Beyond the reach of the storm

In the Shelter: Finding Welcome in the Here and Now

by Pádraig Ó Tuama

(Hachette Books Ireland, €16.99)

This book is an outcome of living through the Northern troubles, for the author, Pádraig Ó Tuama, is the leader of the Corrymeela Community. He mingles his theological knowledge with poetic reflexions, bringing from the often elusive style of theological discourse the sharper and more penetrating insights of poetry. 

The theme of his new book is the need to accept where we are, in the here and the now of our own lives. Added to this however is an emphasis on the need for other people for a sense of community. As in the saying, used in his Windsor speech by President O’Higgins, “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na doaine” — “it is in the shelter of each other that people live”.  

He begins with the notion that to name a place requires us to be in a place. Now that is a difficult idea for Ireland. Many places have two or even three names, derived from different language and different eras by different folk. Is for instance An Uaimh the same place as Navan? Is Derry the same place as Londonderry? 

Here perhaps we have to realise that though standing on the same soil we are not all in “the same place” by any means. 

We have each of us a mental map of time and space that is unique. Even in our own immediate neighbourhood the streets and the houses the trees and parks and gardens have a different resonance, a different meaning for each one of us.

In the case of Northern Ireland the places of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, though they seem to occupy the same space, are very different. Our real need is to realise this, and to respect other people’s places, to realise that while sharing space we have different experiences, and so different lives.

This is a book, drawing on many sources of inspiration, which will give rise to thoughtful reflections in its readers. It is to be welcomed for its humane acceptance of the otherness of others. But this is a theme, as I suggest, which we have each of us to explore in our own way. But Pádraig Ó Tuama’s inspirational book will be for many a landmark on the way.