Dissident Dubliner: Chatting with Irish-Australian Author James O’Brien

The following is a transcript of the LIVE members' chat hosted here at TheWildGeese.com on Friday, May 9, 2014 with James O'Brien, an Irishman living in Australia and author of the recently published memoirs, "Against The Wind."  Some editing has been applied for clarity.

The Wild Geese:  Céad míle fáilte, a chairde! So glad to see each one of you who have stopped by for this evening’s LIVE Community Chat here at TheWildGeese.com.

With us from Australia is James O’Brien, author of the recently published memoir, “Against the Wind.”

We’ll now turn it over for the next little while to James, who is using the "Against the Wind" profile for today's discussion.  Welcome, James!

Against The Wind:  G'day one and all from down under. Using the term G'day as I do not know what part of the world we're all in.

Gerry Regan:  Céad míle fáilte romhat, James. Pleasure to connect with you, and welcome also the opportunity to learn more of your fascinating Irish-Australian story.

Against The Wind:  Thanks for inviting us Gerry - 7am in Bendigo, Australia.

Gerry Regan:  5p here in New York City!  And 10p in Dublin, me thinks!

The Wild Geese:  James ... how about we have you give us a brief idea what "Against the Wind" is all about?

Against The Wind:  It is the story of an ordinary man born in Ireland who has lived in England and Ireland back and forward for years before coming to Australia. The aim was that it should have universal appeal at a time when there is mass emigration from the old country once again.

Belinda Evangelista:  There were many changes for women in the 70s in Ireland. Do you remember the sentiment of the population at the time?

Against The Wind:  Belinda - I left Ireland in 1968 had many friends who were involved in the women's movement including some who took part in the "condom train" incident from Belfast.

Gerry Regan:  Hah! "The Condom Train" -- you must tell us more about this, and let us know if a more detailed account might be found in "Against The Wind."  And I'd like to know how you came to move to Australia, James.

Against The Wind:  Gerry- I had hit some hard economic times in Ireland and was restless after having lived for almost four years in England - so thought I'd give Australia a go.  "The condom train" is not mentioned in ATW - but I'm told it caused a riot in Dublin when it pulled into the station and the police had been tipped off in order to get maximum publicity. It was a very well planned and executed stunt.

Gerry Regan:  How did the condoms, so to speak, fit (in)?

Against The Wind:  Gerry - contraceptives were banned in Ireland at the time and the women's movement felt it was time that things were changed - so they smuggled them in from Belfast.

Gerry Regan:  That's a book in itself, I believe.

Against The Wind:  Gerry - it is not one for me to write - I would feel a bit of an imposter.

Belinda Evangelista:  Here's a piece on the "Contraceptive Train" for any who have an interest.

Kelly O'Rourke:  What do you hope people take away from your story?

Against The Wind:  Kelly - I hope the Irish that have to leave will feel that nomatter where they are in the world they have a contribution to make. Sean O'Casey said: "The Irish are a more scattered race than the Jews. And the English writer, Laurence Durrell said "Thank god for the Irish and the Jews who have a great sense of the absurd".

Gerry Regan:  James, what's your favorite story within "Against The Wind"? Any stand out, perhaps, because they are more formative or, as you hint, 'absurd'?  Or perhaps insanely humorous?

Against The Wind:  Gerry - The unveiling - one of the early chapters as it shows my mother's influence on my thinking as a young boy.

Belinda Evangelista:  Why do you call yourself a 'Dissident.'

Against The Wind:  Belinda - The reason I put Memoir of a Dublin Dissident in the sub title is because young disaffected Irish men today are referred to disparagingly as dissidents. In my view, the real dissidents in Ireland are the bankers and businessmen that have brought the country to such a sorry state.

Gerry Regan:  James, when you can, perhaps after Linda, where did you grow up? There's so much to learn about you and so little time here?

Against The Wind:  Gerry - I grew up in Dublin and emigrated to England for work the first time when I was 15.

Gerry Regan:  I also wanted to mention here that activist Terry Moore has been a member of The Wild Geese since September. James, and others here interested in social activism, I urge you to 'friend' Terry here on The Wild Geese.  She's singer Christy Moore's sister.

Against The Wind:  Gerry - Will certainly do so.

The Wild Geese:  Just as a reminder, folks ... If you’re seeing the chatroom in a small box in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, it can be enlarged by clicking on the button with the two interlocking rectangles.

Belinda Evangelista:  Did you take the good aul B&I ferry?

Against The Wind:  Belinda - Sometimes the B&I and sometimes the Princess Maud from Dunlaiore.

Belinda Evangelista:  Memories of sea sickness lol:)

Gerry Regan:  B&I Ferry -- is that Dublin to Liverpool?

Against The Wind:  Gerry - Yes, Gerry, B & I is Dublin to Liverpool.

Gerry Regan:  James, what section of Dublin nurtured you?

Against The Wind:  South Circular Road district until I was about 12, then Milltown.

Kelly O'Rourke:  Which Irish authors influenced your writing style?

Against The Wind:  Kelly - Edna O'Brien, J P Donleavy (New Yorker) Frank O'Connor, William Trevor and of course Behan, O'Casey and many others.

Belinda Evangelista:  The ferry was the way of many an emigrant to England back then.

Against The Wind:  Belinda - Planes not used in those days by the plebs.

Ryan O'Rourke:  James ... when was the last time you were in Ireland? How often do you come back?

Against The Wind:  Ryan - Janet and I were back in '93 and again in '97. Janet is Aussie and is treated like a queen whenever she gets there (not frequently enough).

Gerry Regan:  James, what was your first impression of Australian women, and how they were treated in Australian society? Did you marry one? And contrast with Irish women and the way Irish society treated them back in your early days in Australia.

Against The Wind:  Gerry - Australian women I found to be very straightforward and not a bit coy in letting you know what they thought. Compared to Irish women who at that time were often quite subdued because of influences of the church, male dominance and parental control.

Harry Paige:  How about today?

Against The Wind:  Harry - In my experience, Irish women are now well and truly up with the rest of the world.

Harry Paige:  Good to hear

Belinda Evangelista:  Tell us an 'arrival in Oz' story if you have one

Against The Wind:  Belinda - Many - but one I remember well - was the custom's official looking at my meager luggage and being more than welcoming and not officious as I was used to with Irish Customs.

Belinda Evangelista:  :-)

Gerry Regan:  James, might you describe for us the most colorful character in 'Against The Wind,' and, if it were ever adapted for the screen, who would you cast as yourself?

Against The Wind:  Gerry - The most colourful character is a Cockney named Fred who was a house painter and like Behan had a great mind - must be part of the trade.  The actor who plays in Ken Loach's new movie "Jimmy's Hall" - can't think of his name just now. An adaption of my book would be perfect. Dream on James.

Gerry Regan:  Let your dreams guide your actions! They give life its sweetness. ... Did Brendan Behan paint houses when he wasn't writing, James? And what briefly happened to Fred -- did you guys frequent the same pub? same job sites? Pursue the same woman?

Belinda Evangelista:  If he had just 10% of Behan's wit then you're looking at a hit.  :-)

Against The Wind:  Gerry - Yes, Behan did paint houses, but not for long. Fred died about 20 years after the book setting and we met on a building site in London. Did not pursue the same woman. Fred was the same age as my father.

Gerry Regan:  How did the British treat the Irish 'navvies,' including yourself -- I think that's what you construction guys were called, no?  Do you get into that much in "Against The Wind"?

Against The Wind:  Gerry - As mentioned in the book, even the most uneducated of them referred to us as "paddies". Something we would not take to very kindly. I did get it into ATW.. I mention that Wimpey the Building Company that employed many Irish was described as an acronym for "We Import more paddies every year".  We would reply, "It's our boys who build your buildings and our girls who nurse your sick".

Gerry Regan:  Ah yes, Irish nurses. A remarkable story there too! James, what years are covered in your memoirs? And what musical styles added color to your life? Is music a motif in the book, by any chance?  You grew up with the birth of rock 'n' roll, then moved into the Beatles and Stones, and so on. Did they influence you as much as the more traditional music of the Irish?

Against The Wind:  Gerry - The book covers from 1940 to 1968 when I left for Australia. Music of all types - classical, jazz, folk music of course as well as Irish Ballads - did not go to Irish clubs very often. Took some interest in the Beatles, but was more interested in traditional jazz and Irish music.

Gerry Regan:  Interesting -- and whose music will we want on the 'soundtrack' of 'Against The Wind,' then, James?

Against The Wind:  Gerry - music is not a motif but poetry is: Robert Burns to Omar Khayyam.

Belinda Evangelista:  Did you frequent the Irish clubs there?

Against The Wind:  Belinda - did not go to Irish clubs very often.

Belinda Evangelista:  So there was an Irish community beyond the clubs?

Against The Wind:  Belinda - Some Irish pubs I remember one morning in Birmingham an uncle of mine that had lived all his life in England came to visit and was amazed to find so many Irish gathered in one pub. When he remarked to me, "there weren't many English customers", for devilment I said to him: 'There used to be, but I soon put a stop to that".

Belinda Evangelista:  :-)

Gerry Regan:  Where can we find / buy copies of "Against The Wind"? Can you provide a specific URL for purchasers to use?

Against The Wind:  Gerry - All information with links can be found on www.BeingBookish.com with links to Amazon.

Gerry Regan:  That link offers both background and links to purchases and reviews.

The Wild Geese:  We'll wrap it up there. We want to thanks James O'Brien for joining us for this LIVE Wild Geese Community Chat. You can read a a bit more about "Against the Wind" here.   Our thanks to James for joining us in this most enjoyable discussion.  And thanks to all who joined us today for this chat.


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Tags: Australia, Dublin, Literature


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