Don’t Wake Me at Doyles by Maura Murphy is a memoir of a woman born in rural Ireland in 1928. She is the third born of a lot of seven in a twelve-year span. They are poor and all the tragedy and hard ache one could imagine befalls this family. Maura and her husband, John, have retired to the town from which she was born. While bringing in the laundry, she coughs and spits out a disgusting glob of mucus and blood into a tissue. She is alarmed.
There isn’t anything else like Irish poverty. It is well documented by some of the world’s best writers. The number of children who survive and the number who don’t is too often equal is these large families. The squalor in which they live, what they eat, how they work is explained in such detail and beautifully written prose. No other people seem to have a monopoly on this kind of tragic real life writing like the Irish. Only the pictures of Walker Evans might come close, but the number of tomes on the subject of Irish poverty and lives is immense.
What we continue to learn in these Irish sagas is the religious difference between the Catholics and the Protestants. It is the continued servitude of the Catholics to the Protestants. The poor abandon education for the service job to the rich. It is a vicious circle. This pattern even continued into the 80’s in America as now educated Irish women came to America to work, as nannies because they knew English, were educated, and were very reliable. As I read this memoir the cultural ways the Irish developed those many centuries ago at the hands of the English can’t seem to be shed. We are constantly reminded of the Mideast and its religious wars, we too often forget Ireland. It is still a class-conscious society.
Maura has two distinct trips to Dublin. The first is when she is very young and gets a job as a maid. During her two years there she falls in love. She has not been truly up front with him, Tom Walsh. She doesn’t disclose her true station in life and is ashamed. They go to dance halls and have good times for two years. Then one day she discovers he, too, hasn’t been true to her. He is seeing another woman. This drives her home and she ends up with her husband, John, because she pities him so she tells us. Her second visit to Dublin is years later and she is very very sick. She learns a great deal about her family by reading their diaries years later about the event. One of the neat things about such a literary island and country, is that everyone is literate and in this family as in others, everyone keeps diaries. She also learns about herself as a mother.
Moving about, bearing children, and learning to live with John is a full time journey for Maura. These two remind me of my own parents who were born in the same year as Maura and John.