A Drop of Irish

Somerville and Ross

Marigold Armitage is perched on the top shelf of my fiction section between Martin Amis and Daisy Ashford. If you don’t know her books you will certainly be aware of her genre.

She wrote in the 1950s taking over seamlessly from the novels written fifty years earlier by Somerville and Ross. I have two novels by her, very likely her entire oeuvre, A Long Way to Go and A Motley to the View. The sub-title of the former is “an Anglo-Irish near-tragedy”. The latter starts “It will end in tears,” said Gillian. “That’s for sure, admit?”

Think of Nancy Mitford in Ireland with hounds, hunting, humour, dogs and drunkenness. In the days before the Internet these books were hard to get hold of. I advertised in The Spectator in 1982 and had two replies. First from a Mr Porter in Richmond, Surrey saying that he wanted a copy too and, secondly, from Sir Owain Jenkins in Petworth, West Sussex, offering me his copy for £1 to be collected from his office in Southampton Row (where I had a flat then). How do I know this? Their letters have just fallen out of my, or rather Sir Owain’s, copy.

I would love to know something, anything, about Marigold Armitage but cannot find out anything about her. Her books are a total delight and as the hunting season, dare I say the drinking season too, start I recommend them.

But why did I teeter on my library steps and pull out these books? Because I have just bought a novel, also written in the 1950s, by Honor Tracy, The Straight and Narrow Path. I have only read the first few pages but it is immensely promising. It is in the same genre. Already Mr Pearl, an English journalist, has returned “lying on a gate and reverently borne along by two other drunks” and “Lord Patrickstown had been sighted dancing through his woods with nothing on”. Reach for the Jameson’s Redbreast 15 year old and enjoy.


And is this genre dead? You know perfectly well that it is not; Molly Keane carried the torch with distinction and then James McAleese with The Kilbeggan Touch published in 1998. Now I hope Homan Potterton might step up to continue this literary tradition that gives so much pleasure to its readers and was started by Maria Edgeworth in 1800 with Castle Rackrent.


2 thoughts on “A Drop of Irish”

  1. the must-read Honor Tracy is “Mind you, I’ve said Nothing” in which she takes a hatchet to Irish Society as it was in 1950s Dublin.

  2. I’m in the middle of A Motley to the View, and enjoying it immensely. It seems timeless, could just as well be 21C but also gives one a distinct echo of Somerville & Ross. And I too am puzzled about how little is available on the internet about the talented Marigold Armitage.

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