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Issue 23 - Hugh Leonard: everything but the kitsch

Whisky Magazine Issue 23
June 2002


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Hugh Leonard: everything but the kitsch

Jefferson Chase takes a look at the Irish author and playwright's whiskey references within his acclaimed work

Aside from Guinness and whiskey, there's nothing more typically Irish than childhood reminiscences – a comprehensive list of Irish memoirs would be endless. My favorite is Hugh Leonard's Home Before Night, which covers similar ground to his award-winning 1978 play Da, later made into a film starring Martin Sheen. Born in 1926 in Dalkey, County Dublin as John Keyes Byrne, Leonard writes warm-hearted Irish humour without falling into warm-hearted Irish kitsch. It's a danger of which Leonard is well aware.

The Irish love failure: in their folklore success is inexcusable, but the fumbled ball, the lost promotion, the one drink too many are to them the stuff of romance: they turn the winner's laurels into a salad for the loser to eat, adding clichés for seasoning.

Although too young to drink for most of the book, which is narrated alternately in the third- and first-persons, young Leonard proves a sharp-eyed observer of the drunken foibles of the adults around him. For example, a cherub-faced uncle named John ‘Curser' Bennett:

John was in vintage form. In Aunt Chris's absence he cursed the government, be-Jasused the Free State, effed the oath of allegiance, blinded the Irish language and cast serious doubts on the paternity of the Minister for Lands. His pink cheeks became infused with an angry sunset glow as he downed proffered tumblers of John Jameson, and a shout went up that he should grace the occasion with the recitation for which, in his bachelor days, he had become...

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