The Speculations of Country People

The Speculations of Country People


'Ruminative and enigmatic . . . powerful' Simon Armitage
'Tenderly inquisitive . . . a powerful poetry of witness . . . full of discovery' Alycia Pirmohamed
'Majella Kelly offers so much: ecstatic lyricism . . . emotional excavation and virtuosic skill' Kathryn Maris

The astonishing poetry debut exploring hidden histories, mythical landscapes and self-discovery in the face of limits on women's bodily autonomy

In 2017, the presence of a mass grave was confirmed in a disused sewage system in Tuam, County Galway. In it were the bodies of infants - wards of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, where from 1925 to 1961 the children of unmarried women were sent to live their lives in the care of nuns. Their deaths were the result of a conservative culture which, under the influence of the Church, took a prurient interest in women's private lives and bodies.

In The Speculations of Country People, her hauntingly lyrical debut collection, Majella Kelly reckons with that legacy. She traces the journeys of women in our own day, from controlling relationships to sexual reawakening and new happiness. The speculations of the title are in part those of gossip, the chatter of small communities everywhere; but they are also those of a local, very Irish mythos, in which pagan and Christian - and truth and legend - blend and blur.

Here, then, are hares and selkies, a seductive 'master otter' of 'fabulous elegance' who might carry a woman away in the night; here is the last man on Omey Island; here a retired stuntman, dragging his bed of rusty nails along the beach. And here - quiet, against the beauty and loneliness of the Connemara landscape - are the little bones that wash up on shores or stick from the earth to speak of what has been.


  • This tenderly inquisitive book . . . oscillate[s] between an intimate interiority . . . and a powerful poetry of witness. Along with its strong, lyrical voice, the book's sections are held together by evocative personifications of the natural world . . . Kelly attends carefully to the histories she writes about . . . [The section on the Tuam Mother and Baby Home] is a poetic inquiry, where skilful and moving language is a tool of investigation. Kelly probes at difficult questions of religion, legacy, grief, and the responsibility of memory and memorial. The poems are lucid with their remembering . . . full of discovery, [The Speculations of Country People gifts] us with the wisdom that the list of places we are from is not fixed, but rather textured with the continuous possibility of finding home in new people and new places
    Alycia Pirmohamed

About the author

Majella Kelly

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