University of Almería, Spain
by José Francisco Fernández. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.
Antonio Rivero Taravillo
Madrid: Fórcola, 2017.
It must have been exhilarating for the translator and poet Antonio Rivero Taravillo to write this entertaining and highly engaging dictionary of all things Irish. Being a “vocational Irishman”, as he has defined himself in interviews, he was absolutely free to fill these pages with his vast knowledge of Irish history and culture, liberated from the pressure of academic writing. To the formal dictates conveyed by the term “dictionary” in the title, the word “sentimental” has been conveniently added, as a way of indicating that the author intends to follow his fancy in this panoramic view of Ireland. This, in fact, is the key to understand such an author’s dictionary; as in similar cases, Rivero Taravillo is free to devote a dozen pages to a favourite writer, for instance, while ignoring those individuals or events that he is not interested in, although admittedly his gaze is quite comprehensive. Furthermore, he makes clear in the second page of the introduction that he has interspersed the explanations of terms with personal accounts, which makes his engagement with Ireland even more focused through the particular lens of the author. The reader is warned, therefore, that this is not exactly an encyclopedia about Ireland, but rather the testimony of a profound passion (8). The introduction, “Hibernofilia”, is most relevant in that it includes his mission statement. Here Rivero Taravillo defines the passion for Ireland as a malady which is rarely fatal and which affects millions of people throughout the world. He also admits that the composition of this dictionary was prompted by the publication of the highly acclaimed Pompa y circunstancia. Diccionario sentimental de la cultura inglesa (2015), by Ignacio Peyró, also published by Fórcola. He introduces a further caveat for readers when, at the end of the prologue, he hopes that the book will not be judged by its shortcomings or absences, but by what may crop up unexpectedly and surprise the reader (in my case, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s sojourns in Ireland).
There was in any case no need for the author to display such caution; his dictionary is certainly a personal account, but it is also full of erudition. In this sense the reader should not be deceived by the multiple anecdotes that abound in the volume, nor by Rivero Taravillo’s colloquial style. There are long hours of reading (and listening) in the 440 pages of the dictionary, and this inevitably shows in the composition of the entries.
Rivero Taravillo is no newcomer to Irish Studies. As a translator he has rendered into Spanish works by Jonathan Swift, W.B. Yeats, Jamie O’Neill and Kate O’Brien, among others. He taught himself Gaelic in order to translate An béal bocht (The Poor Mouth) by Flann O’Brien, one of his favourite authors. A compilation of what he has learned from various visits to Ireland, and from reading and translating Irish authors, has naturally produced something very fine, and En busca de la Isla Esmeralda is remarkable for its breadth of knowledge and its passionate intensity. Rivero Taravillo’s dictionary is particularly effective in conveying information about Irish folklore, an area of knowledge not commonly found in books on Ireland published in Spain. The entries on Béaloideas, the journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society; Míchéal Ó Muircheartaigh, radio broadcaster of Gaelic sports; Seán Ó Ríordáin, poet; Tomás Ó Criomhthain, memorialist of the Blasket Islands; Máirtín Ó Direáin, poet, as well as those on GAA, Gaeltacht, Oireachtas, Fleadh and Dindshenchas, among many others, all make this book an invaluable source of information on Gaelic themes for Spanish readers, and by someone who definitely knows what he is talking about. The book also deals with Irish music, and this again is the product of the author’s curiosity and passion. The Chieftains, The Pogues, Christy Moore, Liam Clancy and Sinéad O’Connor are of course represented with judicious entries, but there are also items on artists far less well-known to a general Spanish readership, such as composers Seán Ó Riada and Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, singer Ronnie Drew and musician Tommy Makem; all of these receive lengthy appreciations by the author. I particularly enjoyed the way he dispatches U2 with the single laconic sentence: “Ese grupo famoso” (385). Again, this is what is most valued in a personal dictionary, the sense of accompanying the author through an extended tour of his likes, dislikes, and, most importantly, his passions.
Rivero Taravillo does not fail to pay tribute to a considerable number of Irish writers, including John Banville, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Maeve Binchy, Eavan Boland, Elizabeth Bowen, Seamus Heaney, James Joyce, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Frank McCourt, Louis Mac Niece, John Montague, Kate O’Brien, Colm Tóibín, among many others. It has been a pleasant surprise for this reviewer to see that favourite authors, such as Aidan Higgins and Pearse Hutchinson, are also featured in the book. There are of course some names missing, inevitable even in scholarly dictionaries of literature, and indeed the author warned about such absences in the introduction. Still, I have the feeling that Evelyn Conlon, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, John McGahern and William Trevor, plus a few others, could easily have made appearances in the book, and their presence would have further enhanced the rich literary texture of the dictionary. In a project of this kind, a work by someone with a clear vision and commitment to the cause, an engagement with the authors he admires (and Rivero Taravillo engages with them splendidly) easily compensates for the necessary absences.
The dictionary is also a fine source of information on Irish history and politics. Mary Robinson does not have an entry of her own, although she is mentioned a few times here and there. Rivero Taravillo, however, includes a long commentary on Éamon de Valera. He expands on the Spanish origins of the person who would become Taoiseach and President of the Irish Republic for many years. It is well-documented that de Valera’s father was Spanish, but little is known about his life. Rivero Taravillo has consulted different sources and has done his own research in archives, tracing the origins of the Valera family to the city of Cabra, in the province of Córdoba. This is in contrast to the claim made in the latest biography of the Irish politician, A Will to Power. Éamon de Valera (2015) by Ronan Fanning, where it is stated that “Vivion de Valera [Éamon’s father] had been born in 1853 in Spain’s Basque country, where his father was an army officer who later brought his family to Cuba where he worked in the sugar trade between Cuba, Spain and the United States” (3). Fanning does not provide any evidence to support this assertion. Rivero Taravillo has done work on family documents and he has found someone who would conform to the profile of the military man-turned-entrepreneur mentioned above and he would not be de Valera’s grandfather, but a distant relative born in Cabra. In Rivero Taravillo’s account, Éamon de Valera’s grandfather was born in Seville, just like his son, Antonio Juan Vivion [de Valera]. The latter was trained as a sculptor in Seville, studying art in Madrid and Paris before emigrating to New York, where he met Kate Coll, an Irish young woman who worked as a maid for a rich family. The chronicle of the fortunes of the politician’s father in En busca de la isla esmeralda is necessarily tentative, the figure of the progenitor is lost in the mists of time, but Rivero Taravillo’s findings have been contrasted with the opinions of different experts.
Additionally, the dictionary is sprinkled with a refreshing assortment of locations from Irish geography. Perhaps in a few entries the author moves on a little hastily and does not provide the necessary nuances: More Pricks than Kicks (1934) by Samuel Beckett, is mentioned, but does not consist of stories of student life (49); the translator of Ray Bradbury’s poetry into Spanish is not López García, as claimed, but Gómez López (67); and, again contrary to what is claimed, there is thus far no evidence that Flann O’Brien visited Germany (279). Yet, these are very minor details that amount to very little in contrast to such a magnificent achievement. Rivero Taravillo’s dictionary conveys a contagious enthusiasm for Ireland and it should be strongly recommended. It is, above all, a good read.
One is of course tempted to compare Rivero Taravillo’s book with the now classic and pioneering Diccionario cultural e histórico de Irlanda, by J. A. Hurtley, B. Hughes, R. M. González Casademont, I. Praga and E. Aliaga (1996), a volume that is now sadly out of print. The dictionary by Hurtley et al. has for many years been the only reliable reference source on Irish culture in the Spanish language, used by a whole generation of scholars who were studying for their English degrees or just setting out on doctoral research when it was published, and who are now senior lecturers in universities across Spain. It is, so to speak, the dictionary of the founding fathers (mostly mothers, actually) of Irish Studies in Spain. It is rigorous, systematic, meticulous and precise. The Diccionario sentimental de la cultura irlandesa by Rivero Taravillo is equally reliable and has the added bonus of the author’s personal touch. In an ideal world, students and readers with a passion for Ireland should be encouraged to use both.
Fanning, Ronan. A Will to Power. Éamon de Valera. London: Faber, 2015.
Peyró, Ignacio. Pompa y circunstancia. Diccionario sentimental de la cultura inglesa. Madrid: Fórcola, 2015.
Hurtley, J. A., B. Hughes, R. M. González Casademont, I. Praga and E. Aliaga. Diccionario cultural e histórico de Irlanda. Barcelona: Ariel, 1996.