Ernie O’Malley: “a sense of the bare breath of Mayo”

At long last, after owning it for years, I am reading Ernie O’Malley’s classic of the 1916 Easter Rising, On Another Man’s Wound. I’m only on Chapter 2 at the moment, but I can already tell that his writing style is far above and beyond the other “Irish Nationalist” memoirs I have tried to read. As my dad said, when he recommended I read this book, “Most of the other books read like: ‘And then we hid in the bushes and blew up some lorries'”. Ernie O’Malley can certainly write.

So far, here is my favorite paragraph:

On market days we could sense the roughness of country people. Awkward men drinking pints of frothy porter, using wiry ash plants on each other in daylight or being dragged and sometimes carried to the barracks by police. Bullocks beaten through the streets, the shrill complaining of pigs, a steady waft of speech and smells of cow dung and fresh horse droppings. Shawled barefooted women selling eggs and yellow, strong salty butter in plaited osier baskets, salty dilisk in trays, or minding bonnovs with a sugan. A ballad singer with an old song or one of a recent happening, stressing his syllables, rushing a long line into a short singing spacve whilst the people gathered in a circle, following the words eagerly. They bought his broadsheets and hummed the notes as they walked around. Old women with pleated frills to their white caps, the more wealthy with black bonnets shaking from a spangle of flat beads; boys in corduroy trousers and bare feet; rosy girls in tight-laced boots, which some had put on at the entrance to the town. Through all, talk, laughter, hot-blooded sudden blows, a sense of the bare breath of Mayo, backed by rounded mountains and sea, frayed lake-edges and the straight reach of Nephin mountain.

The O’Malleys are from Mayo, I have family there … and Ernie O’Malleys words capture the feeling of it perfectly.

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3 Responses to Ernie O’Malley: “a sense of the bare breath of Mayo”

  1. Dan says:

    You prolly already know this, but O’Malley wrote another one called ‘The Singing Flame’ that covers the Civil War. Both great reads.

  2. red says:


    The only reason I know there’s a second book is because it’s listed on the back of On Another Man’s Wound …

    I will check The Singing Flame out as well.

    Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Carrie says:

    Excellent, excellent read.

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