Waterford-born academic and writer, Eibhear Walshe has just brought out, via The Collins Press, a significant auto-biography of growing up in Waterford, Cissie’s Abatoir, under the spell of his grandmother, Cissie, a spirited nanny who was colourful and larger than her stature in a drab location, enlivened by exciting conservation and blood, guts and sausage skins. But it is more than just a rite of passage in a grey uncertain town trying to be a city, it is also a frank honest ‘look at how a self-described “nancy boy” comes to terms with his homosexual nature’ where, no doubt, the book title Cissie’s Abattoir is a coded word in a town, where to be a cissy was an insult at a time when to be homophobic wasn’t understood either.
Not since Sean Dunnes impressive memoir of growing up in Waterford, In My Father’s House, has a book that looks at the real heart of a real place, been published, not like Peter Cunningham’s fictional Monument.
The book is in five sections and some sections seem like they were written as stand alone pieces, which in fact they were, for other magazines. But it is the very recognisable cityscape of Waterford that links and makes very real this fine but short book.
Waterford readers might blanch or snark (malicious sarcasm) at repeated descriptions of Waterford – a puddle-grey waterlogged town – tepid teabag coloured place – the vinegary defensiveness of its inhabitants – the most undistinguished – a place of hard-nosed permission – a hard place in which to find joy.
Cissie, from a pig-dealing Ballybricken family, married Francie Hamm, the son of a German, Richard Hamm, from Saxony who came to Waterford via Liverpool, with skills in making sausage skins and pig processing. The early chapter is a wonderful story of cross-cultures and fierce determination to succeed at various business ventures and is fascinating stuff.
It is Eibhear Walshe’s fine skill with words that makes this book so attractive and his story emerges via his father’s work at the Mental Hospital and Eibhear’s stint as an altar-boy in the Folly. The Abattoir chapter deals in a beautiful way with his developing gay feelings and the honesty of this section is impressive. Cissie, by her survival instinct and distinctive way of looking at life and the world of Waterford, would give you the courage to stand up and be proud of what you are and where you come from.