Turas, by Colin Neill – a story of strangers in a strange land

3 views

book cover of Turas, by Colin NeillColin Neill’s first novel Turas peeks into a world in which many Ulster Protestants feel uncomfortable. It’s 2020 and the Irish unification that unionists and loyalists confidently predicted would never happen has become a reality. President Adams is ensconced in Phoenix Park.

The newsreader reported that … a short ceremony at Stormont had confirmed the passing of Northern Ireland, and had officially confirmed the birth of a now 32 county Republic of Ireland. The Union Jack had been lowered and the tricolour raised. The Secretary of State had made a short speech, shaken hands, and in the most dignified manner that he could, ‘got out’.

A group of men from a Lurgan church meet regularly for Bible study. The societal events around them are shaking their faith and challenging their identity. Irish for ‘journey’, Turas explores these men’s spiritual journey as they adapt to new norms. They pray that God …

… would touch our land powerfully, that even yet justice would be done.

As they study the book of Jeremiah, they somewhat arrogantly wonder:

Are we as Protestants from Ulster to be an instrument of judgment upon Roman Catholic people? Or is there going to be some judgment of God upon this land but the pot will tilt away from the North because of our faithfulness and we will be spared?

Suddenly, they are in a minority, with the protection a nation state offers minorities: “education preserved; peace money for public housing and business incubation; funding for their community and youth workers” and even the suggestion of a “Protestant Ombudsman” (or ‘Ombudsprod’).

Their anxiety is interrupted by a visiting South African who challenges their prejudices, pushes their buttons, and demands answers to the questions they fear addressing. Like many evangelicals, their understanding of Catholic theology is simply that it is the Reformed Church’s enemy. Slowly they get to grips with their own shortcomings.

Maybe the grand lie we told ourselves was judging ourselves against crooked plumb lines rather than the real holiness we read about in the Bible. I once heard someone say that the problem with evangelicals is that they ought to be the most radical people in society yet we’re probably amongst the least radical. What about big houses and expensive cars? What about fancy clothes even if we are virtuous and don’t drink or smoke or do the lottery? What about all the petty nonsense we get caught up in within churches, instead of going out there and engaging with people and getting our hands dirty?

Some of the men start to rethink their old opinions of “those lefty-woolly people at Corrymeela and ECONI and the like – the beards and Moses sandals brigade”. Some notice that their minister’s Easter Sunday sermon “blatantly ignored the wider events around him that Easter”. Cross cultural romance and cross community meetings widen perspectives and sometimes reinforce stereotypes and insecurities. Truth recovery catches up with a retired RUC officer. The group ponder the Drumcree parade and the eternal resting place of Gerry Adams.

Turas is likely to be an uncomfortable read for some, but I’d strongly recommend it. Even without the prospect of a United Ireland on the horizon, it is a wake up call for Christians attending Protestant churches who steer clear of politics or who subtly assume a unionist bent on life – never expecting that there could be nationalists (protestant or otherwise) sitting in the pews.

Nobody met them at the top of a birth canal and asked them to tick a box to say that they wanted to be Ulster Protestants or Irish Catholics. They simply came out and were placed in their mother’s arms and took what they were given … Yet those mother’s arms and those father’s influences – as well as the churches and the schools and the politics and the shibboleths and the history and the versions of the history – all of that was what formed them.

Still, that’s no excuse for not “relating, understanding and loving” our neighbours, no matter their culture or identity.

Available at amazon.co.uk.

 

I asked author Colin Neill why he had wanted to write a book that challenges the way many Protestants view nationalist/republican politics and the idea of a United Ireland?

I’d been toying with the idea of writing a novel for some time, and can only say that the idea for Turas came to me in what felt like a moment of epiphany. I was walking up a mountain in Donegal and it suddenly came to me: ‘why not take a set of Ulster Protestant friends and put them in a United Ireland and see how they get on?’ For many years I’ve felt incredibly frustrated with the ‘local church’, where the fact that we live in a terribly divided society is the ‘elephant in the room’ that nobody addresses. Turas tries to tackle Protestant attitudes to Catholicism and Nationalism in a way that is fresh and accessible.

Is it healthy for faith and politics to be often held together in such a tight and emotional way in Northern Ireland?

It’s not unhealthy to tie together faith and politics, but the way we’ve done it in Northern Ireland doesn’t seem to have – in large part – worked. On matters like poverty and exploitation of the poor, faith and politics have got to be intertwined. But look at Northern Ireland, which is arguably the most Christianised region in all of Western Europe, and look at the fractured society within which that Christian faith is practiced. Scratch all the churchgoers hard enough and they’re all either orange or green, but how many of us hear that mentioned when we’re sitting in church?

The book’s title ‘turas’ is Irish for ‘journey’. Do you hope that readers of the book will go on their own journey – much like the seven main characters – after reading it?

Absolutely. The book has been written to create disturbance in the minds and hearts of readers. I want people to be unsettled in the course of reading it and go ‘on their own journey.’ Not my journey, but theirs. I’d love to deconstruct something of the way that people from my community see their country, but the constructing and where they go with questions is clearly down to them.

What kind of reaction has the book got?

The reaction from those who have read the book has generally been very positive: both the radicalism of the content, and also the language and attitudes of the book’s characters. Ulster Evangelicalism is the most incredibly fascinating sub-culture: it can be narrow and frustrating, and yet I love this place and these people, and the feedback has been that the essence of this community has been well captured in Turas.

Turas was your first book. Are you tempted to write again?

I’m tempted but undecided. There’s a romantic sub-plot in the book, and whilst I’ve no aspirations to Maeve Binchey’s crown, what surprised me was that the story of Alan and Nadia’s relationship was the part of the book I enjoyed writing most. Some people have asked me: ‘whatever happened to Alan and Nadia?’ [Alan’s one of the seven men in the book and fancies himself as a bit of a heart throb. Nadia’s his Easter European Catholic girlfriend who he met when she served him in the local chip shop.] Maybe that’s the basis of another book.

, , , , ,

  • sonofstrongbow

    Given the chat on another thread how opportune, if the extracts quoted give a true flavour of the book, that a bible for the Sorry-Prod philosophy comes along.

  • Drumlins Rock

    As a member of the sub culture the book is aimed I doubt I will be rushing out to buy it based on this review, sorry Colin. On the other hand I would probably borrow it or pick it up from a second hand shop eventually.

    First reaction was amusement at the idea of a United Ireland by 2020, and the not so likely outcomes even if that did happen, its only 8 yrs away. Unfortunately when you suspend credibility in one major area it is going to be hard to take the rest seriously.

    As for what I’m guessing is the real message of the book, Evangelicals coming to terms with their Catholic neighbours both spiritually and politically, that process is well under way, believe me, and will be well beyond that phase by 2020, finally its lovey to see the good old “Beyond The Barricades” is alive and well.

  • Skeg oneill

    I would rather stick pins in my eyes or have teeth removed without anaesthetic than read this or in fact read any fiction about NI.

    The real thing is bad enough.

    Skeg

  • http://www.a-wandering-pilgrim.blogspot.com youngpolitico

    It’s 2020 and the Irish unification that unionists and loyalists confidently predicted would never happen has still not happened. First Minister Tom Elliot – leader of the Unionist Unionist Liberation Front which gained power in the revolution of 2012 is ensconced in the Stormont Hotel (Old Parliament buildings having been destroyed by Loyalist dissidents in 2015).

    A group of men from a West Belfast Chapel meet daily – after morning mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, the little Hours of Mary and their daily recital of the entire dominican rosary (including the luminous mysteries) not forgetting of course to reflect on the body of Christ contained in the monstrance whilst praying for the intentions of the Pope – in their local parish centre for talks about their faith. The societal events around them are shaking their beliefs and challenging their identity.

    As they talk they wonder:
    Should the mass of Paul VI be replaced with the Tridentine?, Is the modern church’s teaching on collegiality damaging to the authority of the Pope and to the idea of ultramontanism? and “Are the views expressed by the Second Vatican Council in Dignitatis Humanae on the dignity of man in contradiction to Pope Pius IX’s teaching in Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors?

    Their anxiety is interrupted by a visiting South German who challenges their prejudices, pushes their buttons, and demands answers to the questions they fear addressing. Like many Roman Catholics, their knowledge of their church is second only to the Pope himself but understanding of Reformed theology is simply that it is the Roman Church’s enemy. Slowly they get to grips with their own shortcomings and realise that not every prod is an evangelical, and that prods can actually know about their faith….

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Looks interesting – we’re ripe for a bit of speculative fiction! Given the time lag between writing and publishing, though, I wonder if the south’s economic meltdown plays a role in this journey. It’ll take much more than eight years for the after-effects of the current crisis to blow over. A more distant future would offer more plausibility, but the prospect of imagining the Ulster Evangelicals of the 2200s is daunting. Is there such a genre as Christian science fiction? Chri Sci Fi? ; )

  • Drumlins Rock

    there is Ni, look up the Left Behind series, also CS Lewis wrote a series with very christian undertones.

    I think politicos version is sounding more interesting, and less “preachy “

  • JH

    Watching the Left Behind series was a ‘turas’ for me in itself. I’ve never struggled so hard to keep a straight face!

  • galloglaigh

    youngpolitico:

    Now that’s proper fiction. You should pen the novel ‘Loyalism, and unionist intransigence rears its ugly head, 100 years after Carson stirred the pot‘.

  • galloglaigh

    I also love the pipe dream of Elliot dominating Northern politics. That would be some turn around; from outspoken bigot and the leader of a failed political ideology, to First Minister of Norn Iron. Class!

  • april showers

    Cue unionist death threats in 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – go

  • Joe Bloggs

    No mention of the Balkans-style civil war which would inevitably erupt if the circumstances laid out in this book ever came to pass……

  • galloglaigh

    JB, what ever happened to the unionist mantra of democracy, and the democratic will of the people. Does that only work whilst we are part of the Union?

  • http://alaninbelfast.blogspot.com Alan in Belfast

    It’s more about the spiritual journey than the political and civil repercussions (though they’re inevitably in there)

  • grandimarkey

    @Joe Bloggs

    Who would be the combatants in this civil war?

  • Mark

    The Usual Suspects ..

  • Dec

    Not ‘joe’ that’s for sure. He’s just rehashing the old ‘apocalypse now’ scenario Unionists of all hues evoke (and aprilshowers rather neatly predicted) anytime a Catholic has twins.

  • galloglaigh

    grandimarkey, JB obviously means the rise of militant loyalism, that will fight till the last to stop the inevitable. The same loyalists who have for centuries, roared from the roof tops about democracy and the rule of law. But of course, that only applies when it suits them!

    If they have no-one to fight, they will soon disappear.

  • nightrider

    Excuse my ignorance, but are there not ‘Ulster Protestants’ in Donegal? And Cavan and Monaghan?

    Anyhow, any book that uses the term ‘spiritual’ is going to be flapdoodle. It’s a meaningless term and appeals only to people who go to fortune tellers.
    Chicken soup for the new age soul.

  • Rory Carr

    With a withering put down using the precision of such incisive terminology as “flapdoodle” we can be sure that those great spiritual writers of yesteryear, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas, William James, Karl Marx, Thomas Merton et alwill be squirming in their graves in embarrassment at countering such devestating post-mortem refutation.

  • Reader

    Rory Carr: …et al will be squirming in their graves in embarrassment at countering such devestating post-mortem refutation.
    1) Is that what spirits do? It doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective form of engagement with the world of the living.
    2) There was a reasonable excuse for being a ‘spiritual writer of yesteryear’, when the God of the Gaps had such immense territory. But this is the 21st Century. Where are the impressive living spiritual writers?

  • carl marks

    Wow a work of fiction is published and the usual suspects go all predictable on us.
    This book poses questions for a very vocal and powerful (beyond its numbers) section, that evangelical protestants should look at wither they are wrong in their understanding of Catholics and the catholic faith, and why is it so unionist at its core.
    But instead of considering the points raised by the novel they go off into one,
    We are told that if a united Ireland is agreed by the voters its civil war time, (democrats eh)
    It’s part of the sorry prod thing
    One man would rather be tortured than read it
    The best one was the few paragraphs of what could been entitled “Please Santa can I have” and signed “not a inch”
    Lads can you not even consider that it might be a good thing to take a fresh look at it all.

  • nightrider

    rory carr mentions ‘meister’ Eckhart, who ever he or she is, along with various other non entities, excluding Karl Marx.
    Google Eckhart if you want a laugh, It’s Deepak Chopra type gibberish.
    And no definition of ‘spiritual’- ie bollocks.
    The Nobel prize winning Physicist Richard Feynman was the first to use the term Flapdoodle when referring to quackery.

  • Rory Carr

    “rory carr mentions ‘meister’ Eckhart, who ever he or she is, along with various other non entities, excluding Karl Marx.” – Nightrider

    Thank you. An ill written response that rather proves my case as to a certain lack of depth in his critique, does it not?

    Pondering the gender possibilities of a ‘meister’, and dismissing Marx as a non-entity – breathtaking in the depth of its shallowness. All the intellectual rigour of an X-Factor judge.

  • Reader

    Rory Carr: Pondering the gender possibilities of a ‘meister’, and dismissing Marx as a non-entity – breathtaking in the depth of its shallowness. All the intellectual rigour of an X-Factor judge.
    Where did he dismiss Marx as a nonentity? He dismissed the others as nonentities.
    And are you so sure that a meister can only be male? Is ‘Magister in theologia’ a qualification only given to men?

  • Rick Rizzle

    Based on the review, this strikes me as a piece of Christian inspirational fiction, like something I might pick up at the local outreach church that meets behind the coffee shop.

    As I haven’t read it, I can’t say for certain, but it seems like the actual circumstances of the book are probably not meant to be the focus. It probably has more to do with the universal nature of being a disciple of Christ and sees more of an outreach type of approach to loving one’s neighbor, and considers just who that neighbor might be.

    If politics are your thing, you might not get it.

  • TAFKABO

    Wow, another piece of art based around the premise that Protestants and Unionists need to wake up and recognise their flawed nature and get themselves right with catholic Ireland. Sorry, but I’ve heard this song sung too many times, I wont be buying it, literally or metaphorically
    It’s always seemed to me that when we’re told that we (and by we I mean Protestants and Unionists) would be welcome in a United Ireland, it was always under the condition that we’d stop being the way we were. We’ll be welcome as long as we stop being Protestants and Unionists.
    Have any Nationalists or Catholics ever stopped to consider what it says about them that they need to return to this theme so often?