The Far side of the Lough-cover

Published by Gollancz in 1983, by Methuen in 1985 and by Mammoth, new edition 1999 by O'Brien Press. (Incidentally published on the same day as All of Us There by another publisher (Weidenfeld). Neither have been out of print since.)

"Relevant and enduring for today's readers, young and old, this collection is a marvellously crafted rendition of a way of life which has vanished, but a way of living which sustains. Polly Devlin's writing shows a mastery of style and an ability to infuse the everyday with the resonances of a lifetime. How stories should be written... instinct with fierce life." The Times

"A book of great distinction." Neil Philip, British Book News

"A superb book, not out of place or quality for adult readership... A remarkable introduction to a story as it should be written." Books for Keeps


Reviews



In The Far Side of the Lough, each story feeds the next; the book is cunningly crafted it feels artless. The modulation of language - from the narrator's neutral explanatory tone to her relaxed remembering one to her urgent but unhurried rephrasing of Mary-Ellen's memories; from Mary-Ellen's transparent speech (which captures cadence but modified vocabulary) to her father's clotted dialect ('Bad cess to you, you tackle') - is beyond reproach. And the modulation of feeling is equally adept. The seven stories Mary-Ellen recounts to inquisitive Polly ache with a sense of good things lost, r spoilt, or misplaced; yet the book as a whole is warm, affirmative, ripe with affection.
Within the quiet homely drama of these insubstantial tales the narrator and reader come to terms with deep substantial emotion.

... in the safe web of affection woven between narrator, nurse and reader, which makes The Far Side of the Lough a children's book, and one of great distinction. It has a special quality of unsentimental caring that will last. Ian Newsham's pencil drawings illustrate each story."

NEIL PHILIP - Best British Books

"This book is local history at its best."

SANDRA CHAPMAN - Belfast Telegraph 12.09.

"Occasionally nostalgic, never sentimental they are sometimes grim in character for children - the reader learns much of the great poverty of life in an Irish village sixty years ago - this is a place and a way of life long since gone but very real."

E.C. - The Junior Bookshelf, 1983

"A superb book, not even out of place or quality for adult readership, but a remarkable introduction to 'story' as it should be written."

B.B. - Books for Keeps. No.34 Sept. 1985

"A book for children by Polly Devlin which is a ...telling of enchanting and sad stories... supposedly told as stories to a motherless child... What is really needed for the telling is an Irish voice, and if, as I greatly hope, we come to treat literature as matter of voice as well as of print, then here is a book that ought to be on cassette."

MARGHANITA LASKI - COUNTRY LIFE, AUG 25,1983

"These lovely stories are told in such a way that their Irish phrases and flavour enhance rather than confuse the reader.... A pleasure to own, equally it would make a valuable classroom tool, since the stories could be read aloud, discussed and used as basis for much written work by pupils."

HUMBERSIDE COUNTY COUNCIL EDUCATION SERVICE - BOOK REVIEW 12

PROSE POETRY

DERBY Evening Telegraph - August 18, 1983

"A beguiling and vivid collection for anyone over ten."

THE GOOD BOOK GUIDE - SUMMER 1983

"If you look at another example of dire experiences in the Celtic hinterland, then you begin to see how stories should be written, Polly Devlin's The Far Side of the Lough (Gollancz,) is ostensible a set of tales told by Mary-Ellen to a young girl in her charge. All are drawn from Mary-Ellen's life as the daughter of a poor fisherman on the coast of Lough Neagh - but far from being mollifying experiences, they are instinct with fierce life. Stark, terrible, comic things happen on the far side of that Lough. Much loved dolls are decapitated, pigs are gutted before your very eyes; the Black and Tans wreak pointless anguish on a gentle old man. Mary-Ellen lives for the reader as neither of those Scottish narrators do, and her plain authentic speech brings her stories pulsingly to life."

HEATHER RENSHAW - The Times, August 25 1983

The Far Side of the Lough by Polly Devlin.

There's only one problem with this collection of wonderful stories - it is too short. As features editor of Vogue, Polly Devlin interviewed the major personalities of the 1960's, including John Lennon and Andy Warhol, yet she has never forgotten her roots in Co Tyrone. The Stories are recounted by a little girl, fascinated by the reminiscences of her nanny about her family in Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. Both adults and children will love the magical, yet unsentimental (and often brutal) tales of rural life based on Devlin's own childhood - about an Ireland where emigrants hammered coins into a wishing tree, believing they would come back to where they left, or where a child's biggest excitement was receiving a doll in a parcel from America. A classic.

Sarah Marriott - Irish Times - 13/11/99

A memorable collection of classic stories with a charming, timeless quality. The stories centre on Mary-Ellen, nanny to a motherless little girl whom she entertains with reminiscences from her own childhood on the shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. This is a rich evocation of the traditions, beliefs and memorable events of rural life, as seen through the eyes of a child.

Relevant and enduring for today's readers, young and old, this collection is a marvellously crafted rendition of a way of life which has vanished, but a way of living which sustains. Polly Devlin's writing shows a mastery of style and an ability to infuse the everyday with the resonances of a lifetime.

How stories should be written... instinct with fierce life.

The Times

A superb book, not out of place or quality for adult readership... A remarkable introduction to a story as it should be written

Books for Keeps

The Far Side of the Lough by Polly Devlin (Victor Gollancz)

These tales from an Irish childhood are quite delightful. The real flavour of the country, the people and the rhythm of their speech and thought comes over in gentle unhurried style. Ian Newsham's pencil drawings mirror exactly the wind-scarred landscape. This is a book to treasure and keep; readers of all ages will find themselves returning again and again to the careful kindly life the stories depict. They have been written with great affection and style.

Books for your children

The Far Side of the Lough by Polly Devlin. Mary-Ellen, who looked after Polly Devlin when she was small could always be tempted to tell her charge a story about her own childhood 'on the far side of the lough'. The stark poverty of Mary Ellen's family contrasts with the warm feeling of community among the villagers. But the tales Mary-Ellen told often have a very adult vein of chilling horror in the climax. A beguiling and vivid collection for anyone over 10.

Braithwaite & Taylor - The Good Book Guide

The Far Side of the Lough by Polly Devlin (O'Brien).

There's only one problem with this collection of wonderful stories - it is too short. As features editor of Vogue, Polly Devlin interviewed the major personalities of the 1960's, including John Lennon and Andy Warhol, yet she has never forgotten her roots in Co Tyrone. The stories are recounted by a little girl, fascinated by the reminiscences of her nanny about her family in Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. Both adults and children will love the magical, yet unsentimental (and often brutal) tales of rural life based on Devlin's own childhood - about an Ireland where emigrants hammered coins into a wishing tree, believing they would come back to where they left, or where a child's biggest excitement was receiving a doll in a parcel from America. A classic.

Sarah Marriott - The Irish Times

A book - for children - by Polly Devlin, called The Far Side of the Lough, which is a retelling of the more enchanting (if often sad) matter of the first book, supposedly told as stories to a motherless child. It is evocatively illustrated by Ian Newsham, but what is really needed for the telling is an Irish voice, and if, as I greatly hope, we come to treat literature as a matter of voice as well as of print, then here is a book that ought to be on cassette.

By coincidence and good luck, I brought with me to France the first two cassettes of poetry published, with tiny booklets of text, by Faber, and on one of these there were two Irish voices, the Ulster voice of Tom Paulin on one side, and on the other side the southern voice of Polly Devlin's brother-in-law, Seamus Heaney. And as she uses his poems on the page to enhance her text, so I was able to use his voice to enrich my sense of her book.

Marghanita Laski - Country Life

The Far Side of the Lough. Stories from an Irish Childhood.

by Polly Devlin (Gollancz) This beautifully illustrated book with drawings by Ian Newsham consists of a collection of seven stories by Polly Devlin. All the stories are set in the area where she was reared in County Tyrone.

The stories are fictitious, but Ardboe, the place where all the stories originate, is real. There is a map at the beginning of the book giving all the different landmarks like the Claggan, Gusty Cassidy's house, Barney Dugh's house, and to the east on Ardboe Point is the old ruined abbey with the high cross.

The stories are told by both Mary-Ellen Martin and the motherless little girl that she is looking after.

Together with the illustrations they give a vivid and memorable description of Ireland in that part of the county sixty years ago, when the schools closed for two weeks in October so that the children could help their parents gather in the potatoes from the fields.

There were seven children in Mary-Ellen's two-roomed cottage which was beside Lough Neagh, the biggest lake in Ireland. There was no water, no wireless and no electricity, only the light from tallow candles which were made by dipping rushes in animal fat.

But this did not pose any problem since there were no books to read, and Mary-Ellen's sisters and mother could knit without looking at what they were doing.

The hens were kept in a pen in the rampart behind the house, but none of Mary-Ellen's family ate the eggs, they were sold so that her mother could get money for the children's shoes to wear on Sundays.

The stories contain many memorable incidents from childhood, like the time the parcel arrived from America with clothes for all the family and a china doll for Mary-Ellen. That was a day she would never forget as she had never had a doll of her own before.

Then there was Gusty, the bold boy in the neighbourhood who stole the strawberries the little girl had collected and threaded like beads to a sharp piece of grass; and who stole coins from the Pin Tree.

Perhaps the most moving story of all is the Pig Tree, when the pet pig she loved so much is killed and she finds him handing from a tree. She was so traumatised by the killing that she never ate bacon again in her life.

Whatever your age, you will love these stories by Polly Devlin

Vivien Igoe - Catholic Herald

If you look at examples of dire experiences in the Celtic hinterland, then you begin to see how stories should be written, Polly Devlin's The Far Side of the Lough (Gollancz) is ostensibly a set of tales told by Mary-Ellen to a young girl in her charge. All are drawn from Mary-Ellen's life as the daughter of a poor fisherman on the coast of Lough Neagh - but far from being mollifying experiences they are instinct with fierce life. Stark, terrible, comic things happen on the far side of that Lough. Much loved dolls are decapitated, pigs are gutted before your very eyes; the Black and Tans wreak pointless anguish on a gentle old man. Mary-Ellen lives for the reader as neither of those Scottish narrators do, and her plain authentic speech brings her stories pulsingly to life.

Heather Renshaw - The Times

The Far Side of the Lough by Polly Devlin in which are gems of stories picked individually and themselves past-on memories. These are fictional tales, stories from an Irish childhood, as the sub-title has it.

G D Hammerton - Derby Evening Telegraph

The writers you can rely on. Polly Devlin's The Far Side of the Lough (Gollancz) is as worth having for its illustrations as for the stories themselves; Ian Newsham's drawings are full of the same slightly angular and awkward nostalgia as the stories - themselves not terribly consequential, but full of the stuff of an Irish childhood - brutal men who'd destroy a child's toy for no conceivable reason, the paraffin seller who wasn't quite right in the head, parents' memories of the Black and Tans and civil war. Whether they are really stories for children, I'm not sure; but they are kindly towards children's terrors, and parents will certainly like them.

Children's Books

These lovely stories are carefully told in such a way that their Irish phrases and flavour enhance rather than confuse the stories for the reader. This coupled with beautiful line drawings illustrating somehow just the right points of the story mean the book is a treat to read.

The first story "The China Doll" sets the tone of the book, drawing the characters clearly and establishing the feel of the period. One feels the joy of Mary-Ellen's family in unexpectedly receiving a parcel from America, and even more so that of the small Mary-Ellen in having her first, and only, 'real' doll. The end of the book comes all too soon and leaves one hoping for another one.

It would make a lovely present, something which would be a pleasure to own; equally though, it would make a valuable classroom tool, since the stories could be read aloud, discussed and used as a basis for much written work by the pupils.

Humberside County Council - Education Service

The Far Side of the Lough: Stories from an Irish Childhood (May) is Polly Devlin's first book. The stories come from her own childhood in Northern Ireland, and are illustrated with pencil drawings by Ian Newsham.

The Bookseller

These stories are invented although they are based on a real place and on real people the author has known. They are told to a motherless child by her Irish nurse and companion, Mary Ellen. Occasionally nostalgic, never sentimental, they are sometimes grim in character for children - if this is a book for children? The 'stories' include a detailed description of the slaughter of a pig, a bully who strangles young birds for pleasure, the wanton destruction of an old man's home and garden by the hated Black-and-Tans. In one of the happier stories, the delight of a poor family in clothes sent by an aunt in America, is described sensitively. But even this episode has a chock ending, for the youngest child takes her present of a doll with a china head to show a neighbour - without a word of explanation, the man cuts off the doll's head with his shears. 'The head fell at Mary Ellen's feet, its hair still curly, its blue eyes wide open; the body fell on the other side of the steps."

The reader learns much of the great poverty of life in an Irish family sixty years ago, of the people of the village - there is a haunting episode of the itinerant seller of paraffin who has a beautiful singing voice but who is 'away in the head'. This is a place and a way of life long since gone but very real.

The illustrations are delicate pencil drawings that are sensitive and true to the life of the period.

The Junior Bookshelf

Stories about 'real people who surrounded me when I was a child growing up', sounds like a recipe for 'syrup', and usually is. In this collection, the converse is true, thankfully. Polly Devlin's seven tales 'from an Irish childhood' live. From Mary-Ellen, wearing men's stockings, with a store of reminiscences of life in Ardboe, on the shores of Lough Neagh, to the neighbours calling in for a 'crack' or chat around the evening fireplace, it lives and is believable. A superb book, not even out of place or quality for adult readership, but a remarkable introduction to 'story' as it should be written, for top junior middle range.

Books for Keeps

These stories spring from Polly Devlin's childhood on the shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. Fact and fiction mingle to make a rich potpourri of impressions and images of a corner of rural Ireland some sixty years ago. There are stories here of the day the Parcel arrived, of the day the pig was killed, of the terror of poor mad Mickel, and of the charms in the pin tree. They describe a spirit and a time that are long since gone, but which the reader nevertheless years for, so fully and imaginatively are they evoked.

For Children and Young Adults

The subtitle of this book is misleading. These are actually stories of two Irish childhoods: those of the narrator and her nurse Mary-Ellen. Each story holds both childhoods in balance till, with consummate art, the two childhoods fuse in the final chapter, when Polly and Mary-Ellen revisit Mary-Ellen's home. Each story feeds the next; the book is so cunningly crafted it feels artless. The modulation of language - from the narrator's neutral explanatory tone to her relaxed remembering one to her urgent but unhurried rephrasing of Mary-Ellen's memories; from Mary-Ellen's transparent speech (which captures cadence but modifies vocabulary) to her father's clotted dialect ('Bad cess to you, you tackle') - is beyond reproach. And the modulation of feeling is equally adept. The seven stories Mary-Ellen recounts to inquisitive Polly ache with a sense of good things lost, or spoilt, or misplaced; yet the book as a whole is warm, affirmative, ripe with affection.

Within the quiet homely drama of these insubstantial tales the narrator and reader come to terms with deep substantial emotion. The first story, the simplest because the earliest in a sequence structured to accumulate feeling, can stand for all. It tells of the arrival of a parcel at Mary-Ellen's home; of the excited unwrapping; of the trying on of clothes found within it; and of the discovery, at the bottom, of a doll, for Mary-Ellen herself. She can barely believe it: 'Then Mary-Ellen said, "Is it mine?" "It is yours," her mother said. "And can I keep it?"' Later Mary-Ellen takes the doll, in a daze of wonder, and shows it to a man cutting a hedge. He listens in silence, then 'Show us the doll' and Mary-Ellen gives it to him. 'He took it and looked at it for a time, and then came down the steps and put the doll on the top step and took his shears in both hands and cut its head off.' The moment is profoundly shocking; its pattern is repeated through the book; violence in tranquillity. It is a moment of true tragedy: not for the loss of a doll, but the loss of trust, of security. And the prose insists, beyond all consolation, that that loss is irrevocable: 'She never had another doll in her life'. It is not the way such discoveries are presented but the way they are made, in the safe web of affection woven between narrator, nurse and reader, which makes The Far Side of the Lough a children's book, and one of great distinction. It has a special quality of unsentimental caring that will last.

British Book News

Polly's Lough Folk

Writer Polly Devlin and I have one thing in common. We were brought up around the shores of Lough Neagh; she on the Ardboe side, I on the Toomebridge side.

As adults, clearly we share a great love for this vast expanse of water and those who live around it. You can tell by the way she writes of her childhood in The Far Side of the Lough. Those stories could be my own childhood.

Some of the stories go even further back in history and centre around her nursemaid Mary-Ellen. Ms Devlin as a little girl never tired of the stories Mary-Ellen told and they give us a wonderful picture of rural Ulster as it was 60 years ago when poverty was rife.

The first of these stories tells how Mary-Ellen's family one day received a parcel from America, a common enough event I should imagine as so many of us have relatives in America and Canada. Mary-Ellen and her mother stored at the big parcel covered with stamps. The parcel wasn't opened until her father came home.

Into her stories Ms Devlin weaves many of the characters of Mary Ellen's childhood who made up the population of this remote area... characters like the old flax-pulling brothers John Joe and Ned Curran who never married and lived in a cottage for flax workers, and Martha Coyle who "said she saw visions and nearly lived in the chapel, she was there that often."

Mary Ellen remembered the pigs being killed on the farm. Nowadays pigs aren't killed in this way, but the present generation of young people would never know just how it was. For them this book is local history at its best.

Sandra Chapman - Belfast Telegraph

A book of stories of an Irish childhood. They are attractively presented and illustrated, suitable for all ages.

Terence de Vere White - The Irish Times

Polly Devlin, a well-established craftswoman whose stories of an Irish childhood on the shores of Lough Neagh, titled The Far Side of the Lough are for children of all ages. Each of them captures the flavour of her Irish countryside.

Irish Post

A friend of The Far Side of the Lough might speak in these terms: Here is that splendid journalist Polly Devlin in a mood pastoral and pensive. How detailed and clean are the memories of her own childhood on the shore of Lough Neagh, and how exceptionally lively her retellings of seven stories of childhood she heard from Mary-Ellen Martin, the girl with red hair "and speckled eyes, and a face that was brown with freckles." It would be a hard heart that did not ache for Mary-Ellen when she joyfully shows her one and only mint china doll - just arrived from an aunt in America - to her nearest neighbour (because she must show it off to somebody) who is busy clipping a hedge, and the neighbour "put the doll on the top step and took his shears in both hands and cut its head off". There lies the death of innocence! And the punishment for the boy caught stealing Mary-Ellen's wild strawberries, the fascinating horror of pig slaughtering, the magic of the Pin Tree: yes, these stories shine with something of universal childhood. And how shrewd of Polly Devlin, too, to play to her own strength by writing a series of seven short linked pieces, rather than be discovered wanting, in common with so many other panting journalists, over the longer distance. Really, this is nothing less than a charmer of a book.

Kevin Crossley-Holland - Children's Literature

The Far Side of the Lough clings to an Irish country nanny whose stories of her own childhood make up most of the book; I was struck by how bleakly sad almost all of them were, and yet how comforting the feeling of being told them. This, perhaps is some of the charm of folk-tales, which often have their grim side.

Audrey Laski - Times Educational Supplement