Category Archives: IRISH STORIES

Derry Girls – A Northern Ireland Comedy during The Troubles

Derry Girls on Netflix is a comedy about a group of Irish Catholic school girls in Northern Ireland during the violent period known as “The Troubles”.  It may seem odd to have a situation-comedy set during one of the darkest periods of a country’s history, but the show is brilliant and hilarious.

Derry Girls Stars (L-R) Dylan Llewellyn as James, Jamie-Lee O'Donnell as Michelle, Saoirse Jackson as Erin, Louise Harland as Orla and Nicola Coughlan as Clare.

Derry Girls Stars (L-R) Dylan Llewellyn as James, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell as Michelle, Saoirse Jackson as Erin, Louise Harland as Orla and Nicola Coughlan as Clare.

Derry Girls was created and written by Lisa McGee and every episode is great. The occupation of Londonderry by the British Army is always in the background, but it is not the main focus of the girls’ lives. Derry Girls shows how young people tend to live in their own special world of adventures, petty jealousies and enduring friendships, no matter what is going on in the adult world.

Siobhan McSweeney as Sister Michael in "Derry Girls

Siobhan McSweeney as Sister Michael in “Derry Girls”

In one episode, the girls find a little dog and convince themselves that it is their old dog risen from the dead. They are even able to persuade a young naive priest that this miracle must be investigated. It is only the school principal who notices that this “miracle” investigation happens to be taking place on the same day that the girls would otherwise be taking a difficult history exam that none of the girls had studied for.

Lisa McGee - writer and creator of Derry Girls.

Lisa McGee – writer and creator of Derry Girls.

In an especially moving episode, the girls are at school doing a silly dance for a talent show. Unbeknownst to them, a deadly bomb has just exploded in another part of Londonderry. The juxtaposition of joy and tragedy highlights the complexity of growing up during The Troubles.

The Catholic section of Londonderry during The Troubles.

The Catholic section of Londonderry during The Troubles.

The cast of Derry Girls is wonderful. Siobhan McSweeney is Sister Michael, the school principal whose dry sense of humor is one of the highlights of every episode.  She has developed such a fan base of her own that  entire websites have sprung up devoted to quotes from Sister Michael.

Jamie-Lee O'Donnell poses with a fan.

Jamie-Lee O’Donnell poses with a fan.

Dylan Llewellyn is James, an English cousin who has been forced to move in with his Irish relatives in Derry. James has to attend the girls Catholic school, since it would be too physically dangerous for an English boy to attend school with the Irish Catholic boys. He eventually becomes accepted by the girls and fits in to their group.

Ian McElhinney is Granda Joe whose main joys in life seem to be tormenting his son in law, and hating the Protestants.

Louisa Harland is Orla, a likable but somewhat crazy schoolgirl who may be the world’s worst dancer.  Saoirse-Monica Jackson is Erin, who realizes that the main problem in Derry is that everyone knows everything about everybody else all the time.

Jamie-Lee O’Donnell plays Michelle, one of our favorite characters in Derry Girls.  Michelle is the trouble maker of the group. Her friends never seem to learn that any idea Michelle comes up with is bound to get them all in trouble.

Nicola Coughlan is Claire, the tiniest member of the group, who is perpetually worried and who  holds a secret not revealed until the last episode.

Derry Girls has become very popular in the United States. However, many Americans watch the show with the subtitles tuned on, since they find the Northern Irish accents just too hard to follow. We urge Americans not to use the subtitles, and you will be amazed at how quickly your ear becomes accustomed to the language and slang. Constantly reading the subtitles can make you miss the subtle nuances in tone and dialect that are a part of the presentation.

Derry Girls is a breath of fresh air in a land of look-alike comedies. We loved it.

How The Kennedy Curse Started in Ireland

The curse on the Kennedy family originated in New Ross Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. The time was 1849 and whole families in Ireland were starving. People were doing whatever they could to escape to America.

Is there really a Kennedy Curse?

Is there really a Kennedy Curse?

The biggest problem was that most Irish did not even have enough money to pay for a ticket to America. The Irish came up with an ingenious solution. The people of a particular town or village would put in all their money and give it to one family to go to America. There would be enough money for that family to buy tickets and find lodging in the United States.

New Ross Ireland

New Ross Ireland

In return for this initial gift, that first family had to make a binding pledge. The pledge was that when the family was settled in America, it would send back to Ireland 1/2 of its earnings each month forever.

Robert, Jackie & Ted at President Kennedy's funeral

Robert, Jackie & Ted at President Kennedy’s funeral

The wages the first family sent back to Ireland would then be used to buy tickets to America for a second family. Then there would be two families sending money back to Ireland each month. Then three, then four, and so on.

Irish in Boston 1849

Irish in Boston 1849

This scheme actually worked throughout many parts of Ireland. Sometimes whole villages, and even small towns were able to eventually get 100% of their population to America. Over the course of 10 years almost 2 million Irish came to America. Of course, the success of any one town all depends on the success and the honesty of that first family. If that first family did not send any money back there would be no funds left to send a second family.

In 1849, the people of New Ross selected Patrick Kennedy and his wife Bridget Murphy Kennedy to be the lucky ones to make the trip to the United States. Patrick Kennedy was a skilled cooper (barrel maker), a craft that was in demand in America.

The Kennedy family sailed to Boston, where Patrick did find work and the Kennedy family thrived. Of course, everyone knows that  the descendants of Patrick and Bridget went on to become the most famous political family  in American history.  What is lesser known is that Patrick and Bridget Kennedy broke their pledge to the people of New Ross Ireland. The Kennedys never sent one penny back to Ireland. Days, weeks and finally years went by and the people of New Ross never got the money they were promised.

The people of New Ross did not forgive or forget. A group of  people of New Ross held a secret ceremony, with rituals that dated back hundreds of years before Christianity had come to Ireland. They put a curse on Patrick and Bridget Kennedy and all their decedents for all time.

Will the Kennedy Curse even end?

Will the Kennedy Curse ever end?

Is this legend real? The Kennedys themselves certainly believe in a family curse.  In a televised speech about Chappaquiddick, Senator Ted Kennedy questioned, “whether some terrible curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys”.

Even when members of the Kennedy family mention the curse, they never speak about why there is a curse. Somehow that has been lost to history or purposely buried in family stories passed down through the generations.

In modern times we no longer believe in zombies or witches or ancient family curses. But then again, none of us can truly imaging the pure hatred of the cold and starving people of New Ross Ireland 170 years ago.

On Chesil Beach – love before the sexual revolution

On Chesil Beach is a beautiful, yet sad, film about a young English couple struggling with intimacy. It is a wonderful movie with humor, mystery, and pathos, set in 1962 England just before the sexual revolution takes hold. Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) are trying to have a romantic wedding night in a very unromantic location. They are in a stuffy, cold hotel on a rocky beach, where the other guests are all senior citizens. The staff and guests of the hotel seem to treat Florence and Edward as the one source of entertainment in this dreary location.

Billy Howle & Saoirse Ronan in "On Chesil Beach"

Billy Howle & Saoirse Ronan in “On Chesil Beach”

Through flashbacks we see how Edward  and Florence met and fell in love back when they were both brilliant university students. It turns out they both have very complex family situations. Edward’s mother Marjorie (Ann-Marie Duff) is a talented artist who suffered a traumatic brain injury. To most of the world she seem crazy, yet Florence is able to connect with her. This makes Edward love Florence even more.

Anne-Marie Duff as Marjorie Mayhew, Edward Mayhew's mother, in "On Chesil Beach." (Photo by Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street)

Anne-Marie Duff as Marjorie Mayhew, Edward Mayhew’s mother, in “On Chesil Beach.” (Photo by Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street)

Florence’s father Geoffrey (Samuel West) seems like a stuffy, yet polite, British middle class family man. However, there are brief intense flashes of anger that make one wonder what he is really capable of.

Despite their deep connection, Florence and Edward do not know each other at all sexually. Both of them are virgins on their wedding night and both are petrified. For them to really succeed in their marriage, they must be willing to be honest and understanding with each other in ways they have never known before.

Ian McEwan & Saoirse Ronan

Ian McEwan & Saoirse Ronan

The acting  On Chesil Beach is wonderful. We come to deeply care for both Florence and Edward and hope that true love really can conquer all. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach is able to keep in the film all the complexities of the characters that were evident in the novel.

Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle are amazing actors, as are all of the supporting characters, right down to the smallest roles. As you can tell, we are trying to write the review in such a way as to not give away too much of the plot. We will say that it is a deeply moving film and we highly recommend On Chesil Beach.

Will Season 3 Of “The Crown” Dare Mention Northern Ireland?

The Crown has so far managed to go through two complete seasons without once touching on Ireland or any Irish political struggles. The Crown has covered events in Sub-Saharan Africa, Eqypt, and even showed Prince Philip visiting Antarctica. However, Ireland has been a taboo subject.  This will be a hard policy to maintain in Season 3 of The Crown , which is already in production.

Newspaper account of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland

Newspaper account of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland

Season 2 of The Crown  ended in 1964, which means that the violent period known as The Troubles are just about to begin in Northern Ireland.  It is difficult to see how going forward The Crown will be able to present a series about Queen Elizabeth II and continue to avoid the topic of Ireland.

Below is a quick timeline of Irish events from one perspective, quoted from Gerry Adams’ Book A Farther Shore.

  • 1964 Divis Street Riots in Belfast
  • 1967 Civil Rights Association established in the north.
  • 1968  The Royal Ulster Constabulary – RUC- attack civil rights marchers in Derry.
  • 1969 Explosions occur which are initially blamed on the IRA. It subsequently emerges that they are carried out by the unionist paramilitary organization the Ulster Volunteer Force – UVF.
  • 1970 – The siege of St Matthews in The Short Strand in East Belfast and the Falls curfew by the British Army leads to significant support for the IRA.
  • 1971 – The war between the British Army and the IRA intensifies. Internment without trial is introduced.
  • 1972 – Fourteen civilians are killed on Bloody Sunday in Derry when the British Army attacks a civil rights march.
  • 1973 Bomb attacks in London.
A file photo taken on June 11, 2010 shows a memorial in Londonderry (or Derry) Northern Ireland, depicting the names of the 13 people who died on January 30, 1972, known as "Bloody Sunday" and John Johnson who died later from his injuries sustained the same day. British police said on November 10, 2015, they had arrested a former soldier for the Bloody Sunday killings in Londonderry in 1972, one of the worst atrocities in Northern Ireland's three decades of unrest. It was the first arrest since a murder investigation was opened in 2012 into the killings of 13 civil rights protesters in the streets that day. AFP PHOTO / PETER MUHLYPETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images

A file photo taken on June 11, 2010 shows a memorial in Londonderry (or Derry) Northern Ireland, depicting the names of the 13 people who died on January 30, 1972, known as “Bloody Sunday” and John Johnson who died later from his injuries sustained the same day. British police said on November 10, 2015, they had arrested a former soldier for the Bloody Sunday killings in Londonderry in 1972, one of the worst atrocities in Northern Ireland’s three decades of unrest. It was the first arrest since a murder investigation was opened in 2012 into the killings of 13 civil rights protesters in the streets that day. AFP PHOTO / PETER MUHLYPETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images

Season 3 of The Crown will be taking place exactly when all these events occurred. Will The Crown continue to ignore Ireland and instead focus only on the various royal sex scandals? We hope that instead, The Crown will take the riskier approach of trying to show the reaction of  Queen Elizabeth II as a part or her “empire” is being torn apart and its citizens killing each other.

Queen Elizabeth II & Lord Mountbatten

Queen Elizabeth II & Lord Mountbatten

It is hard to imagine that The Crown Season 3 will possibly be able to ignore August 27, 1979. That was the day an IRA bomb killed Lord Mountbatten, who was the great uncle of Prince Charles. He had been a mentor to Charles, who was devastated by his death. On that same day, in an IRA shootout and ambush, the IRA killed 17 British soldiers in Northern Ireland.

Of course, the Queen is forbidden by the Constitution from taking a political stance. However, as we have seen in the first two seasons of The Crown  Queen Elizabeth II is quite determined to have a behind-the-scenes influence on major world events.

What exactly are the views of Queen Elizabeth II in regards to Ireland, Northern Ireland and the various political and paramilitary groups? Did she play any role in bringing  the warring factions together for  the eventual peace process ? Was she aware that the elite British SAS force was  being used as an assassination squad in Northern Ireland to kill suspected members of the IRA with no trial and many times no evidence? Perhaps the producers of The Crown don’t really know and don’t want to take a chance by making wild guesses about such a touchy subject.

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with former IRA Commander Martin McGuinness

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with former IRA Commander Martin McGuinness

The Good Friday Agreement was only signed in 1998 and many people in Ireland and the U.K.  have been walking on eggshells ever since, worried that the slightest insult, or misunderstanding could set off events in Northern Ireland. Maybe that is just too much pressure for the writers of The Crown to face.

Prince Charles & Gerry Adams share a handshake & conversation.

Prince Charles & Gerry Adams share a handshake & conversation.

Tourists  to Ireland and Northern Ireland often quickly find out how hard it is to get the Irish to talk to outsiders about any political subject. Ask about the IRA or the UVF or any events of The Troubles and you will find the Irish quickly and politely change the subject to a nice friendly chat about the weather or local sporting events.

American author William Faulkner famously wrote that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Of course, he was not referring to Northern Ireland, but that quote describes perfectly the Irish “situation.”

Every word spoken about Northern Ireland is a potential landmine, which is undoubtedly why The Crown has chosen so far to pretend that Northern Ireland does not exist. Even today, a fight can quickly ensue depending on whether or not you refer to  a particular town in Northern Ireland as  Derry or Londenderry

So will Season 3 of  The Crown dare take on Northern Ireland? Well, no  matter which direction Season 3 of The Crown takes, we know one thing for sure. We will be watching it.

Loving Vincent – The Mystery of Vincent van Gogh’s Death

Loving Vincent is an exquisitely drawn film exploring the final days of Vincent van Gogh, and the mystery of van Gogh’s death.  Don’t dare call it a cartoon. Over 100 original painting’s in the van Gogh style were commissioned for this film. Top tier actors and a fascinating plot make you feel like you have actually stepped inside a van Gogh painting.

Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin in "Loving Vincent"

Douglas Booth as Armand Roulin in “Loving Vincent”

Loving Vincent envelopes the audience in an 1890 world of vibrant colors, emotions and characters that van Gogh was able to capture for all time in his paintings. The plot delves into the mystery surrounding the death of Vincent van Gogh. Most people today simply accept as fact that the emotionally unstable van Gogh committed suicide. However, Loving Vincent shows that van Gogh actually might have been murdered.

Saoirse Ronan as Margaret Gachet in "Loving Vincent"

Saoirse Ronan as Margaret Gachet in “Loving Vincent”

Loving Vincent is the true story of a quest undertaken by Armand Roulen (played by Douglas Booth) to deliver to Vincent van Gogh’s brother the last letter than Vincent ever wrote. Along the way. Roulen discovers that van Gogh’s death may have been more that just a straight forward suicide.

Final words of Vincent van Gogh

Final words of Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh died on July 29th, 1980 of a gunshot wound inflicted 2 days earlier. Although van Gogh himself insisted he had tried to kill himself, the physical facts made no sense.  Who shoots himself in the stomach when trying to commit suicide? Was van Gogh trying to protect someone by claiming he had actually shot himself?

The list of murder suspects is long. Today the world reveres Vincent van Gogh as an artistic genius. However, while he was alive, he was considered a crazy trouble maker whose artwork was idiotic and bad.

van Gogh self portrait

van Gogh self portrait

In his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting. He lived off the charity of others. His brother Theo gave Vincent so much money over the years that Theo almost went bankrupt.

Vincent van Gogh’s main patron was Doctor Gachet (played by Jerome Flynn). Doctor Gachet recognized the artistic genius of van Gogh but was also extremely jealous of it. Vincent even lived with the Gachet family for a time, and gave most of his paintings to Dr. Gachet in return for Gachet’s help.

van Gogh painting of Margaret Gachet at piano

van Gogh painting of Margaret Gachet at piano

However, Dr. Gachet did not like that Vincent was becoming too close to Gachet’s daughter Margaret (played by Saoirse Ronan). Doctor Gachet and Vincent had a huge, almost violent,  argument and Vincent was no longer welcome at the Gachet home. Margaret Gachet never married, and her whole live she proudly displayed in her home, a painting van Gogh had done of her at a piano.

van Gogh painting sells for $109.4 Million

van Gogh painting sells for $109.4 Million

Like van Gogh’s paintings themselves, Loving Vincent is not intended to be an exact representation of reality. Vincent van Gogh’s painting were meant to elicit an emotional response. They show the beauty, complexity and hidden colors and feelings in every day scenes that most people take for granted. Loving Vincent shows the beauty and hidden depth of a man who was at the time either ridiculed or overlooked by most people.

Van Gogh’s simple painting of flowers  sold at auction for $109,400,000. Do people really see today what Vincent van Gogh was trying to show them, or are they just interested in a good investment? We wonder what van Gogh would think of the fabulous sums of money rich people are now willing to pay for his paintings. Ironically, van Gogh was never interested in rich people. His painting were not portraits of the wealthy, but views of ordinary people, scenes and events.

Loving Vincent is a wonderful film and we highly recommend it.

Lady Bird – The Best Independent Film Of The Year

Lady Bird is, without doubt, the best independent film of the year. It stars Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a Sacramento high school senior discovering who she is and what is really important in life. Unlike most “high school” movies, the characters in Lady Bird all come across as real people coping with real problems.

Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

The main dynamic of the film is the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother Marion (perfectly played by Laurie Metcalf). Lady Bird is trying to be independent, while her mother is constantly trying to help by giving well meaning advice, and more advice and even more advice. The resulting mother-daughter clashes are humorous, and something that every parent will instantly recognize. There is no bad guy in the film. We sympathize with both Lady Bird and her mother, even when their views are in direct opposition.

Saoirse Ronan & Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan & Beanie Feldstein in Lady Bird

In addition to dealing with an over-protective mother, Lady Bird is facing a number of moral and ethical choices   at school. Like all teenagers, sometimes she makes the right choice and sometimes she does not. Lady Bird attends  a private Catholic school, and it is nice to see a film that does not resort to Catholic stereotypes for cheap laughs. The school is a well run caring place  using modern teaching techniques while trying to maintain the Catholic faith.

Odeya Rush

Odeya Rush

Lady Bird is lucky enough to have a wonderful caring best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), who Lady Bird does not appreciate as much as she should, and instead is drawn to a beautiful rich classmate Jenna (Odeya Rush). Again the film Lady Bird avoids using any of the cliches we see in so many movies. Jenna is not a “rich bitch”. She is nice, but simply part of a completely different group.

Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush & Beanie Feldstein

Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush & Beanie Feldstein

Director Greta Gerwig has done a masterful job of having Lady Bird be an honest, witty and fun film about the challenges faced by young women in today’s world. Despite a very limited release, Lady Bird is one of the top films in the U.S. playing to full houses every night. If you are lucky enough to find Lady Bird playing near you, it is definitely  a film you should experience.

Happy Birthday Saoirse Ronan

East Coast Stories would like to wish a happy 23rd birthday to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan. Despite her young age, Saoiese Ronan is one of the best actors in a generation. She is also one of the hardest working. In just the past year, Saoirse starred in the film Brooklyn, and the Broadway play The Crucible.

Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan

While some actors settle for playing the same type over and over, Saoirse Ronan continually hones her skills in small independent firms playing a wide variety of characters. Saoirse is especially known for her ability to instantly don any type of accent. In fact, the film Brooklyn was one of the few movies where Saoirse actually used her real accent, which is a beautiful Irish brogue.

Saoirse Ronan at the Oscars when she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Brooklyn

Saoirse Ronan at the Oscars when she was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Brooklyn

In the independent film How I live Now, Saoirse played an American teenager. Not only did she perfectly capture the American accent, she nailed the sarcastic, condescending attitude of a certain type of overly-privileged American teen. In the quirky comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel , Saoirse Ronan was a baker of fine pastries. Saoirse said that the most difficult part of the film was that she actually had to learn how to make pastries.

Despite the Irish Brogue, Saoirse Ronan is a true East Coast girl, having been born in The Bronx, while her Irish parents were living there. Her parents moved back to Ireland when she was little, but she still holds dual American-Irish citizenship.

So from all of us at East Coast Stories Happy Birthday Saoirse! We look forward to watching all of your future performances.

A Farther Shore – Ireland’s Long Road to Peace

A Farther Shore  by Gerry Adams is the fascinating story of the negotiations that resulted in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which created a road map for peace in Northern Ireland. Some consider Gerry Adams a terrorist, while for others, he is a great civil rights leader. Since 1983, Gerry Adams was the leader of Sinn Fein, the political group closely associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). A Farther Shore was written in 2003 when the details of the negotiations were fresh in mind. A Farther Shore still holds up today, and gives the reader a wonderful historic perspective.

British troops in Northern Ireland

British troops in Northern Ireland

It is difficult for people outside of Ireland and the U.K. to understand just how desperate the Northern Ireland situation was in the 1970s through 1990s.  There were daily shootings and bombing. People could be imprisoned indefinitely without trial and the British Army was a large occupying force. At one point in Norther Ireland, there was 1 British soldier for every 3 Catholic males between the ages of 16 and 60.

Margret Thatcher tried unsuccessfully to beat the IRA using the military

Margret Thatcher tried unsuccessfully to beat the IRA using the military

It seemed impossible that there could ever be a negotiated settlement. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and her goal was to militarily destroy the IRA by any means, legal or illegal.  The British have always portrayed themselves to the world as the epitome of “the rule of law”. However, the law did not apply in Northern Ireland.  British SAS forces had orders to “shoot to kill” rather than arrest suspected members of the IRA, even if those people were unarmed.

Gerry Adams in Northern Ireland

Gerry Adams in Northern Ireland

The RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) was in many ways worse than the British Army. The RUC was supposed to be the police force protecting all the citizens of Norther Ireland. In reality, it was the force of the Protestant majority only, and considered all Catholics to be the enemy.

At one point Northern Ireland had 1 British soldier for every 3 Catholic males between 16 and 60

At one point Northern Ireland had 1 British soldier for every 3 Catholic males between 16 and 60

As well as the Catholic IRA, there were many armed Protestant “Unionist” paramilitary groups. The Unionist groups were technically illegal, but in fact were often being given intelligence and weapons by the British and the RUC.

Lord Mountbatten killed by IRA August 27, 1979

Lord Mountbatten killed by IRA August 27, 1979

The brutal methods of the British and the RUC did not destroy the IRA, and instead made it stronger. Once the British began to treat  ALL Catholics in Northern Ireland as the enemy, the Catholics turned to the IRA as the only force which would protect them.  The IRA itself continued bomb and gun attacks.  On August 27, 1979 the IRA killed Lord Mountbatten in Ireland in a bomb attack and killed 18 British soldiers in a separate attack in Northern Ireland on the same day.

Gerry Adams & Bill Clinton 1995

Gerry Adams & Bill Clinton 1995 at Queen’s University. Clinton also met with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party  Ian Paisely.

A Farther Shore is the story of how the groups battling in Northern Ireland came through those dark days to sign a peace accord in 1998 which came to be known as the Good Friday Agreement. Gerry Adams admits that his is not an unbiased account. He rightfully states that it may be 50 or 75 years before anyone will be able to write a story about Northern Ireland from a neutral, unemotional perspective. A Farther Shore is Gerry Adam’s account of the Sinn Fein struggle and its involvement in the peace process.

Gerry Adams and Prince Charles share a friendly moment. Margaret Thatcher must be turning in her grave.

Gerry Adams and Prince Charles share a friendly moment. Margaret Thatcher must be turning in her grave.

The negotiations that lead to the Good Friday Agreement took decades and included a huge number of people, countries and political and paramilitary organizations. Just to name a few these included, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, U.S. Senator George Mitchell, Ted Kennedy, the IRA, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party, and more.

Results of the popular vote accepting the Good Friday Agreement

Results of the popular vote accepting the Good Friday Agreement

This was not a simple matter of just having groups sit down and talk to each other for a deal. Many of these groups hated each other and would have no direct conversations with each other, even if they were in the same room. The IRA and the various unionists paramilitary organizations were illegal and could therefore not even show up directly for any talks.

Senator George Mitchell ad Gerry Adams

Senator George Mitchell ad Gerry Adams

Peace would never have been achieved without the involvement of South Africa and The United States.  At one point,  representatives of all the involved Northern Irish  parties (other than the paramilitary groups) traveled to South Africa. There they met with Nelson Mandela and the ex-leaders of the all -white government.  There were long discussions about how it was possible to achieve a lasting agreement even among groups that had fought each other for decades. The Irish peace negotiators were inspired by the South African example.

Nelson Mandela & Gerry Adams

Nelson Mandela & Gerry Adams

United States Senator George Mitchell lead the negotiations that resulted in The Good Friday agreement.  Most Americans, even to this day, are not fully aware of the incredible achievement of Senator Mitchell. The fact that he was able to hold together such a diverse group and get a workable accord would have seemed impossible given the history of the conflict.

A Further Shore is a wonderful read, and Gerry Adams is a terrific writer.  Gerry Adams’ writing style is very personal, which makes this tale of an individual’s journey, rather than a dry historical document.  Gerry Adams sprinkles the book with amusing anecdotes. For example, at one point, he took a break from negotiations which were  taking place in an old castle.  As he walked the grounds of the estate he found himself being followed by a herd of wild cats who lived in the nooks and crannies of the old castle. Throughout his political life Gerry Adams has tried to continue to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and family. Despite having been imprisoned by the British and shot by Unionists, he has kept an amazingly positive outlook on the future and truly believes in the possibility of a better future for future generations throughout the world.

A Farther Shore is a very inspirational book since it shows that seemingly “endless” conflicts can be resolved.  It is easy to think of today’s problems in the Middle East and elsewhere as completely insurmountable.  A Farther Shore shows that there is always hope and possibility. Of course, the problems of Northern Ireland have not all been solved. The IRA and the Unionist military groups still exist. The political situation is still incredibly complex and fluid.

Just this week an election was held for the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Unionist group the DUP came in first 28 seats. In a stunning success, Sinn Fein came in second with 27 seats. It was a hard-fought election, but the fighting was with words, not guns or bombs.  A Further Shore tells the tale of what made this possible.

When Men Wore Hats – a poem of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Men wore hats. Women’s dresses were  Bright,

Ties  narrow and black.  All shirts were white.

Cars had fins and gadgets galore.

America was Great. We had won the War.

The President was handsome. His wife a gem.

We never saw their likes again.

Was it real or were we fools?

Bullets and Time have been so cruel.

John F. Kennedy in business hat and white shirt

John F. Kennedy in business hat and white shirt

The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley -book review

The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey  is about a Dublin undertaker whose life is suddenly turned upside down by a strange series of events. Paddy Buckley is a middle-aged widower, who leads a routine existence dealing with death in Ireland.

He is a good decent man, who sees his job as a solemn duty to provide a dignified farewell to the deceased, while at the same time providing comfort to the surviving relatives. Paddy’s life is a series of repeated rituals consisting of embalming, funeral masses and burials.

Then one late night, driving home  in the rain, Paddy hits and kills a pedestrian who steps into the road. Of course, Paddy stops and is about to call the police until he sees who the man is. The man Paddy has killed is none other than the brother of Vincent Cullen, the most notorious and violent gangster in all of Ireland.

Paddy 2

Even though it was an accident, Paddy knows that Vincent Cullen will surely murder the man who killed his brother. Paddy takes off in his car, leaving the body behind.

Paddy’s predicament becomes worse when a few days later Vincent Cullen chooses Paddy’s funeral parlor to arrange the elaborate services for his brother. For some reason, Vincent takes an immediate liking to Paddy. Vincent brings Paddy into his inner circle, even inviting him home and treating him as a new best friend. Is this a genuine friendship, or is the gangster just toying with Paddy prior to taking revenge?

Paddy

The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley was written by Jeremy Massey, who himself is a third generation undertaker from Dublin. In addition to having a great main plot, the book provides a behind the scenes peek into the hidden world of undertakers. We find out details like what the “ashes” of the deceased are really composed of,  and the tricks for quickly dressing a dead body. There is even a lesson on what to do if an undertaker loses the body.

This is a fun book to read. After you have finished it you won’t look at your local funeral parlor the same way again. You may find yourself passing the mortuary in town and wondering, “What’s really going on in there?”