"What a beautiful, Wexford Summer’s evening for the launch of Vonnie Banville Evans' latest novel,
"What the Green Rushes Whisper", a book with a great storyline and characterisation;
wonderful descriptive passages of our natural world and a meticulously researched historical background - set in Wexford prior to, during and after
The Wexford Lockout of 1911.
We are the custodians of Memory for future generations.
There is an onus upon us to pass on our memories not only of people who make
headlines in the Press or who are enshrined for posterity in our History books but we should remember and recall the lives of all our citizens - our own ancestors, families and friends who have truly shaped our lives past, present and future. They, too, are heroes and heroines, regardless of their sex or social status. All memory is legitimate. No one has a monopoly on memory!
Vonnie is a true master in this regard. She draws on her own memories and those of her predecessors to write her great novels, ensuring our social history is
indelibly stamped in our hearts.
"The House in the Faythe", her first book, is about her magical childhood in Wexford in the 40s and 50s - a book about a time not a place.
Her second book, "Anna’s Dream", is a work of fiction where Vonnie, once again, draws on her own memories and the tales she heard growing up in Wexford about Cromwell, his connections with the Trespan Rocks and Castlehill Street.
The novel begins in 1949 and takes us back three centuries to 1649 and the sacking of Wexford, when 13 year old Anna’s dream becomes reality!
This book appeals to children from 9 to 90!
Now to the book of the moment, Vonnie’s latest novel, "What the Green Rushes Whisper"
In this novel Vonnie draws on memories of her Grandmother’s life to create a great work of fiction.
It is the story of Julia Whelan a young girl who begins her working life as a scullery maid in a "Big House" (Domain) - home to the Leigh family -
not too far from Wexford town.
Julia’s social status changes dramatically as her life unfolds which gives us a clear insight into the social history of this period of tumultuous change.
We acquire an in-depth understanding of the living conditions and aspirations of the local working people and the better off gentry of the time.
We also begin to develop an understanding of both levels of society, as Vonnie writes with a balanced and sympathetic approach.
Vonnie said in an interview on South East Radio "It is not about taking sides. For true change to occur in society, there must be acceptance on both sides."
All involved will suffer to ultimately benefit from social change.
I won’t reveal the rest of the story or plot as I want you to buy Vonnie’s book. Just to say that Julia lives through World War 1 and the 1911 Lockout in Wexford Town.
We meet her family. We learn about who she loved and about her political awakening. We also learn about the history of Wexford at the time of the 1911 Lockout.
The book was inspired by Vonnie’s own father who told her stories about the 1911 Lockout in Wexford.
Men were locked out of work in the foundries by their employers - if they joined a union which would help them improve their wages and working conditions.
We can only imagine the hardship ,deprivation and near starvation endured by the workers families - the Lockout lasted for almost six months! - until James Connolly,
the ITGWU Organiser, negotiated the final settlement.
My own Grandmother, known affectionately as Nanny Corish - (formerly Katie Bergin then Katie Corish when she married my grandfather Richard Corish) - also inspired Vonnie.
Nanny told Vonnie her real life stories about James Connolly, Jim Larkin and PT Daly, who visited her home during the Lockout.
She also told her about her own husband Richard Corish‘s involvement.
I asked Vonnie why she wrote this novel. She told me she wanted people especially Wexford people to be more aware of the 1911 Lockout
and its effect on Wexford town and its inhabitants; that not enough people knew about or understood its historical importance.
She said that people might not read a History book about this period but if they read and enjoyed her novel, they would automatically learn about the historical
significance of the Lockout.
What were the effects of the Lockout and its final settlement negotiated by James Connelly?
It was the foundation stone for radical change in Wexford. The relationship between employer and employee moved in a more positive direction.
Eventually the workers fought the Local Elections and were represented on Wexford Corporation. My own Grandfather Richard Corish,
a former worker in the Star Iron Works, held the office of Mayor for 25 years and represented Wexford in Dail Eireann.
Tribute should be paid to every citizen who endured the Lockout to instigate radical social change.
Next year 2011 Wexford will commemorate the 100TH Anniversary of the 1911 Lockout.
I would like to thank Vonnie for bringing this turbulent period of Wexford’s history alive in her novel, "What the Green Rushes Whisper",
a novel you must read in time for next year’s Commemoration of 1911."