Review – Where are you Really From? – Tim Brannigan

What a weird and wonderful tale!  Born as a result of an affair between a white republican Belfast woman and a black doctor from Ghana, Tim Brannigan is initially reared in a baby home as the scandal for his mother and her existing family would have been insurmountable.  This entire memoir is told in a very matter fact way which perhaps reveals Tim’s present day talents as a journalist.

I was born on Tuesday 10 May 1966.  I died the same day…My mother had managed to create not so much a phantom pregnancy but rather a phantom death”.

Such lack of mawkishness sets the tone for the reader as we witness a series of almost soaplike moments which permeate Brannigan’s life.  Incredibly, when he turns one year old, his mother Peggy decides to adopt him but keeps the secret of his parentage to herself, for now…  Brought up in a close knit Nationalist family in West Belfast, he is in limbo – suffering racial abuse from both republicans and the British Army.   Such confusion of identity is exacerbated by the unpredictability of his relationship with his mother and her decision not to tell him the truth about his parentage until he is 20 years old.

I found this memoir fascinating for many reasons, firstly it has no sense of misery or angst – Tim tells it as it is, without resorting to typical misery-memoir schmaltz.   Also, it opens a window on events during the height of the Troubles when I, myself was a similar age to the author – the difference being that I was sequestered in a tiny village, far removed from the reality of daily violence.  It certainly gives greater insight into what it must have been like to live at the “frontline”.

Brannigan ends up serving a 5 year prison sentence in H Block as a Republican prisoner even though he wasn’t actually a member of the IRA and was a victim of circumstances.  Again he doesn’t indulge in self pity when he relates events during his time in prison and his portrayal of the tightly organised structure and routine imposed by IRA Commanding Officers on each wing is frankly fascinating.  Of course, one cannot expect complete objectivity – hence the ever so slightly patronising attitude towards the Loyalist prisoners with emphasis on their lack of organisation and lack of academic prowess when compared with the Nationalist inmates – one almost hears the author tittering in the background – however such tongue in cheek moments are relatively rare and it’s soon back to the business in hand and the quest for self awareness.

This is a book primarily about Tim and his search for his roots, his father being the missing link.  Their “reunion”, like other landmark events in this memoir, is starkly presented.  Where are you Really From? was a pleasant surprise for me as I usually shy away from “local” books and anything referring to the Troubles but his story transcends the parochial limits of Northern Ireland and is a testament to Tim’s stoicism and the strength of his bond with his Mum.  Don’t shy away from it, categorising it as political diatribe when it has more in common with human endurance.

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  1. Violet says:

    Sounds like a really interesting read. I will definitely seek it out. I do enjoy a good memoir!

  2. admin says:

    Violet, I know that I’m drawn to this because of the local significance but you really couldn’t make it up if you tried – I have tried to explain the rough story to friends but I do get the impression they think I’m fibbing a little! ;-)

  3. SazzyMCH says:

    Oh darn you Treez! I want to read this now! My interest in the Troubles have been reignited recently after re-reading Kevin and Sadie by Joan Lingard – it would be nice to now read a “real” book about it…………

  4. admin says:

    This is such a unique experience, Sarah, that it’s not in the usual style of accounts of the Troubles although I think it would definitely give you insight to one side of the story anyway. I would normally shy away from this genre – too close to home, even if mine was a lot less affected by the Troubles…

  5. declan brannigan says:

    im very proud of my uncle tim….. a life story my family will never forget…. rest in peace granny peggy….. you would have been proud of uncle tim…..

  6. admin says:

    You have every right to be proud of him, Declan – what an eventful life he has had and Peggy must have been an amazing lady.

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