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'Why should people care about a murder during war time?' Two men attempt to solve the killing of a young boy during the Irish War of Independence in 1920.

This is a book about murder most foul. It’s about murder in wartime, when one more corpse should really pass unnoticed amidst all the other carnage.

This is a book about trying to do the right thing, when you have not the first clue about how you really should go about that. And it’s a book about war, about what war excuses, and about what war forces young people to do.

This is a book that has been born out of my unique perspective gained from growing up in South Armagh during the Troubles, and decades spent as a humanitarian and human rights worker dealing with the consequences of violence and injustice from Afghanistan to Angola.

I started writing this book because, in spite of the bloodshed that still disfigures so much of the world, too many people, particularly political leaders, still seem to have such a glib view of war as to be ready to blunder into it at the earliest convenience.

This book is an important one because it seeks to put a human face to the savage complexities of war and its consequences.

It is set during the Irish War of Independence in 1920 in a part of the West of Ireland from which all British administration, including the Constabulary, have been driven. Two members of the IRA on police duty find the body of a young boy, apparently drowned. But one of them, a veteran of the First World War, recognises violence when he sees it. So, in spite of a complete lack of detective experience, the two set out to see if they can find some measure of justice for the murdered child.

Neither of them realise just how dangerous their task will become.

Dr Aidan McQuade in an independent researcher and consultant who was Director of Anti-Slavery International, the oldest international human rights organisation in the world, for 11 years. During his tenure as Director Anti-Slavery's achievements have included holding the states of Niger and Greece to account in an international court for failing to protect people from slavery, obtaining a new statute in British law proscribing forced labour, ensuring victim protection provisions in the UK's Modern Slavery Act, obtaining the inclusion of slavery eradication in the Sustainable Development Goals, obtaining the recognition by international institutions that force marriage as a form of slavery, and mounting a series of investigations identifying where forced labour is used in the production of goods for western markets.

Before joining Anti-Slavery International Aidan worked for over 13 years in humanitarian response, development and human rights. This included periods in Ethiopia and Eritrea working on rural water supply and soil conservation, and Afghanistan, in the months before the Taliban take over, where he undertook emergency water supply in the war displaced persons camps outside Jalalabad. He spent five years in Angola at the end of the civil war managing an emergency relief programme for over a quarter of a million people in the besieged cities of the interior as well as working with the UN on the implementation of a programme of human rights protection of civilians from military excesses.

Aidan comes from South Armagh in Ireland and studied civil engineering in Queen’s University Belfast and business in Strathclyde University, Glasgow. In 2010 Aidan completed his doctoral thesis entitled, "Doing the right thing: human agency and ethical choice-making in professional practice", and in 2013 he won BBC Mastermind, with his specialist subjects of Abraham Lincoln, Michael Collins, and the novels of Denis Lehane.

It was a cold clear morning the next day when the village gathered to bury Liam Finnegan.

The church was full and spilling out into the surrounding graveyard. Eamon and I had got there a quarter of an hour before the start of the requiem Mass, but had still only managed to get standing room at the back of the church. Peter had gotten there earlier and had hence managed to get himself a seat in a pew in the middle of the church.

“Okay”, whispered Eamon to me, “so who do you know here?

“Dr Hennessy, fourth row back”. She was standing briefly in order to let some people past her into the pew in which she was seated.

“In the short time I have known you Mick I have come to admire and respect your capacity for prioritisation. Mind you, she does look good in black, it must be said. Grand arse.”

“Jesus Eamon, we’re at a funeral”.

“A man is most alive when closest to death. You’ll find that out in time Mick. So who else do you know”.

“Commandant O’Riordain”.

O’Riordain was in the aisle halfway up the church, trying to create more space amongst the mourners and directing newcomers into the pews.

“There’s a man born to lead. Can’t even help himself any more.”

“And there’s Dick Bruton.” Bruton was fat man with a purple nose in a plaid suit. He was bald, which Eamon had noted was a blessing for him seeing as he used to be ginger. I had felt a bit guilty at laughing at that as he had always been civil to me on the odd occasion I dropped into his shop.

“And there, as you should know,” said Eamon, “is our local neighbourhood cattle baron, Francie Quinn”. Eamon nodded in the direction of a dark haired man in a dark suit just entering the church with a pleasant looking, chubby woman. He ushered her onto a pew and then found himself standing space against the wall close to her. Quinn I did know slightly. He was one of the local worthies that Peter had convinced to join him in constituting the parish court. So I had seen him from a couple of times when the court was in session but I had barely ever spoken to him.

Our whispered conversation was halted as the appearance of Paddy Toner, walking backwards up the aisle so he could keep an eye on the pall-bearers and make sure nothing untoward happened to the coffin, announced the arrival of the funeral party.

Normally, in my experience, the deceased would have been carried to the church the night before the burial and lain in vigil before the altar. But the family couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Liam alone there. So his body had stayed with them at home until this morning when they would say their final goodbyes.

Liam’s father and three uncles followed Toner up the church carrying the tiny coffin. In their wake came the rest of the family. Liam’s mother and sister seemed barely able to stand, leaning against each other in an A-frame as they walked up the aisle. Tears were pouring down their faces, though they were considerably quieter now than they had been when we had broken the news to them about the death of their son. Immediately behind them another woman, I presumed an aunt of Liam’s though I suppose she might have been a neighbour, carried the baby, who was being remarkably quiet, helped I presumed by a bottle of milk stuck in his gob.

When they got to the front of the church Toner ushered the family into the front rows that had been reserved for them, and Fr Martin Crosby came onto the alter with four altar boys in white soutanes.

Crosby was suitably sombre in his conduct of the Mass and proceeded in this measured way until he came to his sermon which he opened with, what I felt were pretty boilerplate remarks about death and young lives cut short that he would have learned in his “how to conduct a funeral” classes in the seminary. And then his remarks changed and became rather more personal:

“I knew Liam a little from the times he served Mass for me. He was a great young man. A credit to his family. I know he wanted to be a doctor. He was a great reader and used to tell me about what he was reading. The last morning I saw him he was telling me about the adventures of David Balfour after Kidnapped. He never lived to find out how it ended with Catriona. He never lived to find his own Catriona or have his own adventures in his own or other lands.

“The world is a lesser place without Liam, without the person he was and without the person he would have become. That truth will never be felt more than by his own family.”

His mother let out the most mournful yelp I’ve ever heard at that, and her muffled keening started again.

Read more...

Third review is in!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

I'm very grateful to be able to post another review in this occassional series. Today I'm delighted to be able to post one by my friend Nick Kinsella. I first met Nick about 12 years ago when he was heading the UK's Human Trafficking Centre, and leading on the creation of more effective policing responses to crimes of contemporary slavery in the UK. Nick is, as you may have gathered, a PROPER detective…

The second review is in!

Sunday, 30 September 2018

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Very grateful to my friend Meena Varma, connoisseur of crime - and champion of human rights - for being so kind as to find the time in the midst of her tireless struggle against caste-based apartheid as Chair of the International Dalit Solidarity Network, to write a review of The Undiscovered Country. 

I wanted Meena’s opinion of the story from early on not just because, as a someone who appreciates…

On the road to publication

Monday, 24 September 2018

Just wanted to let you all know I’ve now submitted my manuscript to Unbound. I’ll update you all with news of progress as I receive it.



I wanted to also say enormous thanks to all of you who have been so supportive and encouraging from the first inkling of an idea sitting over dinner one night in Geneva reading Charles Townsend’s The Republic, to finally hitting the 100% mark in the funding drive…

It’s in extraordinary situations that you really find what people are made of

Friday, 7 September 2018

Noel Adams, a journalist with Belfast’s best newspaper, The Irish News, did an interview with me at the beginning of August, which has just now been published. It’s about life, war, humanitarian response and the writing of The Undiscovered Country. I probably rambled a bit - I was doing the interview on a bad phone line from the bowels of the UN in New York. But I hope you enjoy.

https://www.irishnews…

First review is in...

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

I mentioned a few updates ago that a few people have actually read The Undiscovered Country, and it was, in the main, their encouragement that led me to embark on this publication project. So I thought rather than just have me write about the book in these updates I would ask a few of them to compose reviews of the book to share their thoughts. Kind people that they are most of them didn't even need…

I bet that Plato fella never had these problems...

Sunday, 15 July 2018

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Tantalus was a figure in Greek mythology who, starving and thirsty, was cursed to stand for eternity in water that would recede from his lips when he bent to drink from it, and beneath a berry tree that would withdraw from his grasp when he reached for food.

Greek mythology is full of chaps like that – Odysseus blown back out to sea to continue his wanderings for years more just as he sees the…

Human is wolf to human, but not always

Friday, 15 June 2018

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Yangon, Myanmar

June 2018

Last month I was in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (photo), in the camps of that are now home to almost three-quarters of a million Rohingya refugees, driven from their homes by the government of their own country. Those camps will now, due to the monsoon rains, look like a First World War battlefield, a quagmire of mud in which people have already died

But…

Appositely enough, Karma is an Indian word

Friday, 8 June 2018

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My PhD supervisors once advised me to set aside my thesis for a couple of months and then to reread it. It would be like looking at it with new eyes. 

So, because this week I have passed the 82% funding level and hopefully will very soon be able to share this story with you, I have been going over The Undiscovered Country again, for the first time in several months. I’m trying to catch typos…

Hold on! I have a cunning plan!

Friday, 25 May 2018

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Some of the fellows I was at school with I haven’t seen in over 30 years. Yet they’ve been among the first to get their credit cards out to subscribe to the publication of my book, The Undiscovered Country. Adolescence is one of the most miserable times of your life. But the bonds that arise from enduring it together, in our case in the shadow of British Military Occupation securing a “hard” border…

Approaching anniversaries: The Undiscovered Country

Monday, 21 May 2018

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I went to see Sean O’Casey’s play The Plough and the Stars a few weeks ago. It was the celebrated 2016 Abbey Theatre production which got a belated transfer from Dublin to London.

O’Casey wrote the play to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1916 rebellion. It caused a storm. After one particularly rambunctious performance WB Yeats, a co-founder of the Abbey, confronted a disruptive audience…

Getting there: The Undiscovered Country reaches 70% funding

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Dear All

I just wanted to send you all a note to say that I’ve reached the next big milestone on the road to publication of The Undiscovered Country, and finally passed the 70% threshold. Lore in Unbound, as I’ve mentioned before, is that all books which pass this threshold get published, which is enormously encouraging, but still a little way to go before we see it coming hot off the presses.…

Belfast: what was once, might be again

Thursday, 26 April 2018

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Last week I visited Belfast to speak at an event commemorating Belfast’s role in the anti-slavery struggle of the 19th Century. It was a memorable visit for a number of reasons. 

The event, organised by Reclaim the Englightenment, a group set up to remember Belfast’s radical heritage, was held in the Shankill Public Library. It was the first occasion I ever spent any time in this, the heart…

Easter reflections on The Undiscovered Country

Monday, 2 April 2018

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Dear Friends

This week I’ve been reflecting on Easters past. 

Easter Week 1916 was the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. Historians still argue over how necessary or justifiable that war was to achieve Irish independence. But whatever the rights and wrongs of it in the grand, historical scheme of things, at the most basic level  it followed a bloody path of ordinary people doing…

The book they don’t want you to read: The Undiscovered Country

Sunday, 18 March 2018

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Memo found in the archives of the Irish Bureau of Military History :

To: Colonel Dan Long

Officer in Charge,

Bureau of Military History,

Cathal Brugha Barracks

Dublin

4 Sept 1954

 

Highly Confidential

Please find attached the portion of former Volunteer Michael Gerard McAlinden’s submission to the Bureau that I mentioned to you, the…

The Undiscovered Country: Half way there!

Monday, 5 March 2018

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So, after a long, sometimes gruelling, month in Myanmar/Burma I’m back in London and delighted that The Undiscovered Country has just passed the 50% funding milestone en route to the publication.

One hundred thousand thanks to all of you whose incredible generosity and support has got me this far. I am looking forward to sharing the finished novel with you all, sooner, I hope, rather than later…

Discovering other countries

Friday, 2 February 2018

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“Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart” - W B Yeats, Easter 1916

This past few weeks I have been travelling through some parts of the world affected by more recent and bloodier conflicts than the one I describe in The Undiscovered Country. And yet here the truth that Yeats recognised when reflecting upon the oppression and violence…

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