'That's That': A Searing Look at a Wartime Childhood

Book Review

"That’s That" By Colin Broderick
Broadway Paperbacks $15

No memoir you have read about growing up in Ireland, not even Angela’s Ashes, is going to prepare you for That’s That.  More than just poverty, it is about the IRA, alcohol and sex.

Colin Broderick grew up in East Tyrone in the 1970s and 80s when it was at the center of the war between the IRA and the British security forces. The war in East Tyrone had a special bitterness because it was fought largely between neighbors – the IRA on one side and the locally recruited, 100% Protestant, Ulster Defense Regiment or the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defense Association on the other.

Left, Colin Broderick posing on the day of his First Holy Communion in the village of Altamuskin.

Broderick makes it clear that growing up Catholic in East Tyrone came with its own rules. You lived virtually entirely within your own Catholic, nationalist community.

“Allegiances were paramount for survival. It was critical that you understood the rules. But we were raised in a circling pattern … so that by the time you were ten it was deeply ingrained in your nature; every child in Northern Ireland knew exactly where he could be safely and where he was not supposed to be.”  

Protestants were the enemy, to be tolerated at best. You wouldn't date a Protestant girl because everybody knew they were all spies.

You never, ever cooperated with the security forces in any way. When they stopped you, you’d try to give them a false name and address. At most, you might open the boot (trunk) of the car at gunpoint. But that was as far as cooperation went.

When Broderick made his way to London he lived and drank entirely with others from Tyrone. On the construction sites he met English carpenters. “But I couldn't trust them entirely," he writes. "That little voice continued to whisper in my ear as I smiled and laughed at their jokes and smoked their cigarettes: Don’t get too close to this bastard. He’s still your enemy.” 

The pubs where he drank every night had a Tyrone crowd in one corner and a Derry crowd in the other, living in a cautious truce. When Broderick became involved with a Derry man’s girlfriend, it was either go back to Tyrone or be killed.

Whether in London or Tyrone he was living in a haze of beer and hash. There were the mornings he couldn't get out of bed to go to work. Even on the job life was often a blur.

“I staggered from day to day like someone who was still half asleep. I was in a state of semiconsciousness most of the time. I was smoking too much hash and if I didn't have a drink in my system to accompany it the faint blur of paranoia followed me everywhere.”

After the British army ambushed and killed eight IRA men, including two of his friends and neighbors, Broderick knew he had a choice. He could either join the IRA or leave for New York. He chose New York.

That’s That is written with an often searing emotional honesty. Although Colin Broderick has lived in New York for years, it reads as if he were still in East Tyrone. He conveys the fear, the sense of community, the paranoia, and even the hatred. You identify totally with him and the people he grew up with.

That’s That is so absorbing that it will be tempting to try to read it straight through at one sitting. But it is also tremendously significant because it is the first book to convey the reality of daily life at the cockpit of the Northern Ireland troubles.

That’s That. Buy it. Read it. Share it. SB

Views: 433

Tags: IRA, Irish Freedom Struggle, Literature, London, New York, Tyrone, UDA, UDR

Comment by Eamon Loingsigh on June 19, 2013 at 9:34pm

Great review, I'm gettin' it then. Good stuff.

Comment by Rose Maurer on June 21, 2013 at 10:46am

The succinct title of this book, and the impressive review make it imperative for me to order it, although I know it won't be a comfortable read.


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