Wednesday, November 17, 2010

William Carleton: a novelist who intimately knew the lives of his characters


It could be said that Irish novelist William Carleton wrote not from imagination, but from experience. Born into humble surroundings on 4 March 1794 in the town of Prillisk, Clogher, County Tyrone, it is said that his skill in recounting peasant life was due to his experience of it. His father was a tenant farmer, an unsuccessful one, and in order to survive he had to move his family from farm to farm. As a Catholic child in British ruled Ireland, Carleton was forbidden to attend school, and so he received his primary education in the hedge school system. As a teenager he did receive formal education at the Classical Schools at Donagh and Glaslough in north County Monaghan.

Although he wrote several works, the best known of these is Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry. The book is described as "a tableau of the life of the country people of the north of Ireland before the famines of the 1840s altered their pattern of existence forever." Following the publication of this book he published other novels including Fardorougha the Miser (1839), Valentine McClutchy (1845), The Black Prophet (1847), The Emigrants of Ahadarra (1848), The Tithe Proctor (1849), and The Squanders of Castle Squander (1852). In The Squanders of Castle Squander Carleton touches on many of the issues affecting the Ireland he knew, such as the influence of the Church, landlordism, poverty, famine, and emigration.

He died at Sandford, County Dublin 30 January 1869, and is interred in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin.

His wife must have had a presentiment in inscribing on his stone that he was "one whose memory needs neither graven stone nor sculptured marble to preserve it from oblivion". In fact, every summer since 1992 County Tyrone has played host to the William Carleton Summer School, one of Ireland’s most significant literary festivals. Their mandate is to celebrate the life and writings of the novelist William Carleton, 1794-1869. The School is held from the first Monday in August until the Friday of the same week in the district which Carleton knew best, the Clogher Valley.

*Click on Photograph to view larger version.
©Copyright J.Geraghty-Gorman 2010.
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