The Road to Dungannon

Journeys in Literary Ireland


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About the Book

Chasing after a family secret—a curious silence surrounding a long-lost ancestor—led the author on a pilgrimage through the landscape, history and literature of Ireland. His journey of self-discovery, flavored by poems, stories, lore and legend, reflects his idea that literature may be the key that explains the past and reveals the present. Serving as part memoir and part journalistic chronicle, this work offers a unique look at how memory, literature and travel shape one’s definition of oneself. Also serving as a love letter to Ireland with chapters on native born authors such as James Joyce, Frank O’Connor, Seamus Heaney and more, this book explores the deeper influences of what makes a man a writer, scholar, adventurer, husband and father.

About the Author(s)

Michael Patrick Pearson is a professor of literature and creative writing and the author of hundreds of essays and seven books. He lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Bibliographic Details

Michael Patrick Pearson

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 207
Bibliographic Info: 47 photos, appendix, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9159-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5041-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Prologue: Where the Ladders Start 1
1. The Rocky Road to Dublin and Beyond 11
2. Memory and Imagination 27
3. Joyce and Modern Ireland 44
4. Yeats, Sligo, and the West 71
5. J.M. Synge and the Aran Islands 86
6. Frank O’Connor and Cork 98
7. Edna O’Brien—A Country Girl in the West 117
8. Seamus Heaney and Northern Ireland 127
9. Writers of the New Ireland 144
Epilogue: Hunter and the Hunted—Ireland Today 184
Acknowledgments 188
Appendix: A Starting Point—Books, Music, and Film 189
Index 197

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Michael Pearson’s The Road to Dungannon is a book like no other, a highly original and wonderfully deft weaving together of memory and history, place and time, knowledge and mystery, the personal and the political, darkness and light. Pearson’s erudition is constantly illuminating but he also takes us with him on a journey into the unexplored byways of the Irish imagination. Anyone with a love for Ireland will relish this unique exploration of its past and present.”—Fintan O’Toole, author of We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland

• “Michael Pearson is one of our nation’s finest memoirists.”—Willie Morris, former editor of Harper’s Magazine

• “The Road to Dungannon is a reader’s book—and a writer’s book, a travelogue, memoir, critical literary survey of Irish writing, detective story, chatroom, and, thematically, a thoroughly modern, genealogical quest for identity. From the beginning, Michael Pearson, American writer and professor, seeks to do what Sean O’Casey did in his autobiographies, locate ‘the things that made me.’ Pearson is a vigilant and insightful tracker. In gathering the known and discovered influences on him, whether it is his mysterious grandfather, or modern and contemporary Irish writers, or the landscapes that reach out from the Bronx and Dublin, Pearson, in the end, hosts a celebratory party of Irishness deep in the American psyche and toasts the upsurge of spirit alive in that continuing bond.”—Philip Raisor, author of That Naked Country and editor of Tuned and Under Tension: The Recent Poetry of W. D. Snodgrass

• “Michael Pearson is a wayfarer in search of connection, a keen observer ever attentive to the fit word, a born storyteller. To his large-hearted exploration of Irish letters past and present and to his search for his own heritage he brings a deep love of place and the literature that rises from it. Pearson’s engaging voice and wide knowledge make The Road to Dungannon a book to be savored. A masterwork.”—Janet Peery, National Book Award Finalist for The River Beyond the World

• “Michael Pearson’s The Road to Dungannon reminds me of a tasty Gaelic turducken—it’s Irish history, wrapped inside literary criticism, encased in a memoir, all finally sheathed in a missing-person’s detective story, a kind of Gone Granddad. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like this, and it all goes down well, especially if chased by a Guinness and a shot of Teeling Irish whisky. Pearson’s life-long love of Ireland and her writers is both obvious and lyrical, but the most unusual and valuable segments for me are his interview-rich surveys of Eire’s up-and-coming wordsmiths. Every earnest trekker through the vast and shifting bogscapes of Ireland and Irish literature should consider it an essential travel guide.”—Joe Jackson, author of Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary

• “Pearson’s examination of Ireland and its literary children in The Road to Dungannon is elegant, engrossing, and even romantic. So much so, that it does the near impossible—makes me feel a twinge of pride for my own pale, pale Irish body.”—Steve Basilone, writer for the television series The Goldbergs

• “The Road to Dungannon, Michael Pearson’s lovely and multifaceted new memoir, whisks us away on a stirring quest of literary and hereditary discovery. With harmony and counterpoint the author conducts us on borderless journeys across place, time, mind, and spirit. A splendid book.”—John McManus, author of Fox Tooth Heart, Bitter Milk and Stop Breakin Down

• “I came to The Road to Dungannon for Joyce and Yeats, Seamus Heany, Frank O’Connor, Edna O’Brien, and here they are, thrilling. But this book offers so much more, the very context and milieu from which these favorite writers arose, Ireland in all its history, all its glory, and of course all its troubles. Mike Pearson is a delightful companion, storyteller, literary adventurer, and makes a great character himself, the true rover. I feel I’ve just traveled Ireland with him, and the beauty will remain.”—Bill Roorbach, author of Lucky Turtle, Life Among Giants and Temple Stream

• “‘Were we not born to wander?’ asked Yeats. The nature of Irish diaspora—a history of wandering—means that there are a lot of us, born of Irish parents or grandparents or great-grandparents, who feel a deep connection to a place we’ve never been. Michael Pearson traces this ancestral yearning in The Road to Dungannon, his wonderfully hybrid book about searching for traces of his grandfather in Ireland. The book is really a love letter to Irish literature. Mike (an old friend) is deeply engaged with the history of Irish lit, and searches for his roots and even himself in the work of writers like Yeats, Edna O’Brien, Seamus Heaney, and above all Joyce. Any reader—hell, any person harboring an Irish gene or two—will love this book.”— Claire Dederer, author of Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma

• “Offer[s] a rich variety of colorful stories, acute observations, poignant reflections, and sharp literary insights. … There are many other great books on Irish literature, of course, but what sets Pearson’s apart is his viscerally personal approach, which at times takes on an almost cosmic sense of synchronicity.”—Veer Magazine

• “This journey is more a spiritual quest, for identity, home, belonging. It’s also an interesting Irish travelogue, a detailed and insightful literary analysis, and a virtual catalog of Irish literature. The writing is lovely and subtle, accented with black-and-white photos by [Pearson’s] traveling companion John Lawrence….Pearson’s latest exploration is a worthy read, especially for people embarking on a personal exploration of Irish literature, or seeking the meaning in another’s.”—Virginian Pilot