"Mickey Slabdabber" Brings Alive the Fun and Pain of Being Irish

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A new Irish-themed book that's well worth a look. "Mickey Slabdabber" has some important things to say about Irish social and political history, besides being a lively and vivid personal memoir. In particular, the ending really haunted me. It shows that Irish history is still an open wound for many people and their families, and not just "unimportant stuff from the past". Entertaining and worthwhile.

This year is of added significance to Irish-descended folk around the world, wherever they may live. The United States and Canada play host to the largest number, but the adopted home of the author of this book, far-off Australia, is also the home of millions proudly claiming Irish ancestors.

For all of these Gaels, in 2006 the usual cheerful bonhomie and exuberant celebration of St Patrick's Day has been followed by solemn reflection on the 90th anniversary of the Dublin Easter Uprising of 1916. The tragic events of that time bring to mind the terrible price Ireland had to pay to gain its freedom after centuries of oppression.

Even today there remain painful divisions both between and within the North and the South of the fabled "emerald isle", and they scar many an individual psyche. So it's fitting that a book recently released should reflect both the sad and joyful aspects of what it means to be Irish.

"Mickey Slabdabber, a Limerick Odyssey" has been described by the "Limerick Leader" newspaper as "an odyssey of fun". Yet the Rev. Dr Stuart Barton Babbage (the ninety-years young author of " Memoirs of a Loose Canon") describes it as "heart wrenching" as well as heart warming, and "compulsive reading".

Simply put, the book is the true story of a young boy growing from birth towards manhood in Limerick between 1935 and 1953, with a fair amount of later observation thrown in. This of course brings to mind Frank McCourt and Angela's Ashes. Indeed the two books share a deal of common ground, and even the same real-life characters on a few occasions.

For McCourt fans it may also be intriguing to note that the Mickey Slabdabber author, Michael Quinlan, even briefly swapped talk of Limerick with Frank McCourt when the latter was on a book tour in Sydney in May 2000. But their perspectives are by no means identical. Though he praises Angela's Ashes as "a broth of a book" Mr Quinlan also says diplomatically "I felt there was a good word to be put in, that I felt a little lacking in Frank's work".

There are in fact both similarities in subject matter in this autobiography and some striking differences. For instance young Michael Quinlan's father, a man carrying a terrible secret, was also an alcoholic like McCourt senior. Unlike the latter though, he was no ne'er-do-well but held down a skilled tradesman's job until his death. The mothers are very different, this one being not only more resourceful in the face of poverty but also mentally strong and insightful. Their elder son's development however was afflicted both by a crippling stammer and puzzling external circumstances.

The latter derived from the family's wholehearted involvement in the Irish independence struggle, and a later split between diehard IRA supporters and followers of Michael Collins. It's impossible to read a line like "I hardly dared whisper it - De Valera, Mama? What had he to do with this?" without feeling close to the raw currents of Irish history.

While McCourt has been accused of trivialising Irish politics, here no such accusation could be made. For the unseen hand of the IRA distorts young Michael's childhood and leads to the final dramatic plea for information and reconciliation that closes the book.

"Mickey Slabdabber" is by no means just a serious or political book though. There is also art & enchantment, music, theatre & a good deal of humour - not to forget the odd "bubble of glee"- in this true story of a Vizes Field lane boy who wants to be a painter. And for lovers of the offbeat there are even three sets of hilarious vampire misapprehensions. The last is not so surprising on reflection - after all Dracula author Bram Stoker himself was Irish.

The author of "Mickey Slabdabber", Michael Quinlan, migrated to Australia in 1962. He is now a seventy-year old man who paints and writes in the Inner West of Sydney. His paintings include a series of oils of the Limerick of his youth.

"Mickey Slabdabber, a Limerick Odyssey" by Michael Quinlan.

(Lulu Press. ISBN: 1411668871).

Availability: Available now from Amazon.com and other online bookstores, or may be ordered atlocal bookstores. Also available as either a print- on- demand (POD) paperback or an inexpensive e-book from http://www.lulu.com/ebsi. (Lulu is now the world's fastest-growing provider of print-on-demand books)

Contact information: email Mr Quinlan's agent, Bruce Preston:

Or write to PO Box 1086, Strawberry Hills NSW 2012 Australia.

Photo of Michael Quinlan & book cover image available on request.

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