A question we all ask
Shelter and Shadows (ebook version here) has been described as a “personal odyssey” by the Dublin Historical Record. The first part of this three-part book gives the impression that it is about family history. Not so. The book does employ the historic background of the author’s family to introduce the reader to a much deeper question. It is one that we all ask at some point in our lives. Who am I?
We are normally enticed to seek an answer at critical stages of life or during periods of major upheaval, as in puberty. Or when we are passed over for a promotion. Or after the loss of a job. In other words, it often takes some event, some experience of suffering or something tantalisingly beyond our grasp to trigger our interest.
What piqued Raymond Keogh to sustain his quest for almost 50 years and express the outcome in Shelter and Shadows? The answer comes in the first chapter where he observes, in relation to his grandfather’s house: It was as if I had arrived late at a farewell reunion, was not informed about who had departed and could only garner vague notions about them from fragments of conversation and surviving memorabilia. The palpable void left by their absence drove me, over the following half century, to reconstruct the world of my forefathers.
Clearly the author’s interest was aroused by the ancestral echo of past generations. And, true to the boyhood impression, his father’s people—who were part of an old Dublin family (the Keoghs of Ranelagh)—contained many subliminal echoes of the past.
The question (Who am I?) always refers to the individual, even though the answer has two aspects: me as a person, and me as part of a group. The personal dimension emerges in the distinctive voice of the author, expressed through the background narrative that holds the book together. The communal or group component comes alive with the discovery of the parallels between the Dublin of the Keoghs and the everyday experiences of people found in James Joyce’s Dubliners.
But it soon becomes clear that all is not well. The Keoghs of Ranelagh, while exhibiting the characteristics of the Gaelic middle-class of the city, harboured a dark 19th century secret that was hidden from subsequent generations. Furthermore, irrespective of Raymond’s boyhood desired to link himself to the native tribes of his country, the question of hybridity was unavoidable.
Cultural contradictions (Shadows in the book’s title) were present below his domestic roof (or Shelter). They arose from the Gaelic identity of his father’s people and the Old English identity of his mother and her people. The difficulty he had in trying to amalgamate these two clashing traditions into a single identity was like trying to mix oil and water. These contradictions, as Raymond states … gave me an uncomfortable feeling, when I was growing up, that I was not fully Irish.
Despite the discomfort, it becomes apparent as the narrative progresses that contradiction—rather than being a limitation—is the real driving force behind the work. It is out of conflict that a totally new concept of who we are as individuals and groups is forged. Ultimately, we are presented with an uplifting exploration of the meaning of human identity itself.
Coming in 2022
The so-called “new” (or universal) identity defines personal and communal identity on the basis of DNA and the human genome.
An updated approach is presented in the new book by the author which is to be published in 2022. The provisional (pre-publication) title is: Irish Identity Today.
Novel by the same author
St Patrick’s letter to Prosper (out of print) by Raymond Keogh was published by Paulines Publications Africa in 1995.
Our Own Identity plans to republish the novel as an ebook in the not-too-distant future.
Updates will be posted on this page