Tadhg-Mac-Dhonnagain
Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin writes books, screenplays and songs and works predominantly in Irish (sometimes called Gaelic), the indigenous language of Ireland. His creative fiction-style biography of the 19th-century poet and songwriter, Antoine Ó Raiftearaí, Mise Raiftearaí an Fíodóir Focal (I am Raiftearaí, the Word-Weaver) was awarded the premier Irish-language Book of the Year Award, Gradam Uí Shúilleabháin, 2015. His season song book/CD Bliain na nAmhrán (The Year of Song) won a Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award, was included in the White Ravens Annual Catalogue of excellent children’s publications from around the world by the International Youth Library, Munich, Germany and won the Irish-language Book of the Year, Gradam Réics Carló, 2017. Screenwriting credits include the TV drama Aifric (Telegael, 2006-08 for TG4), which he co-created with director Paul Mercier and Telegael. The series won three consecutive Irish Film and Television Awards for best youth programme (2007, 2008 and 2009) and the Celtic Media Festival Bronze Torc Award for best young peoples’ production. The show has been broadcast in Europe, Latin America and Asia. His novel, Madame Lazare, was awarded an An Post Irish Book Award in 2021.
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Madame Lazare
Madame Lazare is a novel which shifts in time and place between the Aran Islands, Paris and Brussels from the mid-twentieth century to the present day. Personal, family and cultural identity are brought into question as the plot unfolds and unusual family secrets are revealed. The two main characters are Levana and her frail grandmother Hana Lazare who, as a young Jewish refugee, had to flee her home in Estonia to avoid persecution. Hana has always avoided contact with other Jewish survivors from her native Estonia. As Hana slides into dementia in Paris her daughter begins to realise that all is not as it seems. Hana is saying unusual things and at times seems to speaking in an utterly unintelligible language.  An Irish translator from the European Parliament helps unravel the strange words Levana has recorded her grandmother speaking.The book concludes in 2018 with Levana on the Aran islands and the full story of Madame Lazare’s past having been revealed. There is an explanation for her hidden life.
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Excerpt

Excerpt

Sagart áirid a bhí ann. Sin a deireadh na daoine fásta faoi Father Folan, ach shíl Muraed go raibh sé go hálainn. Dá mbuailfeadh sé bleid chainte ort is tú ag siúl abhaile ón scoil, nó dá gcuirfeadh sé ceist ort sa seomra ranga agus é tagtha isteach ar cuairt, níor airigh tú go raibh sé ag iarraidh a fháil amach an raibh tú dána nó leisciúil nó sleamchúiseach. ‘Sén chaoi go mbíodh suim aige sa rud a déarfá leis, amhail is go raibh níos mó ná freagra ceart amháin ar cheist ar bith.

Níor thuig Muraed cén fáth go mbíodh na daoine fásta a rá go raibh bealach aisteach leis. Cén dochar má bhí sé de nós aige fanacht go maidin ag tórramh, é féin ag scéalaíocht, ag gáirí leis an gcomhluadar agus ag rá corrstéibh d’amhrán?

Bhí sé beagáinín áirid, ceart go leor, an chaoi a mbíodh sé ag dul thart leath den am agus seaicéad bréidín air, amhail seaniascaire. Dúirt Eoin Éamoinn go raibh a chloigeann curtha ó mhaith ag na blianta a bhí caite amuigh san Afraic aige. Bhí a intinn bruite ag an teas amuigh ann, a dúirt sé, é ag iarraidh foghlaim Dé a chur ar dhaoine fiáine in áiteacha nach dtitfeadh braon báistí ó cheann ceann na bliana.

Ach in ainneoin na rudaí a deireadh na daoine fásta faoi, bhí cúis mhaith amháin ag Muraed a cheapadh gur sagart fíordheas a bhí ann. Mar b’é Father Folan an t-aon duine riamh a tháinig ag an teach go speisialta le castáil ar Pháraic.

Cén chaoi a raibh a fhios aige go raibh Páraic ann beag ná mór? Ní thugtaí amach ag an Aifreann riamh é. Is dócha go raibh a fhios ag muintir na háite go raibh sé ann. D’fheicfidís ar maidin é agus Muraed á thabhairt chomh fada le teach Neil Chóil Jimí, le go dtabharfadh sise aire dó nuair a bhí sí féin agus Bid ar scoil. Ach maidir leis na daoine a thagadh san oíche ag an teach le bheith ag scéalaíocht le Deaide nó ag casadh amhrán, ní leagfaidís sin súil riamh air. Dhéanfadh Deaide cinnte go mbeadh Páraic curtha a luí i gcónaí sula dtiocfaidís.

Níor thaithnigh sé le Muraed an chaoi a dtugadh Bid ‘simpleoir’ air. Ní raibh tada simplí faoi Pháraic. Agus ní ‘gnúsachtach’ a bhíodh aige, ach focla. Focla a bhí cumtha aige féin. Cé mhéad duine cliste a bhí in ann a rá gurbh iad féin a chum na focla a bhí acu, chuile cheann beo? Ach b’shin mar a bhí ag Páraic. ‘Nuc’ a bhí aige ar bhainne. ‘Unna’ a bhí aige ar ronnach. ‘Há’ ar an bpréachán. Agus ‘Aidhl’ a bhí aige ar an bhfaoileán bán. Bhí dosaen eile focla ar a laghad aige.

Agus ní le focla amháin a chuireadh sé féin in iúl. Bhí bealach aige lena dhá shúil a chasadh ina chloigeann a thabharfadh brí bhreise don mhéid a bhí sé ag iarraidh a rá. Dá gcasfadh sé deiseal na súile agus iad a stopadh le stánadh suas ar fhraitheacha an tí, chiallódh sé sin go raibh sé sásta, nó gur mhaith leis go mbainfeadh Muraed dinglis as. Agus dá gcasfadh sé na súile tuathal agus iad a stopadh le stánadh ar leacracha an urláir, chiallódh sé sin go raibh sé cráite ann féin. Dá mba néal uaignis a bhí tite air, chúbfadh sé isteach aige féin agus ní bheadh bíog as ar feadh an tráthnóna.

Ach dá mba stoirm chantail a bhailigh ina thimpeall, scéal eile a bheadh ann. Bheadh lasracha sna súile an uair sin aige agus dá ligfí leis, tharraingeodh sé trioblóid éicint. Formhór laethanta, dá dtabharfadh Muraed faoi deara in am é, bheadh sí in ann é a mhealladh agus a bhréagadh sula mbeadh buicéad uisce leagtha aige nó cic buailte aige ar chois an bhoird.

Ach formhór mór an ama, ní bhíodh mórán deacracht ar bith ag baint leis. Má bhí sé suite ar a chompord i gcúinne na cistine, é ag spraoi leis na clocha míne a fuair Muraed thíos ar an gcladach dó, ba chuma leis faoi rud ar bith eile. Ní fios cén sásamh a bhaineadh sé as na clocha míne céanna, é á bpiocadh suas is á leagan uaidh, é ag déanamh líne díobh, á gcarnadh ar mhullach a chéile go dtí go dtitidís anuas ina thimpeall ar leacracha an urláir.

Uair amháin, nuair a thit carn a bhí déanta aige, tháinig ceann mór amháin anuas go trom ar a chois. Ar ndóigh, lig Páraic béic as a chloisfí amuigh i gConamara. Dhúisigh Deaide de gheit.

“Tusa a thug na clocha damanta sin isteach sa teach seo, nach tú?” a deir sé.

Chlaon Muraed a ceann.

“Bhuel, faigh réidh anois leo,” a deir sé. “Is ná feicim arís iad. Tá a dhóthain gleo aige siúd mar atá.”

Bhí a fhios ag Muraed gur drochphlean a bhí ansin. Agus bhí an ceart aici. Bhí Páraic croíbhriste faoi na clocha a bheith caite amach. Choinnigh sé air go ceann cúpla lá ag olagón agus ag éagaoin nó gur dhúirt Deaide le Muraed iad a thabhairt ar ais isteach.

Bhí siad ann ó shin i gcúinne na cistine agus Páraic ina lár go sásta formhór mór tráthnóntaí.

Bhuel, oíche Dhomhnaigh amháin, thart ar mhí nó mar sin th’éis do Father Folan a theacht go hÁrainn le bheith ina shagart paróiste nua, bhuail sé isteach ag an teach gan choinne. Bhí Páraic ina shuí sa gcúinne, Muraed agus Bid ag an mbord ag scríobh a gcuid aistí, Deaide ina chnap chodlata cois tine.

Nuair a chonaic Muraed an sagart i mbéal an dorais, sheas sí suas go díreach, mar a dhéanadh sí nuair a shiúladh duine tábhachtach dá chineál isteach sa seomra ranga ar scoil. Bhreathnaigh Bid suas óna cóipleabhar.

“Cén tseafóid atá ortsa?” a deir sí.

“Fáilte isteach, a Athair,” arsa Muraed. Nuair a bhreathnaigh Bid i dtreo an dorais, tháinig dath geal ar a héadan.

“Dia anseo isteach,” a deir Father Folan.

Dhúisigh Deaide de gheit.

“A Athair,” a deir sé, an dá shúil ag leathadh ina cheann.

“Ní le drochscéala atá mé tagtha, a Thaidhg,” arsa an sagart, gáirí muinteartha ar a bhéal.

Bhreathnaigh Deaide go géar anall ar Mhuraed, agus thuig sí ón dearcadh sin uaidh go gcaithfeadh sí Páraic a thabhairt isteach sa seomra ó thuaidh ar an bpointe boise.

Ach bhí a fhios aici chomh maith go mbeadh jab aici é a tharraingt amach as an gcúinne agus a chluiche a fhágáil ina dhiaidh.

“Tá súil agam nach bhfuil mé ag cur as daoibh,” arsa Father Folan. “Níl ann ach go bhfuil mé ag iarraidh beannacht bheag a chur ar an teach agus a bhfuil ina gcónaí ann.”

Bhreathnaigh Deaide ar an sagart agus meangadh fáilteach aige, ach d’airigh Muraed go raibh faitíos de chineál éicint air.

Chaith Deaide súil ghéar eile anall ar Mhuraed. Chas sí i dtreo Pháraic agus chrom síos aige, í ag labhairt leis sa nglór sin a d’úsáideadh sí lena bhréagadh.

“Seo leat, a Pháraic,” a deir sí. “Tá sé in an am dul a luí.”

Choinnigh Páraic air gan aird ar bith a thabhairt uirthi, é ag leagan na gcloch ina líne mar a bheadh nathair nimhe chnapánach ann.

“A Pháraic,” a deir Muraed arís de chogar géar.

Bhreathnaigh sé uirthi, an dearcadh ceanndána sin a raibh oiread cleachtaidh aici air.

Chas Muraed timpeall. Ní fhéadfaí Páraic a chorraí, ach dá seasfadh sí os a chomhair, b’fhéidir nach dtabharfadh Father Folan faoi deara mórán é.

Bhí stiall fhada éadaigh bainte amach as póca a sheaicéid faoin tráth seo ag an sagart. Déanta as éadach bán de chineál éicint a bhí sé agus croiseanna ar dhath an óir fuáilte ann. Ba mhór an áilleacht é, cibé cén t-ainm a bheadh air. Leath Father Folan an stiall éadaigh amach uilig agus phóg é sular chuir sé thart ar a mhuineál é. Sheas sé i lár an urláir agus bheannaigh sé an teach, agus ní Laidin a bhí aige ach píosa mór fada de phaidir Ghaeilge. Ansin, anonn leis chomh fada le Deaide. Leag sé a ordóg ar a bhaithis siúd agus ghearr fíor na croise ann ar an gcaoi chéanna is a ghearradh Deaide fíor na croise ar dhroim na bó th’éis dó í a bhleán. Níor bhreathnaigh Deaide ar an sagart, ach síos ar leacracha an urláir.

Chas Father Folan agus anonn leis chomh fada le Bid, le beannacht a chur uirthi siúd chomh maith céanna. Nuair a chas sé i dtreo Mhuraed, chonaic sí an straois a bhí ar éadan a deirféar. Bhain sí dá pluic arís í breá sciobtha nuair a chonaic sí Deaide ag stánadh anall uirthi.

Leag Father Folan a ordóg ar bhaithis Mhuraed agus chuir beannacht uirthi, é ag monabhar leis faoi Bhríd agus Colm Cille agus Éanna. Ansin, dhírigh sé ar Pháraic.

‘’Á, ná bac leis siúd, a Athair,’’ arsa Deaide, agus cineál de chreathán ina ghlór. ‘’Níl aon chiall aige.’’

‘’Duine de chlann Dé atá ann, a Thaidhg, ach an oiread leatsa agus liomsa,’’ arsa Father Folan.

Chuaigh sé síos ar a dhá ghlúin os comhair Pháraic agus labhair leis i nglór íseal. Bhreathnaigh Páraic air go ceisteach, ach bhí an t-amharc ceanndána imithe óna shúile.

“Nach le castáil ortsa a tháinig mé, a Pháraic?” a bhí Father Folan a rá leis. “Nach é do leithéidí a bhronnann grásta Dé ar na daoine atá ag tabhairt aire duit?”

Bhreathnaigh Muraed anonn ar Dheaide, féachaint an raibh a fhios aige siúd an méid sin cheana. Ach bhí an chuma neirbhíseach chéanna ar a éadan i gcónaí.

Excerpt - Translation

He was an odd priest. That’s what the grown-ups said about Father Folan, but Muraed thought he was lovely. If he spoke to you and you walking home from school or if he asked you a question in class when he dropped in for a visit, you never felt he was trying to catch you out or find out if you were lazy or careless with your work. You felt he was interested in what you’d have to say. It was like he believed there was more than one right answer to a question.

Muraed couldn’t understand why the grown-ups had such a set on him. What harm if he wouldn’t leave a wake when he’d have the rosary said? What harm if he’d stay ‘til morning, telling stories and laughing and singing the odd verse of a song?

Fair enough, it was a bit out of the ordinary the way he’d go around like a fisherman and an old rough tweed jacket on him. Eoin Eamon reckoned his head was destroyed from the years he had spent out in Africa. His mind was melted from the heat, said Eoin Eamon, the poor man trying to put God’s learning on wild people in places that never saw a drop of rain from one end of the year to the other.

But besides all the things the grown-ups had to say about him, Muraed had one very strong reason for thinking that he was a good priest. Father Folan was the only one ever to come to the house especially to meet Páraic.

How did he know about Páraic to begin with? He was never brought out to Mass on Sunday. The neighbours knew about him – they’d see Muraed bringing him to Nell Cole Jimmy’s in the morning, before she followed Bid down the road to school. But as for Dada’s friends who visited at night to sit around the fire and tell stories and sing songs, some of them had hardly ever laid an eye on him. Dada would make full sure that Páraic was in bed before any of them arrived.

Muraed hated the way Bid used to say that Páraic was ‘simple.’ There was nothing simple about him. And those sounds he made to tell you something – they weren’t ‘grunts’, they were words. Words Páraic had made up himself, without anyone’s help. How many clever people were able to boast that they had made up themselves every single word that they could say? And that those words they had invented were completely different from the names that everyone else had for things?

Well, that’s the way it was with Páraic. ‘Nuc’ was the word he had for milk. ‘Unna’ was a mackerel. ‘Haw’ was a crow. ‘And ‘iyle’ was what he called a seagull. He had a dozen words made up at the very least. And not only that, he had other ways of telling you what he meant, ways that ordinary people would never have thought of. He had a special way of turning the two eyes in his head to show you what he meant to say. If he leaned his head to the left and turned his eyes to the right to look up at the rafters, he was telling you that he was happy, or he wanted you to give him a bit of a tickle. And if he turned his eyes to the left and stared down at the flagstones of the kitchen floor, that meant that he was upset about something.

If it was a lonesome feeling that had come down on him, he’d gather himself into a bundle and sit in the corner all evening without a peep out of him. But if it was a cranky humour that was troubling him, that was another story. You’d see stormy flashes in his eyes and if you didn’t watch out, you’d know all about it. If Muraed noticed him in time, she’d be able to sit down beside him and whisper in his ear and, if she was lucky, she’d stop him from spilling the bucket of well water or from giving an almighty kick to the leg of the table. But beside those cloudy humours, most of the time, Páraic was no trouble at all. If he was settled in his corner of the kitchen facing the door, playing away with the smooth stones that Muraed had found on the strand for him, he wouldn’t bother anyone. He loved those same smooth stones. He’d make a line of them on the floor that looked like some class of a lumpy sea serpent. Now and again, he’d have a go at standing them up, one on top of one another, until they’d come crashing down around him. Once, when one of these constructions he was working on collapsed, Páraic let a screech out of him that’d be heard out in Connemara. Dada jumped awake in his chair by the fire.

“Na clocha sin arís!”

He turned to Muraed. “Those accursed stones! It was you that brought them into the house.

Wasn’t it?” She nodded, moving to stand between him and Páraic.

“Well bring them out again, now. And let me not see them under this roof again. Your brother has enough noise out of him without adding to it.”

Muraed knew that Dada’s plan wasn’t going to work. And she was right. Páraic was broken-hearted without the stones to play with. He groaned and groused for three long days until Dada finally told Muraed to bring the stones back in. They were there since in the corner, Páraic in the middle of them, content once more.

*****

It was a Sunday evening, about a month after Father Folan arrived on the island to be the new parish priest, that he called into the house, without warning. Páraic was in his spot in the corner, Dada was a sleepy heap in his chair and Muraed and Bid were at the table writing their compositions. When Muraed spotted the priest standing in the mouth of the door, she stood up erect, as she had learned to do at school, whenever someone important appeared. Bid, her back to the door, looked up from her copybook, a puzzled look on her.

“Fáilte romhat, a Athair,” said Muraed, in greeting. When Bid glanced over her shoulder, she jumped. 

“Dia anseo isteach,” said Father Folan.

The strange voice, bidding God to be with all in the house, wakened Dada.

“A Athair,” he said, the two eyes in his head widening.

“I haven’t come with bad news, Timín,” said the priest, a friendly smile on him.

Dada gave Muraed a sharp look that meant she was to get Páraic into the back room as quick as she could. She got up to move him, knowing well she’d have a job to take him out of the corner and leave his stones behind him.

“I hope I’m not disturbing ye,” said Father Folan. “It’s just that I wanted to give a little blessing to the house and all that’s in it.”

Dada was looking at the priest, trying his best to smile himself. But even so, there was something about the way that he was shifting his weight from one leg to the other that made Muraed think that he was feeling afraid for some reason. He turned to throw her another sharp stare. She offered Páraic her two hands and put on the voice she used when she was trying to persuade her brother to do something.

“Here we go, Páraic,” she said. “It’s time for bed.”

Páraic kept at his game, not paying one bit of attention to her, laying out one smooth stone after the other in a crooked line in front of him.

“Páraic,” said Muraed again, her voice a sharp whisper now.

He looked up, wearing that stubborn expression she knew so well. It was hopeless. She tried another tack, turning towards the priest, standing directly in front of her brother. If she stayed where she was, maybe the visitor wouldn’t notice him so much. Father Folan had taken a long strip of cloth from his pocket now. It was made out of some sort of lovely white material and there were two golden crosses stitched into it at either end. It was a beautiful thing, whatever name he had on it. He raised one end of the cloth to his lips, kissed the golden cross and arranged the thing on his shoulders like a class of a long, thin shawl. He stood in the middle of the floor and blessed the house, and it wasn’t Latin he mumbled but a big long prayer in Connemara Irish that any ordinary person would understand. Then, over he marches to Dada. The priest placed his thumb on Dada’s forehead, made the sign of the cross, in the same way that you’d bless the cow’s back after milking her. Dada stood straight as a sea stack, not looking once at the priest but directing his eyes down at the flagstones. Father Folan turned around to Bid, leaving the sign of the cross on her forehead as well, mumbling away in Irish all the time. When he turned to bless Muraed, she could see Bid smirking behind the priest. But when Bid spotted Dada’s angry stare from the other side of the kitchen, she wasn’t long getting the smile off her face. Father Folan’s thumb landed on Muraed’s forehead, and she could hear clearly now his prayer, a lovely one she hadn’t heard before that mentioned Saint Bridget and Saint Colmcille and the island’s own Saint Éanna. Finally, the priest turned to Páraic, still on the floor, still lost in his game of the smooth stones.

“Ah don’t bother with him, Father,” said Dada, a nervous kind of a shake in his voice now. “He has no sense.”

“He’s one of God’s family, Timín,” said Father Folan, “no less important than you or me or any of us walking this earth.”

Down with him on his two knees on the bare flagstone in front of Páraic and spoke to him in a soft voice. Páraic threw a glance at him, but that stubborn look was nowhere to be seen now.

“Isn’t it to meet yourself that I came, Páraic?” Father Folan was saying. “Isn’t it the likes of you that gives the people who care for you a special grace from God?”

Muraed looked over towards Dada, to see if this piece of important information was news to him. If it was, Dada still had that same nervous look about him.