Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard

Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard is the second in her Kevin and Sadie series, it was first published in 1972.

Although Kevin and Sadie lived just a short distance from each other, they both come from different worlds and so hadn’t seen each other for years when they bumped into each other in Belfast town. In the previous book The Twelfth Day of July they had obviously quite fancied each other, but with Sadie being a Protestant and Kevin a Roman Catholic they couldn’t even be friends.

Now they’ve both left school and are working, so when they realise that they’re still keen on each other they decide to keep their relationship a secret, easier said than done. Kevin ends up getting badly beaten up by his one time best friends, and he loses his job.

Both families are adamant that they’ll have to give each other up and it looks like the end of the road for the couple, but when one of Sadie’s old teachers realises what has been going on he allows them to meet up at his house. He lives in a different part of Belfast, a quiet middle class area, it seems like a safe place to be, but – not for long.

This is a great read, I couldn’t help thinking that at the time it was written it was quite a brave thing to write about.  Things were going from bad to worse in Belfast and Northern Ireland in general, and the violence was moving on to England and even in Scotland it was quite common for the department store that you were shopping in to be evacuated because of a bomb threat. I’m looking forward to reading the next one in this series. Into Exile.

The Twelfth Day of July by Joan Lingard

The Twelfth Day of July by Joan Lingard was first published in 1970, so it was probably written just as ‘The Troubles’ of Northern Ireland started to become really serious.

The book begins on the 7th of July, just five more days to go until the Glorious 12th,  in the Jackson’s Belfast  home they’re all counting the days until the members of the Orange Lodge bands will be marching wearing their smart purple and orange uniforms and playing their instruments, it’s the highlight of their year, commemorating the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. This year Sadie is taking part for the first time.

But the night before the big day the huge mural of King Billy on his white horse which is painted on the gable end of the Jackson’s house is daubed with green paint by some  Catholic youngsters who live in a nearby neighbourhood.  Sadie and her brother Tommy are incensed, and so begins a tit for tat battle between them and the boys they know to be the culprits. The youngsters are able to move quite easily between the two areas, something which was stopped by building a massive wall between them, to keep the two factions apart. It was still there when I visited Belfast in the mid 1990s, I suspect it might still be there.

Sadie Jackson is a great character and Kevin is obviously an admirer. This is the beginning of a series featuring them as a couple who are caught up in the religious sectarianism of the divided and violent Northern Ireland. I’m looking forward to reading the others.

The Winter Visitor by Joan Lingard

The Winter Visitor by Joan Lingard was first published in 1983.

The setting is the 1970s in a seaside town in the east of Scotland, not far from Edinburgh (Portobello?) where Mrs Murray is living with her two teenage children. Mr Murray is working in the Gulf, but for how long nobody knows, he seemed to have dificulty holding on to jobs. To help with finances Mrs Murray runs a boarding house during the high season, visitors rarely want to have a holiday in winter, it’s freezing.

So when Ed Black turns up looking for a room the locals are surprised, especially as he comes from Northern Ireland, as Mrs Murray’s mother comes from Belfast the rumour locally is that Mrs Murray and Ed knew each other in the past. Nick, the son isn’t happy about the situation. The injured Ed had apparently been a victim of a car bomb which had killed his wife. ‘The Troubles’ mean that N. Ireland is a dangerous place to live.

This is the first of Lingard’s Northern Irish books that I’ve read. Although she was born in Edinburgh she lived in Belfast from the age of 2 to 18, from then on she lived in Edinburgh again. The atmosphere in Belfast was/is very similar to that of the west of Scotland, with ‘mixed’ marriages between Protestants and Roman Catholics being more than just frowned upon. I think things have moved on nowadays as religion has less of an influence on people in general.

I enjoyed this one so I’ll seek out her books that have a Northern Irish setting – eventually.

I really like the book cover which was designed by Krystyna Turska.

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

The Last September cover

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen was first published in 1929 and it was just her second book and I think it shows, although having said that I must admit that her first book The Hotel seemed far better to me. Her books are very hit and miss, I wasn’t at all keen on The Little Girls, but I did enjoy In the Heat of the Day.

Anyway The Last September was fairly recently made into a film and my copy of the book is the tie in. The film starred Keeley Hawes, Jane Birkin, Michael Gambon, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith and Lambert Wilson.

The setting is Ireland in 1920 at the beginning of ‘The Troubles’. The problem is that it takes great skill not to make reading a book tedious – if you’re writing about really rather boring parties. Danielstown is the local ‘big house’ which is owned by an Anglo Irish family. They’re very gregarious and as the area is full of very young English officers the house has been thrown open to them for tennis parties and dances. There are a lot of upper class single women around, presumably because so many men were killed in World War 1 and there are some pairings off despite parents saying that such pairings can’t happen because the officers are just out of school and have no money or prospects, or come from Surrey which is just the absolute end to the snobbish Anglo Irish.

But the young subalterns are there to do a job, and they have to go out looking for IRA men and searching for guns and it ends in disaster for some of the young people.

There’s an introduction by Victoria Glendinning who says that this is her favourite Bowen book but I felt that it was in dire need of a good editor, just too much meandering chat and thought, but obviously that appeals to other readers. I wasn’t keen on her writing style. I have to say that I went right off Bowen after reading The Love-charm of Bombs in which it’s described how she regularly took herself off to neutral Ireland during World War 2 when she had had enough of the bombing and lack of food in London.

Elizabeth Bowen was herself Anglo Irish – they were Protestants who were transplanted to Catholic Ireland from England for political reasons generations before, and the tragedy for them was that they weren’t truly accepted by either community, but that’s something that they never seemed to realise. Some of the locals would have been employed by those in the ‘big house’ as servants who I’m fairly sure would have despised them as being English and upper class and so they always lived in fear of being attacked and their houses being burnt down by the ‘real Irish’. That didn’t stop Elizabeth Bowen from actually having an affair with an IRA man – delusional I’d say, or she just liked living dangerously. I remember in the 1970s there were some terrible incidents with Anglo Irish people being murdered in their own homes, but presumably if they left their ‘big houses’ then they would never be able to afford the same standard of living in England.