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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, Cresson McIver releases Danny Dowdells, Angel Jo And The Brackish People, set in Ulster in the 1950s.
Danny Dowdells, Angel Jo, And the Brackish People
Danny Dowdells, Angel Jo, and the Brackish People” draws the reader in from the start with its engaging narrative and its rich and entertaining prose that captures the culture and characters of 1950s Ulster to a tee. The outstanding reviews below also highlight the many qualities of this book.
Descriptive, satirical and with many ‘laugh-out-loud’ moments, the author nonetheless tells a realistic story by also reflecting on the grittier political and religious divisions of the time in this neighbourly yet ‘simmering’ Ulster community, as well as engaging the reader in the hilarious escapades of young Danny as he gets drawn in to the many illogical antics of the adults in his Ballybracken world.
Danny Dowdells is written in English throughout but, where appropriate, certain characters in the book use words and phrases which are Ulster Scots and Irish in origin, and which were part of the common parlance in Ulster west of the river Bann in the 1950.
So, in addition to “Danny Dowdells” qualifying as a ‘good story well told’ the richness of the dialogue – helpfully explained where necessary in footnotes – also makes the book a celebration of local dialects and a fascinating read for linguaphiles.
Angel Jo is a comic figure in the book and although Danny’s Guardian Angel, he has too many problems of his own with his new masters in the heavenly BOAK committee to be able to help Danny, and won’t even cure his stammer.
However, he gives the boy the gift of music and singing in which his stammer disappears, and at which he excels. This gift makes him welcome across all Ballybracken’s many and various political and religious divisions and helps him gain insights into the two communities as they warily circle each other daily, though never, in best Ulster fashion in those days, behaving as less than good neighbours to one another.
1950s Rural Ireland
Young Daniel Malachy Dowdells is growing up in early 1950s rural Northern Ireland in impoverished circumstances with a loving mother and a violent alcoholic father who, early on, leaves the family. His mother finds a new partner who is a former highly decorated soldier, and who becomes Danny’s great friend, mentor, and flawed hero. Danny’s mother is a devout Catholic and her partner a Protestant. The difficulties this ‘mixed-relationship’ creates for the little boy are one theme of the book.
The fictional townland in Mid-Ulster where Danny lives is Ballybracken. It is bounded by the confluence of two rivers -the beautiful ‘Meeting of the Waters’ – and abounds in ancient Celtic forts, bleak bogland and dark stretches of forest all of which feature in young Danny’s life as places of comfort or sometimes of terror.
The Brackish People
The ‘Brackish People’ are a cross-section of Mid-Ulster society in the early 1950s, and range from a noble family in gentile decay, prosperous yeomen farmers and poor cotter families, Catholic and Protestant, living near the breadline like the Dowdells. The language spoken in Ballybracken is, of course, English but in a form that is enriched by words and phrases from Hiberno-English, Irish, Ulster-Scots and the English of Shakespeare. This richness of language is reflected in the various dialogues in the book.
Danny’s Guardian Angel
As a baby, Daniel Malachy suffered a trauma which may be the cause of his terrible stammer. It may also explain why he occasionally experiences visitations from an Angel named Jo, a comic figure in the book. Although Jo claims to be Danny’s Guardian Angel, he seems to have too many problems of his own in the heavenly sphere to be able to help Danny with his earthly problems and is not even willing to cure his stammer.
However, prompted by Saint Cecelia, he gives the boy the gift of music and singing in which his stammer disappears, and at which he excels. This gift makes him welcome across all Ballybracken’s many and various political and religious divisions and helps him gain an insight into the rich and poor, Unionist and Nationalist, Catholic and Protestant communities as they warily circle each other daily, though never, in best Ulster fashion in those days, behaving as less than good neighbours to one another.
About Cresson McIver
Cresson Vivian McIver was born in Co. Tyrone Northern Ireland in 1943. He grew up on a farm, attended the local two-teacher primary school, and then Omagh Academy.
He graduated with an honours degree in Modern History from Queen’s University in 1966 and then taught in Portadown College for ten years until appointed to the Schools’ Inspectorate in which he served until retirement in 2005. He received a CBE in the New Year’s Honours for services to education. He then undertook consultancy work in Tbilisi in Georgia and on teacher training in Afghanistan and in Macedonia.
While at Queens, in 1965 he was awarded the Sir Thomas Dixon Scholarship which he used to travel in Russia, Siberia and China and while teaching in Portadown College he received the Walter Hynes Page Scholarship and used it to research ethnic studies in American High Schools. Profits from the travel book he wrote on Georgia, ‘A Guest is a Gift from God,’ were allocated to the Pushkin Trust to help fund cross-community work for young people.
Cresson is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Athenaeum, London. He has been happily married to Linda for over fifty years; they are both very proud of their two children, Annalies and Daniel.
Find more now:
Danny Dowdells, Angel Jo and the Brackish People is published by Appletree Press, Belfast, and is available on Amazon in paperback (£15.00) and Kindle format on https://amzn.to/36dC6NN and https://amzn.to/3rpNm0X respectively.
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