Never No More is a delightful tale that evokes the generosity of spirit at the heart of a small rural Irish community in the 1920s.
Maura Laverty spent her childhood in the vast peatlands known as the Bog of Allen in County Kildare. Through her fictional alter ego, Delia Scully, Laverty vividly recreates the natural beauty of this region, its colourful characters and the traditions that provide a rhythm to their lives.
Delia is nine years old when her recently widowed mother decides to move her large family to Kilkenny where she will open a new drapery business. Delia hates the idea but fortunately her beloved Grandmother, Mrs Lacy, comes to rescue – Delia can live with her in Derrymore House, Ballyderrig.
Gran sees potential in the girl where her mother sees nothing more than a dreamer. In the gentle nurturing bosom of the older woman. Delia flourishes, becoming a trusted helpmate in the kitchen, an aide in Gran’s many errands of mercy to her neighbours and skilful with her needle.
The one blot in this idyllic world is that Delia can’t make the progress she needs to fulfil her grandmother’s wish for her to become a teacher. The girl delights in reading poetry but cannot get on with French and maths. She also struggles with what she views as the petty rules and regulations in her convent school.
Never No More doesn’t have a plot as such, beyond tracing Delia through the years as she navigates the typical milestones in any young girl’s life. Her first days at school, the onset of puberty, the first dance, the first kiss are all made easier to manage when there is Gran to provide sound advice and the occasional shoulder upon which to cry.
The relationship between the young girl and the mature woman is the outstanding feature of this book. Mrs Lacy is loved and respected by everyone in her community, generous with her time, her knowledge and her food. A committed Catholic, she has no evident vices beyond the occasional tendency towards impatience.
She’s the person you want at your side if you’re a mother in labour or a young bride. When your home burns down and you’re left with not even a stick of furniture, it’s Mrs Lacy who offers you shelter and a home for however long you need it.
To the young Delia. she is much more than a substitute mother:
The love Delia feels towards this woman is equalled by the love she feels for the countryside around Ballyderrig:
When the novel was published in 1942, people in that part of Ireland were apparently unhappy about the way they had been portrayed. I didn’t feel Maura Laverty was being unfair towards these individuals however. For sure there is a lot of humour involved in her anecdotes about the turf cutters, farmers and tinkers who make up the community. But she never makes them seem ridiculous. Nor does she sentimentalise this way of life; never shying away from the fact that people are poor and women die young in childbirth.
Never No More doesn’t just delight with description and anecdote, it also tantalises the taste buds.
The whole novel is punctuated by episodes in which Gran gets to work in the kitchen. Laverty can’t resist going into detailed description of each dish and exactly how its made. Some are more appealing than others!
“Buttery pancakes speckled with sultanas” I can relate to but I think I’ll pass on the stuffed eels and pigs brains “parboiled and coated in batter and fried”
Unsavoury dishes aside however, Never No More is an enjoyable read, a warm and heart-felt homage to a way of life I suspect exists only in fragments.
Never No More by Maura Laverty: Endnotes
Never No More: The Story Of A Lost Village is the debut novel by the Irish born Maura Laverty.
Published in 1942, it proved popular around the world. She followed it with another semi-autobiographical novel featuring Delia Sculle: No More than Human.
Though she wrote several novels, short story collections and two cookery books, she was better known for her work as scriptwriter for an Irish soap opera called Tolka Row that was broadcast on the RTE television station for four years in the 1960s.