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Book Reviews


The Colour of Life by Geoff Cronin

Review by Jennifer Long “Waterford News & Star” 27 July 2006

Review by Nicky Furlong in the “Wexford Echo” 17 May 2006

Review in BookView Ireland March 2006, Issue No.128

Review ininDublin” magazine February 2-8 2006

Reviewed in the “Waterford News & Star” 27 July 2006

‘The Colour of Life’
from Geoffrey Cronin's perspective

Book recounts author's life growing up in Waterford and Woodstown

By Jennifer Long

ANYBODY who grew up in Waterford in the 20s, 30s and 40s —or even had parents or grandparents who did— would be well advised to buy a book by Waterford native Geoffrey Cronin, which is now on sale locally.

Born in Johnstown and reared in Woodstown, Geoffrey Cronin's ‘The Colour of Life' is a collection of 34 enthralling short stories from his own life with the vast majority of the book set in Waterford in the 1930s specifically.

Jam-packed with local names and photographs, this book has received fantastic reviews from the 'InDublin' magazine and was even compared to Alice Tailor's ‘To School through the Fields' by one reviewer.

Certainly, the book establishes Cronin's ability as a master storyteller and owing to the early success of his first offering, it's now fitting that he's working on his second.

Geoffrey is now 82 years of age and lives in Shankill in Dublin. He's son of the late Richard (Dick) Cronin and Claire Spencer, who ran Cronin's Bakery at 12 John Street many years ago.

Geoffrey himself grew up in Woodstown and indeed the book is full of stories —all true and many very funny— from this time.

There are plenty of local character of bygone days mentioned, not least in a section which lists all the members, and their varied occupations, of Woodstown Cricket Club in the 1930s!

However, dotted throughout the book, which is very easy to read, are also some of the humorous phrases which were used in everyday speech around this time.

In addition, there's the rules of the popular game 'Pitch and Toss' and other tit-bits of interesting information, such as the items that were sold in Cronin's Bakery in the 30s and their prices.

Overall, the book is an intriguing mix of fact and folklore and provides a rich insight into a time that has almost been forgotten with lots of details of the many fascinating characters whom inhabited Geoffrey Cronin's early life.

Geoffrey, who is a grandfather 11 times over, married Waterford woman Joan Flanagan, originally of Ursula's Terrace.

His mainstream career was as General Manager and a director of the Irish National Insurance Company. Now, he works in wood-turning but in years gone by, he has also been a lumberjack, pigeon fancier, mobile cinema operator, master confectioner, ballroom dance teacher and big band leader!

He first ventured into the band business in 1940s, playing piano with "The Hep Cats', a six-piece formed by his brother Dick. Later on, he headed ‘The Geoffrey Cronin Trio' who became resident band at dances in The Haven in Dunmore East

‘The Colour of Life' has been available in Dublin since last summer but is now being sold in Waterford, at The Book Centre and Waterford Museum of Treasures where its retailing at €9.95.

"The response to the book has been amazing and a lot of Waterford people have been in contact with me to say that they really enjoyed it and found it very funny but also the tact that it jogged their memories of life back then," said Geoffrey, who still takes time out on occasion to visit his native city.

“I’ve never launched it in Waterford but may well do so. The good response from the first book means there is another one in the melting pot! Again, it will be something similar, a collection of short stories which will be easy to read and, hopefully, enjoyable for all who pick it up, young or old."

Reviewed in the “Wexford Echo” 17 May 2006, by Nicky Furlong

The Colour of Geoff Cronin’s Life

I will not denigrate a fellow writer or use unfair comparisons, but on reading Geoff Cronin’s marvellous memoirs, I bethought of Alice Taylor and her series of books beginning with "To School through the Fields".

Alice Taylor was a mainstay on The Late Late Show forever and the rural simplicity of her old world memories saw her work translated into several languages including, I believe, Japanese. Geoff Cronin, one of the best executive characters in insurance in County Wexford and one of the most popular and experienced Thespians on the amateur stage has, in retirement, written a memoir that kidnaps not only the whole heart but the funny-bone as well.

He dedicates his memoir, "The Colour of Life", to his family, "without whose constant encouragement it might never have been written". He should have listened to them whey they started to encourage him. His work, his wit, his sense of humour and the power to evoke thrills of nostalgia, between Waterford and Wexford particularly, contain the stuff of TV series. “Late-Late show” appearances, radio chat shows. It could have and should have been as celebrated and enjoyed by everyone in the dance band era, the insurance business, the theatre, entertainment, and enthralling life episodes of the thirties to the seventies as Taylor's. In short, he has displayed an astonishing resurgence of the bubbly life with which we associate him. It is better in potential to my mind than Alice Taylor's successful memoirs.

I wanted to quote some of his passages - but which one? They all groan with incident from the time of his boyhood, through the schooldays, the young musician years, his fabulous dance band years, wakes, the fair of Ballybricken to the fair of Enniscorthy, from the Bullring to Duncannon and the world of Waterford Harbour on both sides.

Add to that his bachelor digs, the mobile cinemas, nuns, landlords, family shops, the price of a habit, Woodstown, the greatest pitch-and-toss school in the South East and you get a flavour of this book. He should have had a second career in writing and broadcasting. I'd like to kill him when I think of the time he wasted because this could have been turned into three books. It is even peppered with diagrams and photos, the wittiest sayings from the old times, e.g. "As plentiful as feathers on a frog".

Naturally I knew Geoff, his first wife and his family very well, particularly so as he threw his considerable weight and experience into, "Insurrection '98", the documentary play commissioned for the Wexford Opera Festival of 1965 in Dun Mhuire and directed by Tomas Mac Anna. It was a sensational production directed by a Brechtian wizard. Geoff played the British Commander in Chief, General George Lake, a part filled by Tom Irish in the 1998 revival.

In 1967 the Wexford Drama Group (along with Monaseed) won top award, as they did consistently in those decades. It was Walter Macken's "Twilight of a Warrior". Cronin starred and the cast list aches with memories now: Pauline Rice, Billy Ringwood Jean Goold, Lorcan Kiernan, Nuala Doyle Fergal Cardiff, Noel McGrath and John Pierce Who produced? Who else: but Ned Power.

Geoff won Best Supporting actor the Festival. His involvement was constant while he was in Wexford He was manager of Irish National Insurance with offices in the Bullring. He preceded Dermot Carbury.

It is with the greatest possible regret that I have to mention that Geoff’s talented daughter Dorothy, an accountant married in England, died suddenly in April and was. recently interred with her mother in Duncannon. She was an outstanding pupil in Loreto, Wexford a very popular in business and Wexford Harbour Boat Club spheres of activity.

The Colour of Life by Geoff Cronin, Moyhill Publishing, Dublin, Paperback, illustrated, 192 pages, price €9.95.

Reviewed in BookView Ireland March 2006 Issue No.128

What comes across most strongly from this collection of reminiscences is the immense freedom afforded to children in pre-War Ireland, the freedom to roam away from the house, the freedom to pursue sports which had some danger attached and the freedom which allowed an eight-year-old to become an expert on pigeons. When he was this age Geoff Cronin's family moved to Waterford and at this point the author introduces us to the maritime tradition in his family; his grandfather was an entrepreneur who had dealings in shipping before branching out into the importing of coal and the purchase of a lime kiln. 
These reminiscences wander from one subject to another, from a local cricket club to the tradition of the station Mass, from illegally acquiring a gun while underage to an important lesson Cronin learnt from his mother. Nor do they end as he reaches manhood and embarks on a career in forestry, for he was also a popular musician in the Waterford area and much of his leisure time was spent playing in his own or other bands. The author's life seems to have been marked by diverse interests and competencies; the dance scene of the 1950s and '60s is particularly well covered and it comes as no surprise to read in the last chapter that at the age of eighty-one he has been asked to play the accordion in yet another dance band. Cronin demonstrates with skill the art of the storyteller and introduces a number of interesting characters and set pieces from times gone by.

Reviewed in indublin magazine February 2-8 2006

The success of books like Bill Cullen's Penny Apples has resulted in a plethora of new authors launching their life stories into the publishing world, and therefore onto our book-shelves. Some are instantly forgettable and certainly not worth the purchase price, but every now and then you come across one that's so wonderfully descriptive, so utterly compelling that you want to recommend reading it to anyone who'll care to listen to you. The Colour of Life is such a book.

Geoff Cronin grew up in Waterford in the 1930s and this is a colourful retelling of his childhood, an Ireland that has long since passed into memory.

Cronin is a fine storyteller and, with apparent ease, transports the reader back to the everyday concerns of the time, a time when survival was a constant concern for the majority of Irish people and when humour and hardship bound us closely together.

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