Galway stories of positive working lives

Irish Working Lives, by Marie Louise O’Donnell, with photographs by Eric Luke (Veritas)

Over her broadcasting career, Marie Louise O’Donnell has had the opportunity to work closely with many individuals, sharing their working lives, gaining a unique insight into their day to day duties, and learning what motivates and inspires them in their sometimes unusual occupations.

Irish Working Lives tells the “story of these encounters - by turns candid and lyrical - and illuminates the ways in which these individuals perceive their chosen occupations, its day-to-day demands and the inextricable relationship between work life and spiritual life”.

Fourteen working lives are highlighted in the book and include - amongst others - a birdman, an embalmer, a gardener, a sewer man, a chiropodist, a train driver, and an air traffic controller. The narratives are warm and enthusiastic, ably abetted by wonderful and sensitive photographs. It is difficult not to be moved - even inspired - by them, and two of these stories have a strong Galway connection - thatcher Paul Johnson, and gardener Marita Goggins.

'Although not necessarily religious, Martina Goggins' story is imbued with a strong spirituality that is uplifting and inspirational'

Paul Johnson’s narrative is of a man dedicated to his craft. From Louth, he qualified as an electronic engineer and worked in England where he also played in an r'n'b band. The drummer was a master thatcher and from him Johnson learned the trade. He now lives in Kinvara and for the book O’Donnell joined him as he thatches a 250-year-old cottage which “lies in the eye of Curranroo Bay”.

The chapter describes the thatching in wonderful detail ending with these words from Johnson: “If my creativity was taken away from me, I would die. I would just shrivel up and die, if I could not create something with my hands, be it a lovely frame door made from wood that I spotted, or a stool, or a thatch roof, or music, or painting, or something. To create something is to be around the nearest place to God...If somebody, anybody, asked me who are you? I would tell them, I’m a thatcher”.

Irish Working Lives

The second Galway story begins: “There is a strange warmth in the garden. Strange and comforting. Even though the day is cool, and the garden is built against a Galway limestone surround, looking out over the choppy Salthill shore, there is a warmth.” We meet Martina Goggins, traditional musician, who lost her son in a tragic road accident and who, to come to terms with her grief, built the Circle of Life donor garden in Salthill, providing a place of refuge to help others come to terms with their own loss. Although not necessarily religious, the story is imbued with a strong spirituality that is uplifting and inspirational.

Irish Working Lives is a pleasure to read, a most suitable gift for anybody recovering from a trauma, or indeed anybody who enjoys a good read.

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