PETER MANDLESON’S autobiography includes a photograph of him relaxing at Mick Jagger’s house. It is hard to imagine former Galway West Fine Gael TD Padraic McCormack ever wanting to hang around with rock stars. Instead McCormack has a genuine interest in the eccentricities that make otherwise unremarkable people, in unremarkable places, far more interesting than anyone photographed with the late Princess Margaret.
Padraic took up creative writing, with a vengeance, in September 2011, a few months after his own Fine Gael party locally enforced retirement upon him by selecting Fidelma Healy Eames in his place. He joined my creative writing for beginners class at Galway Technical Institute four years ago this autumn, and from the off was full of enthusiasm and had a great willingness to learn. His first publication, The Rocky Road To The Dáil, was a personal and political memoir, which has sold well. And I know that Padraic has a novel in the making. His new book, a short story collection, entitled A Long Way To Cavan, gathers together 28 short stories.
McCormack is a folk writer in the John B Keane mode. Urban sophisticates of the Galway Four variety are rarely sighted in his stories. These are tales of card schools in country houses, failing parish football teams, and guys like “Old Batty Finnegan [who] was lying on the road when his neighbours Joe and Mike Sullivan found him…his one eyed, shaggy black dog was dutifully sitting beside him licking his face, that is, any part of it that could be seen beneath his scraggy reddish/grey beard.”
Batty, a failed farmer, whose thatched cottage has mostly fallen in on him, has been to town for a few pints too many. In stories such as the one from which the book’s title emerged ‘It’s A Long Way To Cavan In A Morris Minor’, and ‘The Unwelcome Visitor’ – about “a large brown mouse who invited him or herself to the Stations Mass in Brogan’s house” - McCormack shows clever observational wit. He is, at times, a very funny writer, and a versatile one too. ‘The Quack’, a satire on a local quack who initially does not deliver the promised cure – is written in verse form. In just under four years McCormack has come a long way as a writer. It’s fair to speculate that not getting selected as a Fine Gael candidate last time may have turned out to be best for him, if not for the party.
In a couple of stories he brings his wit to bear on his chosen profession: politics. In ‘Wild Goose Chase’ – the story of a failed Senate campaign – the narrator ends up face to face with one of the more important political truths: “them that you could buy with porter will sell you for porter.” ‘The Poster’ is a cutting satire on the more shallow variety of election candidate, in which the poster itself speaks: “I had never heard of [the Fine Weather Party] but they liked my hair and my excellent sense of dress.” I loved this story so much I was envious I didn’t write it myself.
Padraic McCormack’s A Long Way To Cavan, will be launched by Susan Millar DuMars at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop this evening at 6.30pm. All are welcome.