Books: Michelle Woods reviews “Call of the Lark”

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How it’s New York: Author Maura Mulligan teaches Irish dancing and Irish in New York, and is a frequent reader at Irish American Writers & Artists Salon.
How it’s Irish: Mulligan gives a bracing picture of life in Mayo in the 1940s and 1950s and immigration to New York.


Books Editor Michelle Woods finds Maura Mulligan’s memoir Call of the Lark fascinating: The book, she writes,  “evokes an era not long past where the alternatives were really stark in Ireland”– with wry humor.

“You might be better off not getting married at all,” Maura Mulligan’s mother told her when she was a kid. “Tis a hard life, trying to rear a crowd like this.”

Mulligan, in her fascinating new memoir, Call of the Lark  is not kidding about not getting married – except to Christ. Mulligan, an immigrant to New York from Mayo, joined a convent not long after arriving, following in the footsteps of her sister Mag.

The controversy this week (one of the many) was Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic about whether women really could have it all – the jobs, the kids. Mulligan evokes an era not long past where the alternatives were really stark in Ireland. Three of her siblings entered the Church, one got married, and two died from alcohol. 

The sheer poverty on the farm didn’t necessarily mean a bad childhood, but it meant America was, for many, the only alternative. Mulligan’s description of her father unable to say goodbye to her, as she headed off for the boat is a tearjerker. And don’t get me started on Spot the puppy and his miserable end.









@silvia Saponaro

Mulligan’s gentle, wry humor though brings us through the bonding at the convent despite a Dickensian Mother Superior, who brought them all in one day, one by one to tell them to take the little whip:

Now, Sister, there’s no need for hysteria. The novices and professed nuns who live at the motherhouse perform the discipline together on first Fridays. When the lights are turned out, we lift our habits to beat ourselves on the thighs while we pray the ‘De Profundis’
“Oh my God,” I said.
“Please do not to take God’s name in vain,” she said.
The convent leads to Mulligan’s passion and gift: teaching. Her joy, some bittersweet, at remembering the children she taught and mentored comes across. After Vatican II, the nuns are allowed to wear a less strict habit; Mulligan is thrilled to have a knee-length skirt and less constrictive wimple. The five year old boys she’s looking after shriek “you got legs and new hair!”
Mulligan is candid about her crisis of faith. You squirm with her, and feel compassion, when at a moment of intensity, she suddenly kisses the counselor she consults, Father Jim. When she sees a shrink outside of the Church, she meets a man she’ll have a brief relationship with after leaving the convent. You’re rooting for them, but some of all the darkness seeps in.
Mulligan’s is certainly a redemptive narrative. She has got back to her passion, Irish dancing, and to teaching. There are all sorts of worthwhile vocations.

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