This is an irrepressibly funny and poignant memoir of family life after bereavement ... O’Reilly brings to life the warmly raucous meals around the vast kitchen table, the dormitory chatter (teenagers on top bunks talking football, fights and discos; earnest discussion of dinosaur subspecies between the younger boys below), and being ferried to Mass in the family minibus (a 26-foot caravan, sensibly pre-blessed by a priest, was attached for longer trips) ... a cast of so many siblings poses narrative difficulties ... As a result, Sinead-Dara-Shane-Orla-Maeve-Mairead-Dearbhaile-Caoimhe-Fionnuala-Conall (always in age order) are left necessarily indistinct. It is his stoical father Joe, with his reverence for dogs, priests and esoteric tools, who comes into loving focus, adored and teased in equal measure. There are also superb pen portraits of peripheral relations, including stern-faced Granny O’Reilly ... A large family proves both a profound comfort and an essential distraction, but grief, inevitably, surfaces in its own time. These 'controlled explosions', harrowing and cathartic, are tenderly drawn, and mirror the background struggles of a community processing decades of trauma.
Anyone with prior knowledge of O’Reilly’s work will not be surprised to learn that this is not a heavy or ponderous read. In fact, it may be one of the funniest books ever written about the death of a parent. There is of course real sadness documented here. Much of it is centred around O’Reilly’s sense of dislocation about what has happened, and his limited ability to frame it afterwards ...
The book is a wonderful tribute to Sheila O’Reilly. She is depicted as an exceptionally compassionate, selfless woman, a gifted linguist and teacher who is mourned by their entire community on the Derry-Donegal border and beyond ... It is notable that O’Reilly derives such mileage out of his father’s enthusiasm for details. His own uproarious descriptions of Crazy Prices’s merger with Stewarts in Derry to become West Side Stores and eventual evolution into Tesco alongside their attendant marketing strategies betray the same endless appetite for minutiae ... O’Reilly provides an insightful account of the [Troubles] conflict’s rhythms ... O’Reilly has interesting observations too on the role of Catholicism ... There are moments when the structure of this book seems a little unclear, but O’Reilly is such a gifted and entertaining writer that it mostly doesn’t matter. Every paragraph is compelling, and it all makes for a very enjoyable read.
Grief is a journey which varies for each person who has lost a loved one and O’Reilly struggles to process his own grief due to his young age. The humour of which emerges from the pages is rightly inserted at the most inopportune moments. Sedaris in style (observational anecdotes in abundance), O’Reilly’s love for his father and siblings is apparent. Expect to laugh out loud, almost constantly, and fall in love with the O’Reilly clan. I cannot recommend this enough. An outstanding read.
It's hard to imagine a memoir about an author's dead mother could elicit actual belly laughs, but somehow, O'Reilly makes it happen ... expertly combines heartfelt sentiment with a dry Irish wit that will leave readers questioning if the tears on their cheeks come from joy or sadness or dark humor--or all of the above.
... a grief memoir that shuns sentimentality in favor of gallows humor ... I laughed out loud reading Did Ye Hear Mammy Died, especially at the bits that recalled for me the way my own family laughs to keep from crying ... forms a testament to the fact that losing a parent at a young age doesn't end your childhood ... In this, O'Reilly gets something I wish more people would understand about my own loss — my parents' deaths were devastating and I still had to go through my teen years after they died ... While it is billed as a straight memoir, it reads as more of a memoir-in-essays, 13 of them, most of which relate happenings in the early 1990s, when O'Reilly — known in his large family as one of the 'Wee Ones' — was still quite wee. Writing about early childhood can skew mawkish, but O'Reilly manages to granularly depict the odd details of kid life as it was lived alongside a present-day perspective that treats his younger self with bemusement and tenderness in equal measure ... It's rare to read about good fathers in memoirs, and O'Reilly's portrait, complete with bits about how his dad is 'God's one, true, perfect miser,' who was nevertheless driven to 'make sure we never felt poorer than anyone else,' is hilarious and moving ... It is this thread of refusal to be pitied, to have what happened to his family reduced to 'a tawdry bit of sentimental fluff for people to tut along to and say how sad,' that makes Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? so rousing. That it is also deadly funny is an extra treat.
While this book is often very funny, there are parts where O’Reilly’s humour can come across as a crutch ... Despite it demonstrably being about O’Reilly and his family, the true star of the work is his father ... it is immensely refreshing to read a spot-on analysis of the Irish father. There are several revelatory moments of Irish dad-ism, a favourite being not knowing anything about current trends or society but having a strangely in-depth knowledge of Z-list culture due to a robust diet of rubbish morning television. It is as an ode to Irish fatherhood that the memoir works best, and an area where O’Reilly’s talent truly soars ... Much like O’Reilly himself, the book had to find a way to stand out in a crowded space. It does so through highly comic prose, its touching tributes to O’Reilly’s father, and with memorable tales about being raised in a family of 11. All of it comes together as if to prove a singular point—that O’Reilly is truly one of the country’s finest comic writers.
A tender, comic chronicle of the author’s upbringing ... O’Reilly...who has a knack for crafting uproarious anecdotes, is attuned to the extraordinary—and somewhat absurd—nature of his childhood. He takes a jovial approach in the narrative, and the result is a rousing tale of family fellowship ... Indeed, finding comedy in tragedy seems to be an operative instinct for the author. Stylistically, O’Reilly is an unabashed maximalist, packing his sentences with adverbs and consistently minting fresh figures of speech. Throughout the book, as he sifts through memories of his boisterous upbringing, he never fails to find cause for joy or a good joke. As a result, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?—title aside—feels bracingly alive.
Although the first few chapters are enough to leave readers teary-eyed as O’Reilly’s family grieves his mother, one can’t help but feel happiness as O’Reilly describes his affection for his ten siblings and father. He confronts his family history with sharp, witty, and honest humor. His personal experiences highlight the realities, fear, and hardship the Troubles imposed upon his family and the community he grew up in while also providing a unique lens on the explosions, murder, and abduction that occurred during generations past and present. O’Reilly’s recollection is a splendid paradox, both cheery and heartbreaking.
In this rollicking debut, O’Reilly,..renders [his siblings] in deeply affectionate prose ... He also paints an archly loving portrait of his kindhearted single father...and dispenses mordantly funny takes on his adolescence growing up in the waning years of the Troubles ... Chock-full of wit and compassion, this amusingly dispels 'perception[s] of [Northern Irish people] as either humourless... or violent psychopaths.'