Book Review: Historical Irish Oddities by Allen Foster (Gill Books)
2019-04-01 17:09:21 -

Historical Irish Oddities is an unusual collection of real stories from across Ireland compiled by Allen Foster.


A freelance journalist and researcher who has eight other books to his credit, Foster includes very strange but true stories of about people and events over many centuries.


As the back cover blurb tells of its contents: “From the Lismore man who rode to Fermoy in a tub pulled by a pig, a badger, two cats, a goose and hedgehog; to the fortune discovered in a Belfast piano, once owned by destitute sisters; and the Cashel man who insisted on being evicted while lying in his coffin, these strange, zany and at times downright baffling stories are proof, if ever it was needed, that Ireland is indeed a country packed with a unique and fascinating cast of characters.”


History, they say, is a record of past events — and a reader could certainly see the work as historically. To others, it’s much more than that. The book is life and captures our ongoing struggle with religion, migration, homelessness and housing, hunger and starvation as well as the age-old story of internal conflict and wars that have affected both nations and continents.


It offers us some understanding into certain events that are taking place these days but also – when you understand the work – suggests that many of the absurd but true stories that are happening in our lives now have all previously occurred in one way or another.


In the first story of the book, Foster recalls a happening on the morning of 1 October 1941. He writes that a porter working on Dublin’s North Wall Docks turned over a huge case that had mistakenly been unloaded upside down the previous night from the ship Slieve Bawn from Liverpool. He said the porter initially assumed “it was his imagination when he heard tapping coming from inside the crate”.


After listening, tapping back and getting a response, the porter alerted others, and they immediately opened the case. To their astonishment, they found “a hysterical semi-conscious Frenchman upside down and encased in a large plaster cast” and they later brought him to the then Jervis Street hospital. This man was 40-year-old Maurice Carcassus de Laboujac, an artist who lived in London but was previously unable to obtain a visa to Ireland.


Another story, concerning Lord Charles Beresford of Curraghmore, Co Waterford, dates back over 100 years ago. Lord Beresford, who was well known during his youth for his adventures and pranks, joined the Royal Navy as a cadet and later became an admiral. Foster states that Lord Beresford once rode a pig down Park Lane in London one summer morning. Another time, Lord Beresford was deceived “into swimming across the River Thames dressed in a frock coat and top hat”.


This book is sure to appeal to readers young and old, and not only Irish readers, either, and many of the tales and their themes cross nationalities and cultures.

TAGS : book review Irish Oddities Allen Foster Lord Beresford
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