Book – White Church, Black Mountain

White Church Black Mountain book

When the Conservative Party decided to jump on a story in The Sun earlier this year, which suggested Ed Miliband may consider forming a coalition government with Sinn Fein if the May election doesn’t go to plan for David Cameron, the country should have been far more outraged.

Creating a poster that showed the Labour leader embracing former-First Minister of Scotland and Alex Salmond (another candidate allegedly being considered for a potential partnership), next to Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, not only did the story prove to be completely unfounded, the Tories were guilty of using a very delicate and potentially volatile situation as a political football. Their only goal being to score some decidedly weak goals against the opposition.

To bring those unaware up to speed, Sinn Fein is the Irish Republican party that has long been accused of associations with the IRA. And, although the peace process in Northern Ireland has so far proved successful to some degree, the situation does remain on something of a knife-edge, as police executions, bomb threats and continued tensions between Protestant loyalists and Catholic separatists go to show. Hardly the kind of thing you want to wade in on blindly.

Thankfully, Thomas Paul Burgess explores the subject with far more sensitivity in his new book. White Church, Black Mountain is the latest in a long list of impressive work from the author, who holds degrees from the University of Ulster, Cork and Oxford, with innumerable publications to his name on cultural identities and community. In this instance we’re talking about a novel, but one based on a very real issue that continues to stalk the British Isles, and both as a piece of fiction, and thought-provoking text, we were wholly impressed.

We focus on Detective Inspector Dan Watson, who works for the Historical Enquiries Team. In the opening, our protagonist walks into an interview room for a routine consultation, but finds himself looking at a very familiar face. Eban Barnard is the younger brother of his late partner-cum-mentor, Detective Superintendent Alex, a copper who fell foul of the Provisional IRA two decades before. Now the sibling is demanding an ear from the police, with his story opening up pandora’s box that threatens to disrupt the lives of everyone involved, and the stability of the entire region.

What’s most impressive about White Church is the way in which it’s clearly based on real experiences, and therefore oozes legitimacy. Burgess has found himself smack bang in the centre of Ireland’s checkered social history during his time spent as a community relations worker, and this keen understanding of the overall topic is evident in every page and chapter. An admirable attempt to fictionalise a stark reality, if you take nothing else from the book make sure it’s the fact that such subjects should never be dealt with lightly, which in turn helps to increase our understanding of the modern socio-political and religious makeup of this troubled corner of the country.

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