A member of the facebook group for my novel Under The Bridge https://www.facebook.com/groups/522800758257136
prompted me to think a bit this week. She said that she wasn’t Irish or a republican so wouldn’t join an event hosted by the Irish Centre last week.I wrote back saying ‘you don’t have to be Irish or a republican’ that people Under The Bridge shared a common history whether they were catholic or protestant, and that they each have the right to explore it.
I also said I hoped the book points toward the kind of society where the tragedies that happen in its pages no longer happen in real life.I hope the book will be many things to many people, part historical drama, part family saga, part social history, and all mystery.
Different aspects will be highlighted in different media, the Irish connection, the trade union struggle, and being scouse. All of these are part of the book and the community that was Under The Bridge it is a shared heritage.The book highlights the experience of Wicklow men who came to Garston and that whole English Irish relationship is central to the identity of the characters and the story. No doubt this is because it is the prism through which I see the world, my heritage brought me to this place with this view.
In the next two books the Irish theme takes a back seat as new problems face our characters.One of my slight regrets is not having the space to develop the protestant experience in UTB more. I have heard the stories that from King St to Window Lane was catholic and from Window Lane up to the airport was protestant. The Blue union drinking club was seen by some as catholic and the Woodcutters protestant, etc, etc. I had an old protestant sing me a song about how the Catholics couldn’t cross Window Lane. So know this history exists.
One of the most important and heroic characters in the book is English activist Bob Pennington who leads the dockers in the blue union in the mid 50s. There is a scene in the book when they are sat around a kitchen table in Garston. They have just been to warn the local villains not to try and cross their picket line again.
We’re talking about building a fighting union, one that can protect us all. We’ve just been up there to warn the guy off. We can’t expect the police or anyone else to fight our battles. Anything we do, we have to do it ourselves,’ said Bob.‘All right, I’ve said my piece. I’m off. Are you coming, John?’Kevin’s chair scraped the floor as he stood.‘Yeah,’ John drained his tea. ‘See you tomorrow,’ he said, following Kevin out the door.Tommy waited until he heard the front door close. ‘You think Kev will be okay?’ he asked.‘I hope so, but he’s right. We have to be careful—more than anything else, this can split us down the middle,’ Bob answered.‘It’s all good,’ Tommy insisted. ‘When we came out, it didn’t matter who was white, who was blue, Protestant or Catholic. It was everyone together.’
What could ‘split them down the middle’ was sectarianism, what made them stronger was unity around a common purpose that would benefit all dockers. Wherever these men and women came from, Lancashire, Wales, Ireland, they fought the same battles for decent pay and conditions. Whatever their heritage, whatever language their ancestors spoke, whether they were Methodist, catholic or protestant, they had more in common, than divided them.
Under The Bridge is partly how my family ended up there, it would be interesting to hear how yours got to where you are.