Friday, December 16, 2011

Meet Rory of "Penengro"

Rory O'Malley was picked out in an Irish orphanage by the parents of a 12-year-old boy who looked just like him, with red hair and freckles. When we first meet Rory, he is escaping from the house because he finds it creepy to be living out the memories and expectations of still-grieving parents.

He explains to an evidently inebriated man he meets and helps on the road to Dublin that "they wanted me to be their dead boy."  He explains also to the man, Lionel Usher, that he has no relatives. Usher observes: "You have too few [relatives] and I have too many. Have some of mine." In the end, Usher is discovered by relatives and he brings Rory home with him, claiming him as a nephew. But in the morning Usher doesn't remember his offer, and Rory moves on.

At left is a drawing of Rory in the middle of Dublin. He walks by Nelson's Pillar, which was then (about 1950; the Pillar  was destroyed in 1966) in the center of O'Connell Street. From there he is advised to get food in the market on Moore Street. At the market he comes across two girls in gypsy dress selling paper flowers. The younger one, Rory's age, is accused by a baker of stealing a cake. Rory notices a yellow stray dog eating the cake and he points it out to the baker, earning the gratitude of the girls, who disappear. Attention is then focused on the dog, who would have been taken in by the police if Rory didn't claim it as his own and pay for the cake. Rory and Sandy are picked up by a boy with a wagon delivering potatoes. Sandy leads Rory to the place where the gypsies (also known in Ireland as tinkers or travelers) had made their camp. Sandy is welcomed by the other dogs because he belonged to the flower girls. Rory is welcomed because the flower girls had explained the story of Rory's successfully defending them. Zena, the younger flower girl, and Rory become very attached to each other. Rory learns to speak Romany, the language of the gypsies, and learns much from them about their customs and about their way of life and beliefs.

The author shows how the Romany believe they own the earth and everyone else is only borrowing from them. G. K. Chesterton put it well when he said: "Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property, that they may more perfectly respect it." (The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908)

Rory in turn tells stories from his life and in time is given the high compliment of being called "Penengro" - the Roma word for story-teller. 

To go on might spoil the story for those who have not read the book. The ending for Rory is realistic and satisfying. The book is based on Hilda van Stockum's research into the Roma, the gypsies as they were widely called when the book was written. HvS considered it reason enough to side with the Roma, to know that that Hitler persecuted them! As Desmond Oakley says in the preface to the 2010 edition (the original edition was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1972): "In showing the challenges faced by a downtrodden minority, it also reveals to the rest of us how much we have lost our relationship to nature." This book could be considered an introduction to gypsy history, a topic of great controversy and interest. As an entry point into the current dialog, see Sinéad ní Shuinéar, "Apocrypha to Canon" (from the 2004 conference of the Gypsy Lore Society), History Ireland, Winter 2004. Discussed in an interview on “Sullivan’s Travels”, a talk show on LTV in East Hampton, for 2012 airing.
How to Order Penengro. The book is available from Amazon for $9.95 (free shipping for orders above $25 to a single U.S. address). Preview (“LOOK INSIDE”) available. Kindle version available for $6.95.

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