TELLING HIS STORY Writer and poet Fiacre Ryan with his cat Alfie. Pic: Alison Laredo
The An Post Irish Book Awards happen in the autumn of each year and is an event much looked forward to by the book industry. It is a celebration of all things books and the importance of bookshops in our communities, and we’re thrilled that our own bookshop is on the shortlist of six for The An Post Bookshop of the Year Award. The award winners will be announced tomorrow (Wednesday), November 23.
Two amazing books are featured on the shortlist this year – ‘Speechless: Reflections from My Voiceless World’, by Fiacre Ryan, published by Merrion Press, and ‘An Irish Atlantic Rainforest: A Personal Journey Into the Magic of Rewilding’, by Eoghan Daltun, published by Hachette Books Ireland.
‘Speechless’ is on the shortlist for Best Debut Book. It is truly stunning and, in my view, a necessity for all of us to read. Ryan is a non-verbal autistic writer and poet living with his family in Castlebar. He embarked on a journey to find his voice and tell his story, starting with a letter board designed to help autistic people communicate. He became the first non-verbal autistic person to do his leaving cert in 2019, and an RTÉ documentary filmed over eight years brought his thoughts to the nation.
It is hard to find the words to describe the effect his book has on the reader. It is a privilege to share in the beauty of Ryan’s prose and poetry and the beauty that is Fiacre Ryan. We get to walk in his shoes and expand ourselves to envisage all the ways we can be in this world and still find joy. Ryan says: “Here now I tell my story, showing my understanding, reaching out, being respected, so people can listen to my turmoiled world. My thoughts unfurled on each page of my life story.”
Inadvertently, he has become a voice for non-verbal autistic people, and he is acutely aware of the responsibility that brings. On a daily, perhaps hourly basis, he has to dare himself to be well and to be peaceful.
‘An Irish Atlantic Rainforest’, on the shortlist for the Bookstation Lifestyle Book of the Year, tells the story of Eoghan Daltun’s re-wilding of a 73-acre farm on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. He moved there with his family in 2009 and set about establishing a temperate rainforest which in now flourishing.
The reader is led into his story, hearing about the restoration work he embarked on in Kilmainham in Dublin, his work as a sculptor in Italy and his visits to South Africa. He has spent time learning to understand native species and the destruction caused by invasive plants. He set about allowing his farm to return to a ‘native state’ by keeping out the deer, sheep and rhododendrons that were causing havoc in the woods. He is an advocate of ‘letting it be’ – something us humans are not very good at.
Daltun takes us back to the history of homo sapiens and how there has been essentially three waves of species extinction: the ice age, the creation of an agricultural society and, today, our industrialised world.
He posits that we must understand that the way we live, and our attitude to nature, has been marked by a desire to dominate, to clear spaces, to not be forest dwellers. (Here in Ireland, it is estimated we began seriously deforesting in earnest about 1350 BC.) Yet Daltun’s story is full of hope and possibility. What he has achieved in a short number of years is inspiring.
Our ancestors did not have the knowledge we have. What we now know can be our saviour. We can change things. We can embrace nature and still feed ourselves. We can ‘let it be’. Personally, the idea of greatly increased tree cover in the west of Ireland sends a tingle down my spine – a hope that we can leave a better place, perhaps the best it has ever been, for our children and grandchildren.
Two fantastic books.
Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.