Bishop Donal McKeown speaking at the launch of ‘The Chain That Binds the Earth’, a timely new book by Sean O’Conaill.
“As a former teacher myself, it is a pleasure and a privilege to be here for the launch of a book which reflects some of the accumulated wisdom of a dedicated and passionate teacher. It is a very well balanced book, containing a deep insight into how young people live, work and think, a passion for offering good news into their often challenging lives and a pedagogical awareness of how to communicate core messages in a clear and succinct way. This is a book for young adults and for any who work with them.
It is an encouraging book — and that is one of its great strengths. We live in stressful times. Threats are posited on all sides — global warming, terror attacks in tourist centres and uncertainty about work into the future. For many, the prospect of a wild week in Magaluf is about as good as life can get. So often the heroes they see are Rambo-esque or seductive. What we don’t need is cultural candyfloss or Mills and Boon type escapist caricatures of what life can offer. This book offers a story of struggle, faithfulness to core principles and the ultimate victory of good over bad. It tells of young people who wrestle with the imperfections of the world in which they find themselves, confident that a deep truth can be mined from the hard rock of experience. But this is not a victory won by brute force and ignorance but rather a success that is built on persistence, dialogue and comradeship. So I welcome a book for young people that treats them as intelligent and idealistic, loyal and generous. The characters at the heart of this story are not prepared to tolerate the invisible chains that keep the strong in power. They seek a liberation that promotes dignity and not merely libertinism. Poor cultural heroes are part of the chains that bind the earth.
And there is another thread to this fabric. The story is set in a city that has known decades of violence and destruction. Some of the young people in the story have come to believe that might is right and that violence solves things. Many of our governments similarly seem to believe that, after decades of bombing the Middle East, another series of bombings will be necessary to settle the hornet’s nest that has been stirred up. But violence never puts an end to violence. It is remarkable that this book is being formally launched just one month to the date after the death of René Girard, whose insights have intrigued our author. Our story shows how the chains of violence and counter-violence, the illusion of a war to end all wars, the cycle of action and reaction, have bound us into the perceived need to react violently to events like 9/11 or the murders in Paris exactly three weeks ago. Teachers and parents have so often heard the story from someone who assaulted another — he started it. He is to blame for what I did. And Irish society has been plagued by the desire to claim victimhood. But victimhood diminishes us all as I then disclaim responsibility for my actions or those of my community. This story tackles that profound Girardian theme in a clear and concrete manner. Even for that element of its content, it would be a welcome addition to our literature.
Thirdly, we have heard over the last few days how the UK and today Germany have decided to join in the bombing of targets in Syria. No matter how much analysts assert that more bombings will make little or no difference, there seems to be a driving mimetic desire not to be seen as different from other countries that are already bombing. To me this seems like one more example of the childish ‘copy-wanting’, a tsunami of which hits us at this time in the year as young and old are told that they have to have something newer, bigger, better, cooler or just geekier. ‘Copy-wanting’ is a felicitous neologism that our young hero coins to describe his experience of the pressures to acquire and conform. But our story shows us that these chains that bind the earth can also be broken.
I read this book in September while on holiday. It was a good read then. But a sign of the quality of both tale and writing style is that I can still remember so many of the scenes – the first journey to lona College, the relationship with his dad, the attitude of some teachers — and of course, the wisdom of the bishop, to name but a few. It is a story that is anchored in landscapes that we know — not just Derry City and its environs but also the cultural world that we know that the author has skilfully captured.
I commend it to you as an excellent read and a wise story. And I really look forward to the day when a future edition of the Oxford English Dictionary includes the word ‘copy-wanting’. And then we here this evening can say that we were among the first to celebrate its birth and appreciate its wisdom.”
Most Reverend Donal McKeown, D.D., Bishop of Derry
In the Everglades Hotel, Derry, on the night of Storm Desmond, Dec. 4th, 2015.
Bishop Donal’s remarks were followed by a Q-and-A session, and the evening finished with the very first musical rendering of the featured song: ‘The Chain That Binds the Earth’. Lauren and Bethany Doherty. (aka ‘Two’s Harmony’)
Visit Sean O’Conaill’s Blog at www.seanoconaill.com