The astonishing poetry debut exploring hidden histories, mythical landscapes and self-discovery in the face of limits on women’s bodily autonomy
In 2017, the presence of a mass grave was confirmed in a disused sewage system in Tuam, County Galway. In it were the bodies of infants – wards of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, where from 1925 to 1961 the children of unmarried women were sent to live their lives in the care of nuns. Their deaths were the result of a conservative culture which, under the influence of the Church, took a prurient interest in women’s private lives and bodies.
In The Speculations of Country People, her hauntingly lyrical debut collection, Majella Kelly reckons with that legacy. She traces the journeys of women in our own day, from controlling relationships to sexual reawakening and new happiness. The speculations of the title are in part those of gossip, the chatter of small communities everywhere; but they are also those of a local, very Irish mythos, in which pagan and Christian – and truth and legend – blend and blur.
Here, then, are hares and selkies, a seductive ‘master otter’ of ‘fabulous elegance’ who might carry a woman away in the night; here is the last man on Omey Island; here a retired stuntman, dragging his bed of rusty nails along the beach. And here – quiet, against the beauty and loneliness of the Connemara landscape – are the little bones that wash up on shores or stick from the earth to speak of what has been.