Thursday, 1 July 2010


I can’t remember how small I was when I first came across the legend of St Patrick having rid Ireland of its snakes, nor the book in which I read it — although I can almost make out, in my mind’s eye, the open spread of text and the black-and-white illustration that filled the upper half of the left-hand page. My guess is I must have been seven or eight. What fascinated me about the legend at the time was not so much the mere banishment of the snakes — that seemed to my youthful mind the kind of feat any self-respecting saint could knock off before breakfast — but the fact that Patrick was supposed to have gotten rid of them all. This still seems to me the crux of the miracle. Surely snakes are like lice and fruit flies and memories of old embarrassments: try as you might, you can never quite eliminate the last of them.

Half a century later and an ocean away, that childhood fascination has given rise to the story ‘The Life Business’. I don’t think any other story of mine has taken quite so long in the nurturing.

Other elements from my youth play their part in the story. At the time in which ‘The Life Business’ is set Magilligan Point — later to be the site of a high-security internment camp for terrorist suspects during the troubles and now, I gather, a low-security prison with a focus on (and reportedly impressive reputation for) rehabilitation — was a run-down British Army camp. I have no idea what other purposes it might have been put to, but one of its uses was as a training base where, during the holidays, school Army cadet forces could send contingents of teenaged boys like Peter Greenham.

And, in fact, like me. Although all the people and situations in the story are born from my imagination, as is the story itself (and most emphatically Peter bears no resemblance to the teenaged me), the described layout of the camp is as close as my memory will permit to the real thing. Certainly the details of the lavatory building are seared into my brain: that intimidating outhouse really existed, and rather than use it we cadets did indeed pepper the surrounding landscape with unpleasant surprises for future foot-travellers.

One other vividly recalled element of my fortnight at Magilligan I was unfortunately unable to work in. This was an Army-issue mechanical potato peeler, a device that weighed about a tonne and in which I foolishly displayed interest the first night we were there, thereby defining my kitchen duty for the next two weeks. Imagine if you will a hand-operated tumble dryer, the metal inner surfaces of which have corrugations like those on a file, although larger. You tipped in a bucket of potatoes, cranked like a mad thing for twenty minutes, and were rewarded with . . . well, you couldn’t exactly say the potatoes had been peeled, but much of the skin was off them. Then you had to empty the device of all the scrapings. I think I was still finding the occasional tiny fleck of potato skin in my hair a week after I’d got home.

I visited Ireland, both north and south, a number of times during my teens, and developed a great fondness for the land and for almost all of the people I met there. Eventually, alas, it became too dangerous for a mainlander to visit, so I acquired myself an Irish girlfriend instead. But that really is a completely different story.

Requiems for the Departed is now available worldwide, with a 28% discount in the US through Barnes & Noble and free shipping worldwide through The Book Depository. So no matter where you are in the world, you can get your hands on some top quality Irish Crime and Irish Myths easily! Our paperback edition is also still available at the Morrigan Books site too, along with the limited edition hardback (now down to less than 30 copies available).

1 comment:

David Cranmer said...

I've always enjoyed Irish Crime and Irish Myths.