By Jessica Lovell
If you read the book, you’ll know why the little boy on the cover is sporting little green horns and a pointed devil’s tail.
“After you’ve read the book, the horns will need not explanation,” says Dermot McCann, author of McCann’s Shorts: True Tales of an Irish Immigrant.
McCann, who was dressed in shorts when he arrived in Canada as a young lad in January 1954, actually did most of his growing up in Guelph. He now lives on a sailboat in Vancouver, but he’ll be back in Guelph almost in time for St. Patrick’s Day to promote his first book – which he says is written in the tradition of “true Irish storytelling.”
Though not all the Irish folks he met as a youngster were great storytellers, many were great at it, he says in an email to the Tribune.
“I soon learned that the art of storytelling was well revered in Irish culture,” McCann says.
Growing up on Laverne Avenue, in a home where many new Irish immigrants got their first night’s sleep in Canada, it was not uncommon for the young boy to come home from school and hear, “You’ll not be sleeping in yer own bed tonight. Mr. and Mrs. McSo-and-So have just arrived from Ireland and they’ll be using your bedroom until they get their own place,” McCann says. “My bed was worth giving up for the stories I heard during those times.”
He has attempted to emulate that storytelling tradition in his book – a volume containing 20 true stories, about one-third of which are based in and around Guelph.
“I’m hoping people will be entertained by the stories I have to tell,” he says. “I don’t claim to be writing ‘fine English literature.’ But I’m consistently hearing, ‘I just couldn’t put it down,’ often from people who claim they’re not avid readers.”
The book, which he will be promoting at The Bookshelf’s eBar on March 18 at 7 p.m., is a first for McCann.
By trade he is a carpenter, but he’s also had some success as an artist. Acting on the advice of fellow writers, he chose to publish and promote the book himself.
“So far, I’m having a lot of fun and success doing that,” he says.
But he’s not giving too much away about the book, preferring to encourage people to read it.
Asked why his family came to Guelph when they left Belfast in the 1950s and what Guelph was like in those days, he is more of a closed book.
“I’ll have to start issuing spoiler alerts if I answer those questions,” McCann says.
His memories include taking the train from Ariss to Guelph, delivering the Guelph Guardian newspaper on early winter mornings, Bantam league hockey practice at Memorial Gardens, and more. But to get those stories, you’ll have to wait for McCann’s next book, In The Name Of God, which is currently in the works, he says.
Likewise, to learn why McCann was such a little devil – it’s a self-portrait of him on the McCann’s Shorts cover – you’ll have to get reading.
What you won’t get from either book are any tales of St. Paddy’s day revelry from the 1960s, when McCann was a student at the University of Guelph.
“Having skipped a grade in elementary school and then plowed through university in six semesters straight, I graduated from U of G before I was old enough to drink alcohol,” he says. “Thank god I missed the green beer!”
McCann does not think much of the way North Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
“Seeing people lined up outside pubs before noon, dressed in ridiculous leprechaun outfits is just wrong,” he says.
McCann’s visit will put him in Guelph on the Irish holiday, but most of his celebrating will be about finishing his first book and getting to see some old friends.
“Writing is a very solitary endeavour. After four years in the making, finally being able to mix with friends and share sometimes previously untold stories is as good as it gets,” McCann says. “It’s just been great fun and I look forward to seeing people I haven’t seen in decades.”