being a leading IRA man, hated Joe for being British; Johnjoe O’Shea’s election to the council; Mrs. Crotty and her now famous pub; farmers at the horse fair, and many more. Every character becomes alive again through the eyes of Joe.
Joe also recounts the time when, at the age of nine, his real mother turned up and took him for a short visit back to England to meet his brothers and sisters. His shock at the squalor they lived in compared to his life with Auntie May, and how he returned from the visit, traveling by himself with the aid of notes and half-crowns in six envelopes provided by his mother.
Joe Riley successfully paints a word picture of life in rural Ireland during those times. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, but it will also give you total enjoyment.