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We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It
Cover of We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It
We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It
A Memoir of My Irish Boyhood
In the tradition of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes and Alice Taylor's To School Through the Fields, Tom Phelan's We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It is a heartfelt and masterfully written memoir of growing up in Ireland in the 1940s.
Tom Phelan, who was born and raised in County Laois in the Irish midlands, spent his formative years working with his wise and demanding father as he sought to wrest a livelihood from a farm that was often wet, muddy, and back-breaking.

It was a time before rural electrification, the telephone, and indoor plumbing; a time when the main modes of travel were bicycle and animal cart; a time when small farmers struggled to survive and turkey eggs were hatched in the kitchen cupboard; a time when the Church exerted enormous control over Ireland.

We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It recounts Tom's upbringing in an isolated, rural community from the day he was delivered by the local midwife. With tears and laughter, it speaks to the strength of the human spirit in the face of life's adversities.
In the tradition of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes and Alice Taylor's To School Through the Fields, Tom Phelan's We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It is a heartfelt and masterfully written memoir of growing up in Ireland in the 1940s.
Tom Phelan, who was born and raised in County Laois in the Irish midlands, spent his formative years working with his wise and demanding father as he sought to wrest a livelihood from a farm that was often wet, muddy, and back-breaking.

It was a time before rural electrification, the telephone, and indoor plumbing; a time when the main modes of travel were bicycle and animal cart; a time when small farmers struggled to survive and turkey eggs were hatched in the kitchen cupboard; a time when the Church exerted enormous control over Ireland.

We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It recounts Tom's upbringing in an isolated, rural community from the day he was delivered by the local midwife. With tears and laughter, it speaks to the strength of the human spirit in the face of life's adversities.
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About the Author-
  • Tom Phelan had just turned fifty when his first novel, In the Season of the Daisies, was accepted for publication. That novel was later chosen by Barnes and Noble for its Discover Great New Writers series. Since then, Phelan has written five other novels: Iscariot, Derrycloney, The Canal Bridge, Nailer, and Lies the Mushroom Pickers Told. Born and reared in Ireland, he now lives in New York.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2018
    A tender recollection of growing up on a farm in Ireland in the 1940s.In precise, vibrant prose, novelist Phelan (Lies the Mushroom Pickers Told, 2015, etc.) creates a finely etched portrait of his parents and siblings, assorted friends and relations, the bully who made his school days a misery, and many eccentrics, clergymen, and neighbors who peopled his small world. On a 52-acre farm in County Laois, the Phelan family's house was heated by the kitchen fireplace, hot-water bottles relieved the beds' cold dampness for most of the year, and dry overcoats were piled on as extra blankets. Every Saturday evening, a black, cast-iron pot was hung above the fire, heating water in which every family member bathed. "As a child, I believed that my family was poor," writes the author, because unlike some other children, he rarely had money for small pleasures. Whatever luxuries they had--a chemical toilet, gramophone, and Brownie Box camera, for example--were the rewards of tireless, demanding toil by his father, "with his all-devouring work ethic," and his mother, "the sheltering harbor from the storms that sometimes raged in Dad's head and spewed out in loud and angry words." Frustration, fatigue, and worry fueled those storms. "I remember him as a man who loved his wife and his children," Phelan reflects, "who at times was driven over the edge while trying desperately to take care of them." Being a farmer was not in the author's future; instead, it was assumed he was destined for the priesthood, a vocation he did not question. He absorbed Catholic theology and developed a requisite sense of guilt about breaking the Ten Commandments as well as a healthy skepticism about the "Irish mania" for missionary work: "the conversion of happy pagans into miserable Catholics." He reveled in being an altar boy, besotted by the lovely Sister Carmel, who made learning responses for the Latin Mass "a time of warmth, love, and delight." Ordained in 1965, he left the priesthood after a decade.A captivating portrait of a bygone time.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 18, 2019
    Novelist Phelan (In the Season of the Daisies) stitches together a series of tender and earnest anecdotes of coming-of-age in the rural Irish midlands of the 1940s. Growing up on a farm, Phelan raised pigs, helped his father with the horses (“while Dad cleaned the stable and scattered soft barley straw, the children walked the horses around the farmyard”), and drove cattle to a nearby livestock fair, where he learned the art of negotiating (when one buyer made “a meaningless offer, Dad wouldn’t even look at the man”). In elementary school, Phelan learned “to perform my first religious rite—the sign of the cross.” Phelan had expressed interest in becoming a priest, and before he headed off to college his neighbor warned him that if he became a priest “he’ll be sorry in the long run.” Nevertheless, Phelan was ordained to the priesthood in 1965, but left it 11 years later. Phelan’s father provides the heartbeat of the memoir: he’s a taciturn, no-nonsense man who loved and respected his family, worked hard, (“Every day, Dad organized the cleaning up after dinner, with himself doing the washing”). Phelan’s vivid images of life on the farm and at school provide a rich and colorful snapshot of the times that shaped him.

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A Memoir of My Irish Boyhood
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