Despite the torrential rain there was a large turn out to hear the two men tell how they came together to publish 20 stories from people across the island of Ireland who told of the ‘people, events and things’ that shaped their lives.
The MC for the evening, Garbhan Downey, publisher with the Derry-based Colmcille Press, stated in his introduction that the idea of asking people what shaped them was very simple yet, he observed, it had led to some very profound conversations. He commented: “Each of the chapters would be worth a book on its own. My own favourite piece - if I had to pick one - was the former education minister Mary O’Rourke’s. She is very modest and self-effacing. An Irish mammy to her core, no airs, no graces – funny and irreverent, dedicated and very sympathetic. And yet for all that there is such a great depth to her; if she’d been born 20 years later, I have no doubt she’d have been Taoiseach. In her case she was shaped by two strong and committed parents, who of course founded the Lenihan political dynasty - now in its third generation.”
Referring to former St Columb’s college student, Jim Sharkey’s contribution, Mr. Downey said it was his ‘courageous wife, Sattie’ who told Jim to take a leap of faith and give up his secure teaching job for a junior role in the Irish civil service. Jim, from the Lecky Road, subsequently became a diplomat and top ambassador for Ireland, serving in Australia, Scandinavia and Russia.
And of course, no book would be complete without Daniel O’Donnell who revealed he was on the road to accountancy, before the lure of the spotlight and his sister’s band came calling.
Mr. Downey went on: “There are twenty in all of these stories – one more intriguing than the next. Some are very poignant - Gregory Campbell giving up a grammar school place because his family were from the wrong side of the tracks.
“Many people’s lives were shaped by their families - but not always in the way you might think. London Mayor Vincent Keaveney, who was in Derry this week, became a barrister because his father’s career as a surgeon was too far full on at seven days a week.
“Roisin Duffy, like many Derry exiles, struggled with the austere and sectarian nature of Belfast in the early 1980s and was never happier when she got away again to Dublin.
“I also loved the late Professor Jim Dornan’s reason for never settling in the one job or a well-trodden career path. He recalls his teacher’s advice – ‘remember to pivot every ten years’ – i.e. get out of your comfort zone - and don’t do the same thing for the rest of your life.”
Garbhan Downey said the book’s co-author Pat McArt “became a real mentor to me, as a young journalist, in the late Troubles, and showed, both by advice and example, how to become a good editor - and a fair and honest writer - and defender of the public interest.”
In a ‘question and answer’ session that followed, co-author Jude Collins observed if there was one positive that came out of Covid it was that it gave people time to think and time to get involved in projects that they might not otherwise have had the time to do. “When, myself and Pat, approached our chosen subjects,” he stated “not one person turned us down. And what I loved was their honesty. No one tried to put a gloss on where they had messed up. And I think the book is all the more valuable because of that. Covid actually provided us with the time and space to do the book, and for many people to step back and reflect on their lives.”
Pat McArt, when asked what shaped his life, remarked that having a father who listened to at least four broadcast news bulletins every day, bought two daily papers on weekdays and three on a Sunday there was a likelihood such a news junkie would produce at least one child who would go into journalism.
What Shaped Me will be available in all bookshops locally from this week.