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Bringing it all back home

Sunday, 7th May, 2017 8:03am

Bringing it all back home

Shane Connaughton leans against the wall outside the Garda Barracks in Redhills.

Shane Connaughton is a writer and actor and he's just been to the dentist: “I'm speaking a bit funny, because I am still a bit numb,” he says.
The budget biography has to include mention of his co-writing of the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for My Left Foot, co-writer of the screenplays for the Academy Award-winning short film The Dollar Bottom, winner of the Hennessy Award and the fact that his Cavan upbringing informs much of his work.
The Novocaine may be having an affect on his diction, but there is no insensitivity in his affection for his home county: “I am very connected with Cavan still and I am there as much as I possibly can,” Shane tells The Anglo-Celt.
A Border Station (1989), The Run of the Country (1991), and Big Parts (2009) are his previous books and this week they have been joined by his latest offering Married Quarters.
Taking up where his acclaimed A Border Station left off, Married Quarters is a sequel set in the same place – a border Garda barracks in a village called Butlers Hill. This is an insignificant border village existing in the latter end of the 1950s.
The sergeant commands a group of men whose career paths have seen them forcibly transferred to this off the beaten track location.  Each garda has his own story and observing them is the sergeant’s son.
His home is the station’s married quarters ruled over by his father and his gentle, emotional mother.
“The boy from the Border Station is now a teenager and the book deals with the different police that come to this Garda barracks in the border station. He learns about life, love and women from these men. He is getting a rough education on life. All of the men are extraordinary characters.
They come, then they leave and he never sees them again. It takes place over 1959-1960. It is the same format as Border Station; a series of linked short stories.”
The 28 years that have elapsed since the prequel to Married Quarters has been an engaging time for Shane: “I have been very busy doing a million other things. It [Married Quarters] was unfinished business as far as I was concerned. The stories and men were in my head all the time, and still are indeed. It was something that I had to do, and now I have done it. I am very, very pleased that a company like Doubleday [publishers] are part of it.”

The fact that Shane grew up in the married quarters of the station house in Redhills means that either he, his life or his experiences are the foundation on which the books are built: “What can any writer do, but write about what he knows? The basic characters are quite true and the basic incidents are quite true. It is a fiction, but there is nothing in the book that is not true.”
Fashioning a story that is entertainingly wrought from real life experience and fiction is what has made the author one of Ireland's most respected writers: “These men who came to Butlers Hill, as I have called the town in the book, were extraordinary characters in their own way, they all had a rich life of their own. They all did extraordinary things. Border Station is verbatim, well practically verbatim. So too is Married Quarters. I am writing from truth, but it is very funny - there is a lot of humour in it.”
Thematically the book is about people. Though taking place at the end of the 1950s it has pertinent observations on contemporary issues: “In the book the garda station is closed down at the end. The father retires - he has to, having joined the force after the civil war. His whole working life is over. He takes off his cap for the last time, he just throws the cap off and his life is over. And that affects the boy very much.”
“The garda barracks in Redhills just closed very recently, so the book definitely has echoes of what is going on now. It is a book about Ireland as much as anything else. We write about human beings and we don't change that much from generation to generation at all,” Shane supposes.

Even ignoring the dental drugs the author's accent is a curious hybrid of his experience. It leaves the listener with the overriding impression that he is English, but also something else. Born in Kingscourt in 1941 he left Cavan at 17 to pursue a career with the RAF in Hornchurch, Essex. Shane's father's aspirations for his child were that he would follow him into the Irish policing force, but something else sang to him: “I wanted to do something extraordinary. We had done Yeats' poem 'An Irish Airman Foresees his Death' at school, maybe that influenced me a bit. Also it [joining the RAF] meant that you got to England for nothing. I had done my Leaving Cert and in that day it meant that you left.
“I had read lots of books about the war. I had read about Paddy Finucane (the Second World War RAF fighter pilot and flying ace) who was an Irish boy who fought and died in the war.
“I wanted to do something exceptional. I wanted to score the winning goal for Cavan to secure the sixth All Ireland, but that never happened, I want to free Ireland, but that never happened, I wanted to marry Grace Kelly, but she married that little man from Monaco, because she never heard of me in Redhills. It didn't work out there [Hornchurch], but everything else did. I knew that I was going to have an exciting life somehow,” he says.

'Go for it'
'Everything else' started with his acting career. The prospects of acting fame for a young boy growing up in married quarters in Redhills in the 40s and 50s was not high on the agenda: “I never thought growing up in Cavan that all the things that were going to happen to me were going to happen. Like going to Hollywood or bringing the movies to Redhills, The Playboys and The Run of the Country; documentary films made there by the BBC and RTE. I am so pleased with all that. This is going to be the subject of my next book, and I am practically finished it - the follow up to Border Station and Married Quarters.”
Shane's own story arc suggests a character who puts himself in the way of opportunity and grasps it.  He says that this is a trait of his people: “I think that you have got to grab things while they are going. That is a very Cavan thing, if there is an opportunity then just go for it. I discovered what I wanted to do when I got into acting. Writing saved my life then. I have been earning my living from it ever since, without any bursaries or arts council grants. It is hard work and it is difficult if you are not getting your work done. I have been very lucky.”

'Fingers crossed'
With the third book on the horizon the Border Station series would make an interesting project for television development, bringing them to the screen is something that Shane would not be adverse to: “There are seven episodes in a Border Station, there are seven in Married Quarters. When I do the third one there will be reams more. There seems to be scope for a television series, but that is in the lap of the Gods, and the producers. I will be keeping my fingers crossed, as I will be keeping my fingers crossed that we beat the winner of the first round of the championship between Fermanagh and Monaghan,” and that is his return to the place that he is most connected with.
A Border Station has just been re-issued ahead of this week's launch of Married Quarters in Hodges Figgis, Dublin. Plans to have a launch in Cavan will follow.
“I don't know what they [the publishers] are lining up. I would like to do something in the library. The Crannóg bookshop is closed, so it can't be done there.”
That closure is another flag of a changing world, however Shane does not think it is all bad news.
“You hear that the internet has made a difference, but there are still an awful lot of books being sold and read by people across the world. Man is always looking for a good story. Human beings want to be entertained. That is why the arts exist. It is a pity about the Crannóg, but what can you do? And Beatrice Malone's bookshop is not going any more. I always liked gong in there because she always had a really good collection of books. The only one left is Easons.”

* Shane Connaughton’s newest release ‘Married Quarters’ is in all good book stores now

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