Growing up and being different
Tim Brannigan. (Picture source: http://www.irishnews.com/news/2016/04/16/news/belfast-man-s-life-story-to-be-made-into-movie-by-oscar-winner-487959/)
To grow is never easy. During your childhood there is so much that happens, you start to learn, you create bonds, you connect and you find out who you are.
Add being different to it, and the mix you get is a rough childhood.
Tim Brannigan grew up being the only black person in his family, and it wasn't easy. He didn't know who he was, and thought for a long time that he was adopted. But Tim Brannigan wasn't just treated different outside in the society, he was also treated different inside his household. His mother treated him differently.
Tim Brannigan's mother was involved with the IRA, she supported them. And Branningan says that he can remember them having training sessions at his house. This can be one of the reasons why he got involved with the IRA, Irish Republican Army, and got 7 years for it later on.
We asked Tim some questions, which he was kind enough to reply to.
Question: Do you think you would have joined the IRA if your mom wasn't involved in the IRA?
Answer: My mum was a supporter of the republican struggle and the IRA but not a member. She let them use our home for meetings and to store weapons. She also attended rallies and protests. I was very close to her so grew up steeped in the republican tradition. I joined a republican youth group during the 1981 hunger strikes in which 10 republicans died in a prison protest. This led to me joining Sinn Fein (the IRA's political wing) to do political work during elections and so on. My mum was very influential but I studied politics and was always a socialist and an activist. My involvement in later years was done without my mum's knowledge, to be honest. Getting actively involved meant sacrificing other aspects of my life and my mum, like most parents was torn between supporting the cause and wanting me to make the most of life's opportunities. She certainly didn't expect or want to see me in jail.
Question: What was the most important reason for going to prison and do you think it was worth it?
Answer: Was it worth it? Well, at the time it seemed right but now, with the benefit of hindsight I see former comrades now supporting austerity politics and policies such as cuts to corporation tax which will benefit big companies. Republican politicians including Gerry Adams now support many things they fought against. Privatization, cuts to education and pay freezes for public sector workers. In March Gerry Adams went to the Whitehouse for a party hosted by Trump. And, of course, they meet the Queen. I cannot support these things. I now realize many of my comrades are nationalists, not socialists. I'm a socialist. To be honest, I don't know if it was worth it. Let me put it this way, I don't think the IRA won. And republicans have done many things in power that they promised they would not do. A bit like Syria in Greece.
Question: What do you hope your book will achieve? Why did you decide to write it?
Answer: My book has been out for 7 years. It has been a great success. I have had about 8 movie offers and I sold the rights last June to a producer who has already won an Oscar for one of his other films (Birdman). Other people want to stage it as a play.
I wanted to tell the world what an amazing woman my mum was and how she was so determined to show a mother's love for her child. I also wanted to explain the struggle from my unique perspective and I wanted to make the IRA seem human and not just "terrorists" or "murderers". The jail chapters were very important to me as it was an amazing experience.
I actually decided to write it because I went to Africa to try and find my father. I was accompanied on that trip by a BBC producer who was making a radio documentary. I had to do some research and decided that, as I was a journalist I should write it all down and it might be of interest to people in Belfast but I have had astonishing reactions from people all around the world. People like you, students and academics, people interested in Ireland, people who were adopted and want to find their real parents and black people surprised that there was a black person living in such a white country. Many women love my mum's strength and bravery. Many republicans love it to.
It deals with big, universal themes. A mother's love, conflict, death struggle, oppression, a search for a father and the historic conflict with Britain. It's a book about identity, too. Religious identity, national identity, racial identity. The title is the question I have been asked all my life by Irish people. The word "really" is crucial. It's a challenge to me. Anyone who asks is basically saying, "You are black so you must be from somewhere other than Ireland. When I say i was born here, they say "Yeah but where are you *really* from?" It means they don't believe Irish people can be black. Sometimes the question is aggressive, sometimes it is just human curiosity but identity has been central to my life. And I've learned that identity and what we believe about ourselves is fixed but really, identity is fluid and it depends on situations. At times I have stressed my irishness because I wanted to fit in. But now, my blackness is the big issue for me.
When you grow up it's easy to forget that what you do know forms you as a person. Choices you take, or you parents take on you behalf, can effect you in the future. Choices who Tim has taken has led him to where he is today, whether it was getting into prison or it was becoming a author of the book Where are you really from. Which is up for maybe becoming a movie.
Choices takes us different places, good or bad.
When you grow up you face different choices all the time, I do, you do, Tim Brannigan do.
We all do.