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My Writer's Journal

Behind the Books: Voices of Northern Ireland - Growing Up in A Troubled Land

In 1986 after VOICES OF SOUTH AFRICA had been published, I took off again, this time for Northern Ireland, to learn what I could about "The Troubles," tension between Catholics and Protestants that too often erupted in violence and death. I wanted to hear from the young people in both camps, about their feelings about "the other."

For six sodden weeks that summer I traveled the counties that make up Northern Ireland, armed with very few contacts and a pair of not-quite-waterproof shoes. I prepared for the trip by reading history, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and set out to discover how the people managed from day to day in a country long torn by religious, political, and economic strife. I found the people charming, friendly--and exasperating.

I spoke to Catholics and "Prods," to police and soldiers, to kids whose fathers and grandfathers had been unemployed for as long as anyone could remember. I visited with peace groups and groups claiming connection to the IRA. I attended family celebrations and wakes. And I found that life goes on, pretty much as usual.

But they couldn't quite figure out how to label ME--my name didn't fit into either camp. Interestingly, they always decided that my sympathies surely lay with THEIR side.
And then I came home and wrote the story--which turned out to be my story as much as theirs.
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