Even before it was officially launched at the Irish Consulate on May 10, the 54th anniversary of her immigration to the United States, Maura Mulligan’s memoir “Call of the Lark” was winning praise.
The Irish-American novelist and essayist Peter Quinn described it as a “poignantly honest, beautifully written account of one woman’s journey to spiritual and emotional independence. 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, Mulligan vividly and flawlessly evokes the worlds she has traveled through. Hers is a memoir to savor and remember.”
Kate Kerrigan, the London-born author of “Ellis Island” who now lives in her mother’s County Mayo, said it is a “beautifully drawn and evocative memoir full of rich detail and deep human stories.”
Kerrigan added: “‘Call of the Lark’ perfectly captures the unique atmosphere of rural Mayo. A wonderful read, and a great historical resource.”
But perhaps we should also let the author herself summarize her book: “You could say it’s the story of a woman who found the courage to change her life more than once. As a young girl in Ireland, I worked as a servant in ‘a grand house.’ At 17, I sailed to America and worked as a telephone operator. Answering a higher call, I entered a Franciscan convent and became a nun. Later I made the decision to leave that life and start over.
“Call of the Lark,” she said, “is a chronicle of life in rural Ireland in the 1940s and ‘50s. I reminisce about my childhood on a rain-swept farm in Mayo, where women smoke clay pipes at a wake, the donkey brings turf from the bog to keep the fire burning, and children dibble the spuds, pick blackberries, and dodge cane–wielding schoolmasters.”
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Mulligan added: “Fellow writers tell me that my book is a gift of strength, comfort and inspiration to anyone who has ever wrestled with doubts about his or her purpose and direction in life.”
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I prefer to write early in the day. When I was teaching full time, I wrote drafts in Starbucks on 86th & Columbus, before the school day started. My most inspiring moments were in Achill, where I was lucky enough to win a writer’s residency at the Heinrich Böll cottage.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Keep going. Enjoy the process. And when publishers turn you down, don’t give up.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
Only three? “Beannacht” and others by John O’Donohue; “Saints & Sinners” “Saints and Sinners”; Edna O’Brien; “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis; “Brooklyn” by Colm Tóibín.
What book are you currently reading?
“Room” by Emma Donoghue and “Who Occupies This House” by Kathleen Hill.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Maybe if I had written “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, I’d be more tuned into living in the moment. It’s wonderfully wise. I recommend it.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
Well, that would be John Lancaster’s “Family Romance.” I was surprised to learn that his mother was also an ex-nun. Not only that, she was from my very own parish of Aghamore.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
That’s a tough one. I’d have to say Pádraic Ó Conaire. He wrote in Irish and I love reading his stories over and over. He must have had a very sensitive nature because
his understanding of a woman’s heart seems remarkable.
What book changed
When I read “Angela’s Ashes,” I thought about my own life. I enjoyed reflecting on the difference between McCourt’s experiences and mine. We were poor too, but as farmers, we always had food. Frank believed his siblings arrived on the seventh stair. I was told mine showed up under a head of cabbage when the moon was full. “Angela’s Ashes” inspired me to write down memories. I hope “Call of the Lark” inspires someone else to
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Achill Island. It’s my favorite not just because of its beauty but because that’s where I began writing. I took a workshop with poet, Macdara Woods during the “Scoil Acla” week back in the 1990s. Up until then, my writing experience was limited to term papers and lesson plans.
You’re Irish if . . . you like stories.
Maura Mulligan is one of four Greenpoint Press authors who will read at the KGB Bar, 85 East 4th St., NYC on Wednesday, June 20, at 7 p.m.