Monday, September 23, 2013

A Very Personal Memoir of Growing Up Catholic In Northern Ireland - Review of "That's That" by Colin Broderick

I have read many accounts of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland.  I have always had a personal interest in the affairs in Ulster, having visited there for the first time in 1968 as "The Troubles" were aboil.  I had never read anything quite like "That's That," Colin Broderick's very personal account of growing up with the sectarian violence as quotidian white noise that played in the background of each encounter and relationship in his boyhood and young adulthood.

Born in Birmingham, England, Broderick and his family moved to Tyrone County, Ulster where as a Catholic, he grew to adulthood with an intense understanding of what it meant to be a second class citizen in a land occupied by British soldiers and local Protestant militia.   As he spent time with a large coterie of cousins and uncles, he began to understand at the core of his being why the IRA was so intent on ridding the North of British soldiers and British occupation.  Through very personal and self-aware reflection on the experiences he had over the years, Broderick shows the pressure and rage building within him.  A stint working in London only added to his sense of outage and injustice at the plight of fellow Northern Irish Catholics.

The climax of the book comes as he is about to take up arms and join the IRA in the struggle.  A surprise encounter with his mother, with whom he had had a very rocky relationship, led to a complete change in direction that saw him head to a new life in America.

A quotation from the book describes movingly the author's experience and that of anyone who has grown up in a war zone - whether the battlefield is global or familial:

"We lose our childhoods by degrees.  Inch by inch, time and circumstances steal the last of our innocence.  Some of it will fall away unnoticed; some of it will be ripped forcefully from our fingers, other morsels of it we will bury in shallow graves, until only the shadow of youth exists, drifting in our wake like an abandoned ghost."  (Pages 114-115)

Broderick speaks with a voice and with an accent that deserves to be heard by anyone who seeks to understand the complexities of Northern Ireland - or of the human condition.


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