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    Emigrant stories make great Christmas gifts

    By Noreen Bowden | November 28, 2008

    There have been plenty of emigration-related publications this year that would make delightful Christmas gifts. Several Irish centres have produced oral histories detailing the lives of emigrants to America and Canada, as well as the stories of those who have returned to Ireland.

    Here’s the rundown of this year’s publications:

    “Memory Brings Us Back: Irish Stories of Farewells and Fortunes”: This film by Derek Woods is the followup to “While Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again” – the 2006 hit book, produced by New York’s Aisling Irish Centre, detailing the lives of older Irish emigrants living in America. This DVD tells the stories of ten men and women who left for America between 1929 and 1965. With music by Joannie Madden, this film is sure to be a treat.

    Order both the DVD and the original book at the Aisling Irish Community Centre’s website.

    “Coming Home” – Frances Browner, the editor of “When Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again”, has returned to Ireland and compiled the tales of 36 emigrants who returned to their native land thanks to the help of the Safe Home organisation. Safe Home reports that this is a hot seller for Christmas. Their website says, “Frances Browner has conducted thirty-six fascinating interviews that highlight the heartache of leaving home; the struggles and successes of survival in a new land; the joy, and sometimes trauma, of returning.”

    Buy it at the Safe Home website.

    “A Story to be Told”: This gorgeously produced book tells the stories of 129 emigrants to Canada in their own words. Edited by Eleanor McGrath and with photographs by William C. Smith, this book reveals the diversity of the Canadian Irish experience, telling the tales of artists, mothers, a labour leader, a bus driver, a dance teacher, an actor, an engineer, an accountant. Their Irish identities are diverse as well, with tales of people from what seems like every possible background: rural farmers; Belfast Protestants and Catholics; Lithuanian descendants; Jewish Dubliners; American-and English-born, Irish-raised emigrants.

    Many of them express love for both Ireland and their adopted home of Canada: “Today I am a very proud Irish Canadian who is blessed to call two of the greatest places on the planet home”, says one interviewee in a sentiment echoed by many others – although some express greater loyalty to one country or the other. A moving book and a great addition to the increasing library of oral history books.

    Order the book from the Liffey Press.

    For another Canadian treat, Ottawa’s Irish Drop-In Group has created a wonderful miscellany called “Memories of the Past: Stories and Recipes from Ottawa’s Irish Drop-In Group?. The eclectic collection of reminiscences, poems, jokes, photographs and more is a splendid insight into the lives of the 40+ seniors in the drop-in group, which meets every week at Margaret Mary’s Church in the south end of the Canadian capital. This book has the most ‘home-produced’ feel, but with about 60 recipes, including for such traditional favourites as barm brack, colcannon, champ, porter cake, beef stew, and soda bread, this spiral-bound volume has much to offer.

    See the website for the Irish Society of the National Capital Region.

    For a musical treat (albeit a commercial one), check out “The Irish Scattering” from Galway traditional singer and musician Sean Keane. Available as both a CD and a DVD, the music tells diverse tales of Irish emigrants through the centuries, including the travels of Irish monks, Irish settlers in Montserrat, Irish soldiers abroad, and the Ulster-Scots in America. The CD features 16 songs; the DVD of the live performance features 28 songs with music and dancing from some of Ireland’s finest practitioners.
    Buy it at Sean Keane’s website.

    Any suggestions? Post them in the comments below.

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