Ariel takes the rocky road is a short novel by Paul Murphy. The story follows the journey of two young men from Belfast, Pierre, a trainee Catholic priest and Sammy, a young loyalist band leader. Paul describes the novella as:
"a 'coming of age' novella set on the road between Belfast and Dublin, in the summer of 1965. It is about crisis and responsibility, conscience and conformity but ultimately about being true to yourself."
Belfast born Paul Murphy is a well-known writer and musician based in Cotteridge in Birmingham, his creative, musical and literary works go back to the 1960s when he first arrived in England from his Ulster home, at that point on the cusp of the sectarian and political war which became known as 'the Troubles'.
The book title references the popular song Rocky road to Dublin written by D.K. Gavan, for the English music hall performer Harry Clifton (1824-1872). The song describes the many troubles and travails that a 19th century traveller encounters on this travels through the Irish countryside. Murphy's relatively more contemporary protagonists encounter their own troubles and travails as they hitchhike across the border from the unfairly divided north into the church dominated Republic. On a journey that is often intensely trying, physically, emotionally and spiritually, the two young men grapple with their own inner doubt, frustration, angst and contradiction as they encounter the highs and lows of this uniquely Irish rite of passage.
Paul summaries the plot:
"Sammy Wilson, a young loyalist band leader, isn't marching anymore. Folk music and CND have replaced his sectarian certainties and he's forced to run from home. While selling 'Sanity', he meets the enigmatic Sweeney, a trainee priest in crisis, hiding behind his alter-ego, Pierre Rascal, a fast tongued prankster. Inspired by the mysterious Ariel they travel across 'the border'. Sammy has never been to the Republic before. But it is the ill-defined border between Sweeney and Rascal that proves most contentious. After a night among the destitute and demented in the County Home, Rascal crash lands and Sammy finally understands his dark secret. Unburdened, Sweeney turns to face the future and Sammy's resolve is vindicated. 'I ain't marchin' anymore'."
This is a beautifully told and compelling story which, sometimes gently, sometimes shockingly but always powerfully interrogates and reveals the century-old dynamics of faith, politics and human psychology in the Ireland of 1965. Through captivating descriptive scenes and the gradually building relationship, Paul Murphy is honest, insightful and critically fair as he unpicks and unravels the traditions of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter on the island of Ireland.
A strong theological theme runs through the novella, as Pierre Rascal wrestles with the contradictions of his Catholic faith, whilst Sweeney attempts to rationalise the cultural traditions of his family's Orange conviction. Murphy's deep theological knowledge is evident though always relevant and meaningful for the reader. The book is refreshing in it's honest and fair approach, he is not judging, apologising or blaming, both men are victims and heroes of their respective traditions as well as the cultural and political dynamic which existed between them in 1965 and still exists to a large extent for young people in Ireland fifty years later.
A great read for anyone seeking a balanced and insightful perspective on the traditions of Irish culture and a beautifully descriptive and entertaining story.
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