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Cillefoyle Park is a strange, rather dreamy novel where nothing and nobody are quite what they seems. Many of the early scenes occur in a silent beautiful world of wintry snow; a metaphor for the beauty and silence that covers a deeper ugliness. Just like love, loyalty and betrayal, watching and being watched are central themes to this book, appearing very early in the action.

The hero of this historical fiction, Dermot Lavery, is a bar man torn between the possibility of a political solution to the inter-community struggle and the challenges posed to him and the other characters by the violence exploding on the streets of Derry at the height of The Troubles in the mid 1970’s.

Hugh Vaughan is very convincing about how quickly the unthinkable becomes the everyday.

To give just one small example of many that he uses, the married couple who are to become central to the proposed communication between the warring sides decide to leave the dishes for the children to do and go out for an evening stroll to the Debating Society, but before they can set off, there are tactical issues to discuss which may make the difference between a quiet night and being caught up in the fighting;

Harry: It’s a good night for a riot. Have they any excuse tonight?

Marie: Not sure, there were a few raids today. We’ll avoid William St.

Deciding the chances are in their favour, they set off as usual, dodging the riots while they enjoy the fresh air.

Then there is the etiquette of occupation – should a native born pedestrian respond to polite greetings from the occupiers or ignore them as a small sign of protest? Curiously reminiscent of the role of the Hitler salute in enforcing conformity in Nazi Germany, but each person makes their own decision about the polite but remorseless pressure to acknowledge foreign soldiers as people with a legitimate presence in your streets.

Lavery’s work at the bar brings him into unavoidable contact with people in the IRA and his socialist activist politics lead other observers to think that he might be one of them. And so, certain offers are made……….

Harry, the neighbour, carries on an innocent friendship with Lavery whose high intelligence and interest in books leaves him otherwise isolated.  He turns to this man, a schoolteacher for intellectual companionship more than anything else, but that leads them both into a web of intrigue. Harry is chosen by MI6 (for no real reason) to be The Contact. A practical sort of fellow, he decides that the workshop in his garage will be the very place to have the meetings.

It’s made absolutely clear that helping the peace process forward is something that ordinary people might be very interested in doing, no matter what their previous level of political engagement. Who wouldn’t want a ceasefire for war torn Derry? But at what price?

Lavery finds himself drawn into a nightmare world of secret negotiations for a ceasefire. His involvement means that his life is, more than ever, a matter of conflicting loyalties, with certain death at any wrong turn. At any moment, he has to decide between the demands of his conscience and the wish to stay alive.

Ultimately a disloyal IRA man becomes a Supergrass who names Dermot as an IRA man, so the police and Loyalist hit squads are after him. A message then comes supposedly from the IRA to the British Government saying the IRA are ready to surrender Of course they are not but Dermot is blamed.

In Vaughan’s bleak vision, there is no solution either for Lavery or the man who betrayed him except to leave for Australia, which Lavery describes as “.. the best thing that ever happened to me.”

For an Australian reader in these times of concern about Muslim terrorists, the solution seems highly ironic, but of course emigration has been the traditional recourse of Irish people for many centuries.

Further thought reveals the author’s real despair about whether individuals can ever take control over their lives while their society is collapsing around them.

 

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