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Ireland’s Eye: Travels

by Mark Anthony Jarman

Mark Anthony Jarman’s travel memoir, Ireland’s Eye, works very hard at not being nostalgic for the old country. The book tells of two trips Jarman made to Ireland during the technology boom of the 1990s. Jarman is fuzzy on why he made these trips. “Ireland is my magnet,” he writes. The plight of his Irish-born mother, then withering with Alzheimer’s in an Alberta hospital, seems to have sent him searching for his roots.

The first trip, in 1997, was devoted primarily to drinking beer with cousins and searching Dublin for evidence of his maternal grandfather’s death. The high-tech money had yet to transform the nation’s economy at the ground level, and Jarman paints a familiarly grim picture of Dublin, with its paramilitaries, heroin addicts, alcoholics, and slums.

The second trip, in 1999, finds him on a happier journey to the bucolic west coast, away not only from decrepit Dublin, but also from the Celtic Tiger’s cell phone-toting nouveau riche, much hated by Jarman, who were by then gentrifying the city.

Jarman uses a choppy, stream-of-consciousness technique, dropping in quotes, phrases, slogans, and references from all manner of sources, many of which go unexplained. As his maniacal, groping text flips back on itself again and again to wedge in yet another Kinks lyric or line from Yeats or Star Trek reference, the effect, alternately brilliant and frustrating, often feels like a documentary film’s shooting script. This technique, intentionally or not, also mimics what one imagines the confusion of Alzheimer’s must be like. It’s ironic then that the book’s most lucid section is a short intermission between trips, in which Jarman interviews his mother.

Alzheimer’s is a form of memory loss. Cinema is a form of preserving memory. Was the metaphorical eye of Ireland’s Eye a camera? If so, it’s doubly ironic that Jarman’s most vitriolic attacks target the “Disneyfied” shamrock-nostalgia that Ireland began hustling (even to itself) in the 1990s. For it was obviously nostalgia for a long lost past that brought Jarman back to Ireland in the first place.