In 1918 a seemingly unremarkable novel appeared for the first time, published by Sampson Low, Marston, a small publisher in London, the novel was called The Valley of the Squinting Windows and was it written by Irish author Brinsley MacNamara (real name, John Weldon). MacNamara came from a small rural village called Delvin in Co. Westmeath in the midlands of Ireland.
The novel tells the story of life in a rural village (Garradrimna) in Catholic Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century and the power of gossip and public perception of an inward-looking society. The last time this novel was officially read in publicly was the year of its publication in 1918 on the steps of Clonyn castle to the gathered villagers of Delvin. Understandably, the locals were excited that one of their own had written a published book. During the reading, the locals quickly realized that the fictional characters in the novel were representative of the people in and around the village of Delvin. Pride instantly turned to hostility and an ensuing national scandal in Ireland.
Copies of the book were burned in the centre of the village and MacNamara found himself hauled before the courts and ordered to pay compensation. But the villagers, so insulted by MacNamara’s novel, turned their anger towards the author’s father, James Weldon, who was principal of the national school at nearby Balinvalley. Parents refused to send their children to the school. Ultimately, MacNamara’s father was forced to emigrate, and Brindsley himself left Delvin never to return.
MacNamara's novel has been reprinted several times by Anvil Books UK, often when interest in the scandal re-emerges. In fact, the phrase itself, valley of the squinting windows, has become a colloquial term, particularly in Ireland, to describe a society obsessed with providing neighbours and peers with a good perception of one's personal matters, sometimes at any cost.
Ninety-two years later, the locals of the Delvin community have decided it is time to move on, and a reprise reading of The Valley of the Squinting Windows will form part of Delvin’s Book Fair on 2nd May from noon until 6pm. So far, book donations have been extraordinary and it is on course to be Ireland's largest ever book fair. As part of the fair, Irish celebrities, including actress Mary McEvoy, who lives locally in Delvin, will publicly read extracts from the novel. Current book donations continue to be taken and organizers are hoping that they will have in excess of 20,000 books for sale on the day.
This comes from their website and press release.
“Get Ready For The Garradrimna Book Fair!
On Sunday May 2nd, more than 20,000 books will be up for sale in what could well be the largest book fair ever seen in the county.
Hard back books will be available for €1 each and paperbacks for just 50c each.
Every type of book will be available with something to suit every taste imaginable.
In addition to the book sale, there will be readings by special guests including Mary McEvoy and Eamonn Lawlor. An art exhibition and food fair is also planned, and there will be plenty of entertainment for the children.
Mark the date in your diaries now as this promises to be a very special event and all proceeds will go towards the Delvin Sports & Leisure Centre project.”