The Contested Identities of Ulster Protestants.
Publication Date February 2015
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF)
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
'Flags', 'Emblems' and 'The Past'; three seemingly insurmountable challenges which continue to hinder the peace process in Northern Ireland. For many, the responsibility for the impasse that scuppered the Haass talks and brought violent protests to the streets of Belfast appears to rest with the perceived intransigence of the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist communities to embrace change. That this community is itself riven with internal rancour and discord should come as no surprise. Issues of social class, denominational alignment, political aspiration and national identity have historically divided what outsiders have often mistakenly viewed as a collective cultural, religious and socio-political entity.
This study explores the statement by Henry McDonald that this is '…the least fashionable community in Western Europe'. A diverse group of contributors including prominent politicians, academics, journalists and artists investigate the reasons informing public perceptions attaching to the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist communities in Ulster.
5 out of 5 stars
White Church Black Mountain is a dark and gripping tale of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland and their legacy. Young Eban Barnard witnesses what he thinks is a killing in the Shankill area of Belfast and the fate of him and the other main characters in the book stems from that one horrific incident. Eban carries the guilt of that day with him through life, compounded by another chain of events he sets off as a result. In 2014 he decides to confess to the Historical Enquiries Team, set up to investigate unsolved murders during the troubles, and discovers that there are those who have no wish to have the truth known.
Alongside the main thread of the story is the tale of Eban's housemates; he shares with closet gay Pascal from France, Emily the long-suffering English teacher and Rosemary, a Catholic busybody and all-round harridan. One of the high points of the book is Pascal's "coming out" party, described as his "Babette's Feast” – for those of us old enough to remember Mike Leigh's classic play, "Abigail's Party" it is far more similar to that.
Burgess's characters are very well drawn and mostly flawed, through nature or made that way by life in the times and the place. Burgess shows us that while the Troubles may be over, their legacy for many most certainly isn't and those who held the reins of power then still do now; the titles change but the people don't. Burgess tells of such things as the Paramilitary's drug dealing, the collusion between the Army and the Protestant Paramilitary and the running sore of Kincora which the powers that be will “investigate” – no doubt when the guilty parties are all dead and beyond the reach of the law and public revulsion.
White Church Black Mountain pulls no punches; its characters come alive and it's a book you'll be thinking of for a long time after you've finished.
For a debut novel it's no less than awesome and I'd echo other reviewer's comments that it's "a classic”; I really hope it gets the audience it thoroughly deserves. It's confident, packs a punch and while it does at times seem to be a catalogue of misery, the final chapter leaves the reader with the hope of a happy ending.
I'd guess the book is largely allegorical but to explain why would reveal too much and I could well be wrong anyway.
Whatever else it is it's a superb read, a great book that deserves to sell well and be recognised for the amazing achievement it is. My book of 2015 so far.
by Dave Blendell
3 out of 5 stars
Great story of the Northern Ireland conflict. It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I enjoyed the complex characters and it captured my attention.
by Laura Davidson Ellett
Dr Thomas Paul Burgess was born, November 1959 in Shankill Road, Belfast Northern Ireland. He is a published academic, novelist and song-writer / musician with his band Ruefrex.
Much of his song writing, poetry, prose writing and academic publication draw on his interest in the Protestant working class community of Belfast and their sense of cultural identity.
He worked in Short Brothers Aircraft manufacturers before leaving to pursue a BA in English Literature at the University of Ulster, under the tutelage of the late Poet, James Simmons. He later attended Oxford University, studying Ethics & Moral Education and University College Cork, where he was awarded a PhD for research into social policy developments in the area of conflict resolution.
He has spent periods, variously as schoolteacher; community relations officer in local government in Northern Ireland; and researcher for The Opsahl Commission of Inquiry into political progress in the Province.
As a songwriter and performer with his band, Ruefrex, he achieved commercial and critical success with the release of seven singles and three albums. Most notable amongst these was the scathing commentary on American funding for Irish Republican violence, ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ which entered the UK top thirty. The British music press - comparing his work to that of Yukio Mishima - described his writing as, “…a line of poetry written in a splash of blood.” and labelled Ruefrex as “…the most important band in Britain” at that time.
The band played a prominent role in cross-community, anti-sectarian ventures and actively lobbied and raised funds for the (religiously) Integrated Education Movement in Northern Ireland.
His first novel, ‘White Church, Black Mountain’ (Matador; ISBN 9781784621612) is a political thriller, dealing with the emerging ‘post-conflict’ society of Northern Ireland and exploring the legacy of ‘the troubles’ and how its residue impacts on those who seek to build a personal and communal future in its aftermath.
He has published a number of academic works dealing with aspects of Education (‘A Crisis of Conscience: - moral ambivalence and education in Northern Ireland’ ISBN 1 85628 4204 ) Social Policy (‘The Reconciliation Industry: - community relations, community identity & social policy in Northern Ireland.’ ISBN 0 7734 70441 ) and Cultural Identity (‘The Contested Identities of Ulster Protestants’ ISBN 9781137453938 ) as well as a number of treatises on Youth participation in European civil society.
He lives in Cork, Ireland, where he is Director of Youth & Community Work Studies at The School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork.