Hugh Dorian was born in poverty in rural Donegal in 1834. He survived Ireland's Great Famine, only to squander uncommon opportunities for self-advancement. Having lost his job and clashed with priests and policemen, he moved to the city of Derry but never slipped the shadow of trouble. Three of his children died from disease and his wife fell drunk into the River Foyle and drowned. Dorian declined into alcohol-numbed poverty and died in an overcrowded slum in 1914. A unique document survived the tragedy of Dorian's life. In 1890 he completed a true historical narrative of the social and cultural transformation of his home community. This narrative forms the most extensive lower-class account of the Great Famine. A moving account of the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, it invites comparison with the classic slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. Dorian achieves a degree of totality in his reconstruction of the world of the pre-Famine poor that is unparalleled in contemporary memoir or fiction. He describes their working and living conditions, sports and drinking, religious devotions and festivals. A sense of loss, closer to bereavement than stalgia, is threaded through the text: it is a lament for the might have been -- the future as imagined before the Famine -- rather than the actual past. Dorian's narrative was never published in his own lifetime and all but forgotten after the author's death. First published in Ireland in August 2000, The Outer Edge of Ulster includes a scholarly introduction that traces the troubles that beset the author and locates the narrative in wider literary contexts. Appearing for the first time inAmerica, this critically acclaimed book offers an intimate look at the everyday lives of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges.
BREANDAN MAC SUIBHNE is program coordinator for the Keough Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame. DAVID DICKSON is senior lecturer in the Department of Modern History at Trinity College, Dublin.