BOOKS Vibrant Mayo memoir tells a woman’s tale

Staying In
Maura Mulligan
LOOKING BACK Maura Mulligan working al-fresco at Bryant Park in New York’s Manhattan.?Pic: Silvia Saponaro

Vibrant Mayo memoir tells a woman’s tale

Áine Ryan

FOR Mayo native Maura Mulligan, her recently-published book, ‘Call of the Lark: A Memoir’ is a poignant story that reaches deeply into her soul. As reviewer Belinda McKeon observes this ‘vivid memoir throws memorable light onto a hidden corner of life. This is a book about a woman’s journey towards herself’.
A former nun, Maura Mulligan is among the millions of the diaspora who have reflected on life back home long after they were forced to leave because of economic necessity.
The opening chapter of the memoir takes us back to the 1960s and behind the walls of a Franciscan convent in Peekskill, New York; it brings alive a nun’s story that is both revealing and redemptive.
“Our laced-up, low-heeled shoes, not yet broken in, clip-clopped on the cobblestone pavement as we lined up two by two. A funeral was a solemn event. This was our first as postulants. We wore long black cloaks over black pleated skirts that reached our ankles. We tried not to stare at each other in the unfamiliar garb as we lit our candles for the procession.” 
Maura Mulligan also focuses a lens on her earlier life in rural Ireland and the subsequent challenges of emigration. She captures the innocence of the time and her simple faith as she writes about her visit home to Ballyhaunis in 1962, shortly before she entered the convent. She would not be allowed visit home again for seven years
“I had saved enough money from my job as a long-distance telephone operator for a home visit in June of 1962. I would enter the convent in September of that year. I wondered what Mam and Dad thought of my decision. I imagined Mam would be well pleased. After all, hadn’t she often said, ‘I wish to God I had married the Lord’?”
Ironically, her parents were not at the train station at Ballyhaunis to meet her because they were tending to a sick calf.
In ‘Call of the Lark’ Maura Mulligan’s emotional honesty and ability to tell a personal story, without fear, ensures a compelling read. The reader enters a sepia-tinged world where during her American wake Maura step-dances as the local women take a turn at the churn, to bestow good luck. This innocent world then merges with the bustling world of New York – but work at the Telephone Company, Irish dancing competitions and the excitement of youthful romance prove not to be enough.
Maura is dogged by deeper questions about the meaning of life. While these lead her to the convent, she finds the authoritarian culture challenging. She wrestles also with the role of women in the Catholic Church as well as other issues highlighted by Vatican II, ultimately leaving to lead a fulfilling life beyond the walls. 
Peter Quinn, American Book Award-winning author, writes of Maura Mulligan’s memoir: “Whether describing the poverty of her childhood in rural Ireland, or the experience of immigration to America, or the discipline and turmoil she encountered in convent life, [Maura] Mulligan vividly and flawlessly evokes the worlds she has travelled through.”

‘Call of the Lark, A Memoir’, by Maura Mulligan, is published by Greenpoint Press and available in local book shops and from