Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?

by Seamus O’Reilly is, as the title suggests, both a heartbreaking and funny memoir-in-essays meditating on childhood, grief, and growing up in spite of the shadow of loss. O’Reilly, now a columnist for the London Observer, grew up in Derry, Northern Ireland amidst the Troubles. In 1991, his mother, Sheila, died of cancer, leaving his father as a single parent of eleven children. The title comes from an oft-repeated, “mortifying” family story in which five-year-old Seamus, unable to yet grasp the gravity or permanence of his mother’s death, ushered guests into her wake by chirping: “Did ye hear Mammy died?” While the circumstances of his youth were often grim, O’Reilly’s book is full of humor and love, especially in his portrayal of his father, Joe, “the bright, shining star of my childhood, and, quite possibly, human life on Earth during this period.” A runaway bestseller in Ireland, the book is a testament to the fact that, even in the midst of loss and political upheaval, sometimes you have to laugh rather than cry. (Non-FIction)