Any life can be described as a journey; perhaps it’s even cliched to say that. But the title of a new book by a woman who grew up in Fermanagh gives some indication of what a difficult journey it has been for Mary Lynch.
“The Long Road Home” is due to be launched this week-end, and it makes intriguing reading.
In the very first chapter, describing a New Year visit to her parents’ home in Fermanagh, Mary recounts “... in my heart, I had found a peace that I knew would travel with me wherever I was to journey for the rest of my time on this earth; a peace that I had been seeking for nearly forty years...” And so unfolds a deeply personal tale of a child of the Troubles.
There is a political context to the story. Mary was born in 1959 near Lisnaskea into a Republican family; her sister Ruth is currently a Fermanagh Sinn Fein Councillor and her brother Sean was shot while on an IRA mission with Seamus McElwaine in the 1980s.
There will be those who will dismiss this book straight away because of that, and of course it should be seen in that context.
But they should read it with an open mind because this book makes a contribution in understanding the depths to which our Troubles went in touching many lives.
While Mary’s experiences as a girl in her early teens involve a British soldier holding a gun to her head in a raid on her home, this could be essentially any story of a young person suffering immense trauma and their almost lifelong struggle to overcome it.
In other words, it’s a human story, one of a battle of the human spirit to overcome early adversity, regardless of the context.
The book is to launched this week-end in Castlerea, County Roscommon where Mary Lynch settled first in the 1980s after coming home from living in America.
She now runs a meditation, walking and writing centre in Foxford, County Mayo, teaching many of the techniques which enabled her to overcome her own problems.
There is an early indication of the normality of family life; a New Year visit to her elderly mum and dad, James and Maureen Lynch in Fermanagh last year. Mary was the sixth child of seven brothers and five sisters, and ten of the 12 were there. In 2009 there was talk of the recession and cross-Border shopping, of the attention to Ruth’s new baby girl and the teasing of two brothers who arrived wearing the same jumpers!
And as the writer moves back in time to recount a childhood growing up in the country, ordinary things that mattered included raiding Eddie Booth’s orchard.
Like many families in the second half of the last century, however, the humdrum of day-to-day living was against a background of serious political violence.
Mary Lynch recalls the early effects; such as hearing of the “pitchfork murders” in 1972, and her family knowing one of the victims, Michael Naan very well.
As a well-known Republican family (in addition to Sean’s involvement, another brother, Kevin, was imprisoned first at the age of 17), the Lynch’s home was regularly raided by the security forces. Mary recalls the fear of the experience for her as a girl in her early teens, particularly when a British soldier held a gun to her head.
“That first night I built a wall around me to protect myself, a wall that took a few hours to build and over thirty years before I could even begin to dismantle it.” Mary Lynch worked in an Enniskillen hotel in the late 1970s as a receptionist, but in 1979, just 19, she decided to up sticks and leave, choosing of all places West Germany to find work. So began something of an exile, moving on to live in the Bronx, New York and short stays in places such as Los Angeles and Phoenix, Arizona.
It was hardly the typical life of a girl originally from south-east Fermanagh. She worked hard whether it be a nurse’s assistant, in a real estate office or being resourceful in running her own business printing t-shirts.
She was among a strong Irish community, and met her future husband Marty Geraghty from the west of Ireland.
She recalls that when they married in New York City, there were 95 Irish people at the wedding -- 90 of them illegal!
Despite all this she recalls “I always felt lost, as if I belonged nowhere. That is what I was to learn later in life -- you can’t run from the problem.” Mary and her husband moved back to Roscommon in the mid-80s where they bought his mother’s farm.
And there’s a story in the book about the birth of her first daughter, Roisin which is a classic quirk of fate. Despite living in Roscommon, she wanted her baby to be born in Fermanagh so travelled to Enniskillen regularly for her appointments.
The year was 1987 and the week before she was due to give birth came the Remembrance Sunday bomb in Enniskillen. The Thursday after it, Mary was admitted to the Erne Hospital which was in the middle of dealing with the crisis, and her baby was born the following day.
Even stranger, the following week, Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited the hospital and were also shown around the maternity ward. So the Irish Republican new mum was introduced to British Royalty with her main thought being the hope that no photographers would capture the scene!
Earlier, this article makes the point that this is a human story that could happen anywhere. But Mary’s Republican background is interwoven throughout everything. And as she tells her life story, it is a fascinating insight into the mind and even soul of Irish Republican people.
She recounts her frustration at the United States media coverage of events in Northern Ireland. She clearly felt even in the Republic that there was such a bias in the media and even society generally that she couldn’t talk openly too much about her background.
“Life went on and so did the war. I could never understand why it was called the Troubles,” says Mary, and throughout the book she makes no bones about her Republican ideals.
As time moved on, however, her earlier experiences often resulted in flashbacks and she suffered physically with sickness and tiredness which was diagnosed as depression.
She says that it was when she went alone on a holiday to Lanzarote, after the break up of her marriage, that what she describes as the “mourning and healing process” began. She has two children, but later had an ectopic pregancy; the loss of this baby and memories of a miscarriage earlier in life are her two lost children, and she began a process of dealing with this as well.
The latter part of the book is the story of how Mary Lynch completed a journey back to physical and mental well-being. It began with conversations with a Tai Chi teacher, whom she first mistrusted totally because he was English.
But she discovered that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress and learned “Healing begins when you start to face the truth” and the book reflects the courage that she has drawn deeply on in dealing with the past.
The story of the soldier putting the gun to her head and what he said is told later in the book, There are many people in Northern Ireland who have harrowing and difficult stories to tell; this one is well told and should be inspirational to anyone who has suffered trauma in their lives.
Writing the book in itself seems to have been part of the healing process.
“The Long Road Home” by Mary Lynch, is published by Londubh Books