Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Read This Book: Last of the Donkey Pilgrims

Snopes has declared that this was not in fact the last photo ever taken by an out-of-control motorcyclist in Ireland.

A month without an entry? Ouch. I'll knock a quick one out tonight and try to keep them coming, since I do like doing them. This time around: a book review!

I had plenty of fun on campus in college, so my excursions into the city usually involved walks or runs in the immediate area of St. Paul. Shortly before I graduated, I took a stroll down Grand Avenue, a line of mostly small businesses set up in residences, to see some of the shops I hadn't stopped in. One of them, Irish On Grand, specializes in a wide variety of Celtic products, ranging from jewelry to books. I was pleasantly surprised to see the above book, Last of the Donkey Pilgrims, on the shelf, since it shows that it made it at least 1,000 miles from its point of origin.

The author, Kevin O'Hara, gave me a copy some years after I interviewed him for a middle school project about his parents, who had immigrated from Ireland. O'Hara lives near my hometown and has a column in the local paper every St. Patrick's Day recounting adventures in Ireland. It seems like he's had a lot of them, though the biggest one came during an uncertain period in his life when he was staying with relatives in Ireland after serving in Vietnam. Eventually, he lighted on the idea of touring around the coast of the country using a donkey and cart.

Kevin demonstrates how the oil industry can literally kiss his ass.

Since O'Hara's journey was well-publicized, he had the advantage of an entire country alerted to his idea. As such, he pretty much had to knock on a door once the sun started to go down and politely ask if they could put him up for the night (and give his donkey, Missy, a place to graze, of course). The book is full of his experiences with the kindness of strangers, the beauty of the countryside, and the nervousness of a different time as he carried his journey over the border into the more contentious northern part of the island.

The one downside to the book is probably the opening in which O'Hara and his relatives reminisce on the experience and consider that no one could probably do it again due to an increase in crime and other factors. So it's inspirational if you want to embark on an adventure of your own, just so long as that adventure doesn't involve orbiting Ireland with a donkey. Nonetheless, the excellent characterization of himself, the whole range of Irish folk, and even Missy makes this memoir a real gem.

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