That's That: A Memoir

That's That: A Memoir

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by Colin Broderick

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A brutally honest and deeply affecting memoir about growing up in the countryside in rebel country in Northern Ireland.

Colin Broderick was born in 1968 and spent his childhood in Tyrone county, in Northern Ireland. It was the beginning of the period of heightened tension and violence known as the Troubles, and Colin's Catholic family lived in the heartSee more details below


A brutally honest and deeply affecting memoir about growing up in the countryside in rebel country in Northern Ireland.

Colin Broderick was born in 1968 and spent his childhood in Tyrone county, in Northern Ireland. It was the beginning of the period of heightened tension and violence known as the Troubles, and Colin's Catholic family lived in the heart of rebel country. The community was filled with Provisional IRA members whose lives depended on the silence and complicity of their neighbors. At times, that made for a confusing childhood. We watch as he and his brothers play ball with the neighbor children over a fence for years, but are never allowed to play together because it is forbidden. We see him struggle to understand why young men from his community often just disappear. And we feel his confusion when he is held at gunpoint at various military checkpoints in the North. But even when Colin does ask his parents about these events, he never receives a clear explanation. Desperate to protect her children, Colin's mother tries to prevent exposure to or knowledge of the harm that surrounds them. Spoken with stern finality, "That's that" became the refrain of Colin's childhood.

The first book to paint a detailed depiction of Northern Ireland's Troubles is presented against a personal backdrop and is told in the wry, memorable voice of a man who's finally come to terms with his past.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Broderick (Orangutan) was raised in Northern Ireland's County Tyrone during the "Troubles" that spanned nearly four decades. These formative years are told through snippets of daily life: beatings from teachers at his school, conversations with relatives, and various "firsts" as an adolescent. The news of the day—the bombings, kidnappings, and murders of Catholics and Protestants—influenced the everyday routine under his protective mother. Desperate to keep her family safe, she refuses him any independence: "The answer is no, and that's that." With her son on the brink of total rebellion, she relents and Broderick matures from the mischievous, curious altar boy into a teenager with everything to prove and nothing to lose. Somehow, Broderick keeps the reader on the edge of laughter through many otherwise horrifying experiences and bad choices. He is a storyteller of great depth, sharing his life with the kind of brutal honesty and narrative skill rarely expected or found in a memoirist. Broderick is a writer's writer who has achieved a profound telling of his experience of Northern Ireland's Troubles. (May)
From the Publisher
Praise for That's That

"Colin Broderick is in the front rank of Irish storytellers. In this memoir he walks us through Irish history and mythology, explores fallacies, tells us of savagery and humor, all in simple but colorful language. I exhort you to read That's That and obviously that is that."
—Malachy McCourt  

"That’s That is Broderick’s apotheosis. It’s the hard won testament he brought back from his broken past. It turned out that it was love and not war that shaped him, but it can take half a lifetime to figure that out if the world you grew up in was daily rocked by bombs and barbarism. In That’s That Broderick does something that takes remarkable courage, he tells the truth. It’s the ultimate revolutionary act. It isn’t his parent’s truth or his community’s truth. It’s his own, and it’s unassailable."
—Cahir O'Doherty, Irish Voice

“A Northern Irish gutbucket version of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Colin Broderick writes with clarity and heart about a time of moral ambiguity, when war and repression were daily facts of life.”
T. J. English, author of The Savage City and Paddy Whacked
“Broderick renders the conflict in the North of Ireland with an intimacy and honesty at once brutal, poignant, and unforgettable. Somehow, amid a landscape of ancient hatreds and unblinking cruelties, he manages to unearth the possibilities of hope and redemption. He is writer of extraordinary talent.” 
Peter Quinn, author of Looking for Jimmy and Hour of the Cat

"What poverty is to ANGELA'S ASHES political turmoil is to THAT'S THAT, Colin Broderick's stirring coming-of-age memoir of growing up Catholic in the North during the so-called Troubles.  Written with verve and raw honesty, the book is both a captivating saga of personal discovery and the  eye-opening story of how one boy experienced this shocking chapter in Irish history." 
Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate

Kirkus Reviews
Growing up Catholic in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Although he was born in England, Broderick (Orangutan, 2009) spent his formative years in Northern Ireland, where battles between the British Army and the Irish Republican Army echoed the more general strife of Protestant loyalists and anti-crown Catholics. Broderick's father was a hardworking Irishman who kept the family in fairly comfortable lower-middle-class circumstances, while his mother was a stereotypically strict Catholic matriarch. Although Broderick intersperses snippets of nightly newscasts detailing the latest atrocities committed in the name of either Protestantism or Catholicism, this ongoing war rarely touched his immediate family directly, apart from the occasional harassment by British soldiers at border checkpoints. Most of the memoir offers more typical material about a kid discovering drink, sex and drugs in the way most adolescents do. Nevertheless, Broderick developed a deep hatred for the British and Protestant loyalists, falling into the cycle of blind prejudice that had been getting people of both faiths senselessly killed for years. Broderick's anti-English fervor and Irish patriotism are believable enough at first. But when he casually describes turning 18 and heading to London to work in construction, it's hard to understand why he didn't see living and working in England as compromising his principles. Once in London, he obtained a fake birth certificate and signed up for the dole; the highlight of his stay was hitting on the girlfriend of a dangerous gang bigwig and getting roughed up, which sent him back to Ireland fearing for his life. Broderick's rite-of-passage rebelliousness hardly inspires the sympathy evoked by Brendan Behan's prison autobiography, Borstal Boy (1958) or Frank McCourt's account of his hard-knock life, Angela's Ashes (1996). Surprisingly dreary, given the turbulent backdrop, Orangutan, Broderick's scathing memoir of alcoholism, had more drama.

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Read an Excerpt

Mother. Ireland.

Seen from the window of a plane Ireland is a patchwork quilt, little square fields of green stitched together by thin rows of thorns; spring green, fern green, forest green, pine, sea and shamrock green. From above, she is clean, mystical, magical to behold. That is her first great act of deceit, her lush, rolling beauty the first betrayal of her truth, for on the ground, and deeper still, buried beneath that verdant lawn is her pain; underneath, there is blood.

I assume you’ve heard bits and pieces of the history of Ireland already, some of the landmark atrocities that have made international news over the years, or perhaps you’ve heard snippets grumbled over small glasses of amber in the dim light of a smoky tavern in the Bronx, stories of the long and bitter hatred between the English and the Irish, of heroic young men in balaclavas, petrol bombs being hurled into the dark night, monuments of flame on the claustrophobic streets of Belfast, the ghosts of skeletal boys, naked and excrement-smeared, starving themselves to death in the cold cells of the H-Block. And if you did receive your Irish history lesson in a bar from some furtive creature with a brogue, then as the night wore on, you surely heard about his mother also, for every drink poured in an Irish bar leads back to the mother. As you may well know, there is no mother like the Irish mother, and there is no love more wounded and fierce than the love between an Irish mother and her son.

In honor of that age-old tradition I, too, will start with the history. (The mother I will get to in just a little bit.)

In about 6000 BC the first humans arrived in Ireland. They stayed close to the shores, hunting and fishing for their food. Two thousand years later they had evolved into farmers; they grew crops and kept sheep, pigs, and cattle.

Around 500 BC the Celts arrived in Ireland and took to running the show. They were a wild bunch, prone to battles and orgies of food, drink, dancing, and much lovemaking. Their spiritual guides were Druids, and polygamy was embraced if you could afford it; many could. The Celts divided Ireland up into many kingdoms and worshiped many gods, and the craic was high and mighty, for a while.

Things went along like that without much of a hiccup until an English lad called Patrick came along. He had been kidnapped and held as a slave for a few years by the Celts and he returned in the year 430 AD for retribution. He began telling the Celts that their lifestyle was evil and that the real God, the one true God up in heaven, would punish them for their debauched ways and sentence them to a place called hell. There they would burn in a molten lava–­type substance for eternity once they died. Patrick had the gift of the gab, as they say. Many listened. Christianity had arrived.

Six hundred years later, in 1155, once the Irish had been corralled into a more malleable state with a good dose of Christian shame, humiliation, and fear, Pope Adrian came along, the first and only Englishman ever to hold the papacy. He gave the entire island of Ireland to the king of England, King Henry II. Henry, in turn, bequeathed unto his son John the new moniker Lord of Ireland, and John was welcome to hang on to his new title just as long as he kept paying Adrian and the Vatican an annual fee for the honor of retaining sole slavery rights of the Irish people. It was a sweet deal, and John was just about as happy as a clam at high tide to throw the boys over at the Vatican their yearly bone.

In 1536, Henry VIII had himself anointed the king of Ireland by the Irish Parliament, which was comprised at the time of a bunch of his English buddies. Henry VIII decreed that all the Irish chieftains must Anglicize their names and that all of the English landowners, who had arrived in Ireland claiming all the best land up and down the country for themselves, must now clear their estates of native Irish workers. Of course, this was impossible because the landowners needed to keep the Irish on as slaves to work the land, but the threat of banishment for even the slightest misstep was a wonderful little tool to keep the Irish workers on their toes, and productivity soared.

As you can imagine, by this point the Irish natives were getting a little restless. In 1641 there was a rebellion in the northern part of the country known as Ulster, and twelve thousand Irish were slaughtered for their effort. But they had stirred a nest of bees. Others throughout the country had been awakened to the possibility of defeating the English and ending the horror of living as slaves. England got wind of the whispers and they sent Oliver Cromwell and his army across the Channel to put an end to any buzzing.

In 1649, when Cromwell first arrived in the town of Drogheda, he decided to make a name for himself right away. He slaughtered 2,600 people—the entire population of the town: “I am persuaded that this is the righteous judgment of God upon those barbarous wretches,” he said famously, before rolling on down to Wexford and repeating this act.

Over the next ten years, the population of the Irish natives was halved by sword, starvation, and disease. More than 600,000 were killed or died. Another 100,000 were shipped off into slavery in the West Indies. The handful of Irish Catholics still standing were denied voting rights and access to education, and all of their foodstuffs were confiscated and shipped off to England. Then to put the icing on the cake, all land belonging to Irish Catholics was confiscated and given to English Protestants, and that was that.

Thirty years later, there was so much wealth to be gained from the plunder of Ireland’s dairy, meat, and grain products that the English started scuffling among themselves for ownership rights. King James II, who had been deposed from the English throne after producing a Catholic heir, made an attempt to win Ireland back for himself from the hands of the new English king, his successor, William of Orange. James had the support of many Irish who believed he would put an end to discriminatory English penal laws (basically a set of English laws that forbade civil rights and housing to anyone accused of being a practicing Catholic) and restore Irish sovereignty once and for all. In July 1690, the two armies met outside Drogheda for the Battle of the Boyne and later in Limerick to give it a lash. William of Orange was victorious. Even today the Protestants of Northern Ireland, “Orangemen,” celebrate the victory by erecting enormous bonfires and burning the Irish national flag, just to rub Catholic noses in it every year on July 12.

Things were quiet for a period after that thrashing, but in secret the Irish were regaining their strength and getting ready to take another crack at the throne. In the rebellion of 1798 another 30,000 Catholic Irish were slaughtered in an uprising. The great Irish republican hero Mr. Wolfe Tone attempted a landing with a fleet of French ships and 14,000 French troops ready to join the fray against the English, but they encountered such gale-force storms off the coast of Bantry Bay, County Cork, that they eventually had to turn back. The uprising was quelled. The English eventually caught Mr. Wolfe Tone on another one of his missions up at Buncrana on Lough Swilly, County Donegal. He was imprisoned and upon being denied his request that he be given the death of a soldier by being shot (they sentenced him to be hanged), he cut his own throat in his cell and bled to death rather than suffer the humiliation.

A few years later, inspired by Tone, Robert Emmet also led a small group in an uprising in Dublin but he was caught, hanged, then drawn and quartered.

Daniel O’Connell was the next to take the baton in hand and run with it. After a few chaotic years, he managed to rally enough public support to force the English into granting the Irish the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829, which meant that we were now bestowed a few basic human rights, such as the right to run for public office and own a little land. A small light of hope glimmered for the first time since Saint Patrick had showed up in town almost fifteen hundred years earlier spouting his great divine vision for the Irish soul.

But the candle was soon extinguished when the potato crop failed a little more than a decade later in 1845, then again in 1846. By 1847 the island of Ireland was engulfed in the darkest period of her history to date. The potato was about the only food the English had left the slaves access to, and suddenly it was gone. Not that there weren’t enough foodstuffs being produced in Ireland to keep the population alive. On the contrary, there was an abundance of wheat, meat, and dairy products available, but the English chose to ship those foodstuffs off to the homeland for themselves.

In fairness, the English were not entirely barbaric throughout the period of the potato-crop failure. They did set up soup kitchens around the country where, for the small price of renouncing your Catholic faith and in doing so aligning yourself with the throne, you were granted a small portion of cabbage water. A few poor souls did accept the devil’s bargain rather than watch their children die of starvation and were branded forever after as “Soupers.” To renounce your faith and accept the English soup meant that you had turned your back on your fellow countrymen and joined hands with those responsible for the genocide.

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