Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review: Old Albert by Brian J.Showers

Old Albert, An Epilogue by Brian J.Showers, originally from Wisconsin but living now in Rathmines, Dublin. The beautiful, at first enigmatic book cover of five dead, labelled skylarks is by the illustrator Jason Zerrillo.

This short but engaging book is a history. It is the history that surrounds the house Larkhill in Rathmines. Built in 1842 by Ellis Grimwood, a passionate ornithologist  who corresponded with the young Charles Darwin,it was this passion that brought him to Rathmines, then still a rural out water of Dublin. In late 1843 he was visited by the then young journalist, to become author, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu who reported that Grimwood had become very solitary. In 1844 he abruptly left Larkhill, moving to Howth where he lived until 1902, traveling every morning by chartered boat to study the seabirds on Ireland's Eye. And this was where his dead body was found by picnickers.
 Victorian Howth with a view of Ireland's Eye

Staying in Howth, as an aside almost, Showers tells the tale of a murder in 1852 involving William Burke Kirwan, an anatomical artist living on Merrion Street whose wife's drowned body was found on Ireland's Eye where they had gone for a picnic. But rumours of foul play and the emerging knowledge of Kirwan's double life led to his arrest.

Larkhill was sold in 1845 to the then famous Dublin vintner James Walker for use as storehouse and office. There they found the cages and over a hundred dead birds. His new young wife Eva turned out to be much more popular than her 'know-it-all' husband, which eventually caused him to jealously curtail her social life and confine her to her rooms.. The sensation that followed involving hangings, bloodied bedsheets and missing bodies is worthy of the best murder mystery.

In 1890 the house was bought by the Holy Ghost Fathers to establish a school. Nearly fifty years empty, it was one of the Fathers who was to make a grim discovery in the former aviary. Run as a school then for 25 years, falling pupil numbers closed it. Leased for a short time to Sacred Order of the Mysteries of Thoth, a mystical society keen on the occult, wine and drugs it is here that the unusual history of Larkhill comes to a close.

Really this book is the story of how a friend of Showers gathered together a lifetime's collection of documents relating to Larkhill and handed them over. A pupil himself  at St. Mary's school, as Larkhill was to become and is now, he told of the ghost stories surrounding the school and his own experience of witnessing the effect on a pupil of hiding in the old out-of-bounds aviary building.
The author outside Larkhill as it is today.

With an afterword by Adam Golaski, the publisher of New Genre this is a fascinating little book. It satisfies the historian in you, the sensationalist, the interest in Dublin and just a need for a good story.

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