I’ve always wanted to write from the time I attended Primary School. One of my classmates had a great way of expressing himself on paper and I admired his work and wanted to emulate it. Despite the fact that I loved writing essays and participating in the school plays that our teacher wrote for us, we didn’t aspire to acting or journalism. That was for others from more privileged backgrounds. At least that’s what I thought. My teacher had told me on one particular occasion that I ought to apply to the Abbey Theatre for a job after he witnessed my performance in Irish of a play that he’d written. But that was a far as it went. There was no such person as a career guidance officer in those days.
A school pal and fellow member of the church choir was none other than Dickie Rock. His parents encouraged him to develop his talent and look where it got him. There was none of that in my family, mores the pity. The sibling rivalry was such that I was mocked and jeered at if I used a “Big” word. I played the part of a girl in one play and suffered terribly at home after my family had been to see it. I’m still reminded of the fact despite being over seventy years of age. But I was made of stronger stuff than my siblings imagined and I set about educating myself. I joined a book club and enjoyed such masterpieces as War and Peace, Treasure Island and A Christmas Carol among others. Writers such as Elizabeth Bowen, The Bronte sisters Bram Stoker, Mary Shelly and Mark Twain were my inspiration. Whenever I could afford it I took night classes in Leaving Certificate studies.
But it wasn’t until I attended a B.A. course at the age of fifty that I finally found the confidence to actually get down to writing. It followed remarks made by the Senior Lecturer one evening. He said “We should do what we can to leave a legacy of some sort so that we’ll be remembered when we die, and what better way to do this than to write a book.” That very evening I began to do my research and compile the information needed to do just that.
I watched my mother struggle to bring up her very large family. She never complained and would rise at 6.30 every morning to see us all off to work and school. When we arrived home again dinner was piping hot and ready to be served. She used to joke that she’d have to issue tickets for dinner so that no one got missed, there were so many of us. We ate what was placed before us. There was no second choice and if you didn’t like what was there you went without and someone else ate it for you.
I knew that my father had experienced three wars at first hand, the War of Independence, the Civil War and the Second World War. He was always my hero so I decided that is where I’d start. It took many hours of persuading and cajoling to get him to talk to me about his experiences. “War is brutal” he would say, “and nothing like you see on the films. The very sounds on the battlefield have unnerved some. I saw grown men, hard men, cry for their mother they were so terrified”. But he relented and not only did I manage to get him to relate his story I got him to write it down in longhand.
“Me Father was a Hero and Me Mother is a Saint” is the result. It’s a family memoir and covers the period from 1900 to date. My father, James Sheridan served with ‘E’ company 1st. Battalion Dublin Brigade Old IRA. It tells of his exploits and his incarceration in Mountjoy Gaol when Kevin Barry was executed. Later, during the Civil War he was again arrested and when taken into custody he found that a member of the guard was his brother-in-law. When he was escorted to the train to be sent to Portlaoise Prison he was escorted by his uncle. Both of them had joined the Free Stater’s. Later still, he was forced through economic circumstances to join the British 8th. Army and served in the Second World War. He served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was a ‘Jack the Lad’ when my mother was pregnant with her first child he got another woman pregnant. My mother took this child in and raised him as her own.
She was a ‘Saint’ for sure. There are tales of joy and of sorrow throughout the book. For example we were evicted from our home and moved into a Tenement. It tells of the appalling conditions that prevailed. As a serving soldier, I picked up the information regarding the blowing up of Nelson Pillar six months in advance of it happening. Reporting it almost cost me my life. It tells of the murder of Billy Wright, a member of the Provisional IRA and a school classmate of mine. So there’s intrigue, murder and some good belly laughs throughout. What has writing done for me? It has allowed me to expunge a lot of my frustrations and given me the confidence to get on and write more.
My earnest hope is that my work will inspire others who for whatever reason lack confidence. Remember that you have the power within you all it needs is for you to take control. If you fall down, get back up and try again. If you do this you will eventually succeed, as I have done.