Come Day – Go Day

This is a contribution of mine to Ireland Unread: Dave Lordan Interviews Seven Irish Authors, from issue 9 of literary magazine Penduline.

John O’Connor’s 1948 novel Come Day-Go Day opens a window on the everyday life of working class families in Armagh whose fortunes are shackled to the declining nearby Mill.

The world of the cramped and frequently flooded homes on the Mill Row is brought to life through the excited sensations and fearful apprehensions of its child protagonists, Neilly and Shemie. Through their eyes, O’Connor’s portrait of the Row residents is alive to the vulnerability and failings that emerge from the pressures of the protagonists’ precarious existence, but unrelenting in his admiration for the verbal creativity and gruff humour through which they cope.

We hear it was St Patrick who built the sphinx-like Mill as punishment for the inhabitants of the Row: “says he, now this’ll be the greatest ould curse of a mill for going on and off”. One who tried to escape the curse was Uncle Pachy, a young man who only got as far as the British Army in India, and has returned, damaged. His gregarious fragility is one of O’Connor’s many triumphs of this short book, a loving engagement with a community threatened with extinction, whose spirit is encapsulated in the fantastical trajectory of the final ‘bullet’ thrown in the breathtaking contest between the Row’s Jim Macklin and the Hammer-man from Belfast: a ferrous nucleus of wonder that refuses to give way against the real.

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