Ó Cadhain’s last, existential, word

The Dregs Of The Day by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, translated Alan Titley, published by Yale University Press

A RARE Christmas gem has just been offered to those who are fans of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s work, but who have great difficulty in reading him in the vernacular.

'Fuíoll Fuine' was the last short story, cum novella, Ó Cadhain published before his death, and now an English language version, The Dregs Of The Day, by the novelist, playwright, scholar, and wit, Alan Titley.

In his introduction, Titley writes how the story "appeared as the second part of a trilogy designed to make a break from his earlier work. It can be described either as a novella or a long short story, although writers are never too bothered about the minutiae of these genre wars. It was a story, like the best of his work that began at the beginning and went on until its end, when its energy was spent, and it had spun itself out”.

Title’s introduction is informative, instructive, witty, and even defensive: “Most of what the Irish ever said or spoke or dreamed or wondered or argued or made up was in the Irish language. Any disregard of this fact is cultural amnesia...It was a language known by the Irish themselves, quite often as the only language they knew." O’Cadhain inherited this rich and oral tradition and transformed it into the literary tradition of contemporary modern Europe.

'Largely existential, comparisons to Camus, Sartre and Kafka come to mind'

The main protagonist in The Dregs of the Day is named N. The first paragraph reads: “It was a ratty voice on the other end of the telephone, her sister calling from his house...'Aren’t you ashamed of your self gallivanting around, and your wife just dead,’ N said. ‘Yes’ It was as much as he could think of saying.”

N sets out to organise the funeral, but is incapable of making any firm decisions. For the rest of the novella, he stumbles from place to place incapable of positive decisions, following false starts and achieving absolutely nothing. Despite this negativity, the work is often imbued with black humour, enlivened by Titley’s use of indigenous phrases and sayings, such as “Ah! Cop yourself on, who would be looking at you."

N ends up on a dock with a drunken American soldier who speaks of the Promised Land. With this bright vision of a bright future, the novella ends with: “N let the bottle slide down into the water, down into the wondrous sea, the hidden sea. He wanted it to be a sign of his past life and also of the unforeseen life, maybe the liberated life, that was before him. He raised his eyes towards the west, gazed into that tiny dapple of golden sunlight on the horizon, on the dregs of the day done down..."

The Dregs Of The Day is a challenge, largely existential, with comparisons to Camus, Sartre and Kafka coming to mind. It is a challenge worth taking.


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