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THIS is my first read after a few weeks stay in Northern Ireland late last year (2005) written by an Irish-born singer and writer, Brian Kennedy. I borrowed it from a friend having convinced by him that it will give me a glimpse of the Irish culture, its people and the society as a whole.
AMAZINGLY, I got another copy of the book through bookcrossing (www.bookcrossing.com) which I released/left the book this month in Chicago OHare International Airport during my recent summer trip to the US. Bookcrossing is a free website service for people who want to share their favourite books to others around the world. Using the website, the book can be viewed using its designated BCID number: 042-4096335 released by the original owner last June 2006 in Belfast. I am the first holder of the book after it was released.
THE second released (in paperback) of the publication in 2005 (with 303 pages) has a catchy beautiful lay-out which initially set the location of the story - Belfast. It is released by Hodder Headline Ireland at 6.99 pounds (ISBN 0340 832304). A CIP catalogue record for the title is also available from the British library or visit www.hhireland.ie.
About the Author:
BRIAN was born in Belfast and currently one of the most popular artists not only in Ireland but also in the UK and Europe. Being a singer, he had released best-selling and awarded albums. The Arrival of Fergal Flynn is his first literary work, and he published its sequel, Roman Song in 2005. He also sung You raise me up during the funeral ceremony of the popular Irish footballer, George Best which was televised region wide.
AND recently, Brian represented Ireland in the annual event, Eurovision and finished in the top ten of the singing competition. I found out in a free magazine with limited circulation in Northern Ireland that he openly acknowledged that he is gay and he is not currently in a relationship at the moment. This month (July, 2006), he was conferred with a honorary degree of Doctors of Letters (Dlitt) by the University of Ulster in recognition of his distinction as a popular artist and for his exceptional contributions in the music industry during the graduation ceremony held in Waterfront Hall, Belfast. For his future concerts and events, visit his website at www.briankennedy.co.uk.
About the Story:
THIS is the story of Fergal - a 16-yr old fella, borne and raised in Belfast where Catholic and Protestant divides and domestic riots are going on those times. Unluckily he is not the apple of the eye of his God-fearing Catholic family, particularly his Da (father) and 3 brothers (twins and a younger brother). There is nothing abnormal (physically) about Fergal, except that he fantasizes boys in school and he does not play football. Unlike his popular athletic brothers especially the sport-obsessed twins having acquired the genes from their father (who played hurling before his unexpected marriage), Fergal is the exact opposite of the twins, being tall, slim, and a bit gangly. Because of the pressures (physically and emotionally) from a dysfunctional family, Fergal feels tired of doing households with his mother (without any help from his brothers) after she spends all day cooking and cleaning for other people in the town. He thinks everyone in the house that he is not doing anything right.
WHEN his Granny becomes too ill, his Mammy has to look after her as carer which brings additional burden to the family. With the new government scheme for caring elderly family member, the carer is provided with an allowance which gives additional income to the Flynns family. With his mothers decision, Fergal take the opportunity to look after his Granny and stays with her during his O-level year. He spends most of his time attending her daily needs, including the regular purchase of alcohol from the nearby store. This also brings the opportunity to know his ailing grandmother closely, including his late grandfather whom he got his name and lovely eyes. He found from his Granny that his late grandfather also loves to sing.
HIS singing talent was discovered by Fr Mac during his regular walks near their parish church. He harmonises with the sound of siren from the ambulance echoing in the area. Fr. Mac as a town priest befriended with Fergal and encouraged him to hone his talent. They became best of friends and it led to a forbidden relationship. With the persistence request and encouragement from Fr Mac, Fergal was convinced to have a regular rehearsal with him (not in bed) but with accompany of a piano. Consequently, he sings every Sunday mass celebration which somehow brought a significant impact to the church goers. With the help of Fr Mac, Fergal had the opportunity to prove his talent when Sligo Abbey (thru Bro Vincent, a monk) got him as a guest tenor in the recording of their songs. This paved the way for him to meet and to be tutored in Italy by a former Italian opera singer, Alfredo Moretti.
IN preparation for his travel abroad, Fergal faced several obstacles - giving him to doubt that Fr Macs hardworks will put in vain. The death of his grandmother, the attacked of his brother for not wearing the jacket (which made him fatherless), the approval of his parents (especially her mom, for signing the passport application form), and raising the money for his airfare (by having his first solo performance in the town) made the arrival of Fergal Flynn to Italy come true. On the other hand, it is also his ultimate battle to continually show his love and affection for Fr Mac while embracing the opportunities around him while in Italy through the generosity of his future mentor, Alfredo.
My Personal Reflection:
IN general, sexuality is a sensitive issue that every single family member has to face; unfortunately it is not being discussed openly with members, especially with parents. Being gay, lesbian, homo or queer is taboo during the past 20 years which brings this people into emotionally disturbed individuals - having the dilemma of being caught or tagged as faggots. With the massive worldwide campaigns for recognizing this segment of the society as normal individuals, fortunately nowadays homosexuality is being embrace not a disease, but rather a way of life - way back in the ancient times that men are having sex with other men. However, we can not argue that gays are in the limelight in the current spread of HIV and AIDS. With the present medical records show that gays are vulnerable for acquiring this virus that affects the immune system of the human body due to unprotected sex practices and drug usage.
THE author has illustrated the two faces of being gay. First, he recognises the difficulty of the person to be accepted by the society especially in a community where the influence of religion is very strong. Brian Kennedy also able to show the struggle and confusion of young children in the society if you are not playing football games or any sport, it shows that you are not a true fella. Somehow, with the association of Fergal to his mother and granny doing household chores (instead of playing with mates) show his femininity than his masculine character, which in general I believe is a contributory/influential factor for children to behave as girls. Secondly, the author has able to highlight the talents, strengths and potentials of Fergal despite his character. Gays or lesbians are normal people, the only difference with the rest of the populace is that they love to have sexual relationships with same sexes, away from the normal norm of the society that man is to woman and woman is to man. As normal homo sapiens they have feelings, emotions, hopes and ambitions in life. They can be competitive academically, socially, politically and physically (like in sports).
WELL, I think falling in love with the same number of XY chromosomes is not a crime which hinders (or threatens) the individuals to hope for the betterment of his family and himself. Every individual has different sexual preferences for everyones satisfaction, or rather to have a happy, better sex life - away from the rule accepted by the society.
The Book Highlights:
IT is a heart-breaking journey about coming into terms with our sexuality and to be accepted by the people whom we loved and cared. It also reminds us of the importance of believing on our own potentials - to be used for opening doors for opportunities around us. Being gay is not a disease - something that people will avoid or scares them or afraid of. It is something the society has to embrace it and deal with it open-mindedly. Believe it or not, most of the people who are popular, successful and rich are (rumored) to be gays! It is a timely novel that could be linked to the recent legal approval of homosexual marriage in the UK which brings controversies with the Roman Catholic Church. And also it brings attention worldwide to the disputes of parish priests and spiritual leaders of the community for their sexual harassments or relationships with kids, especially in schools operated by religious groups.
THE book is a well written literary genre, which vividly describes the place where the story happened - Belfast, Northern Ireland. Through the pages, it builds up the detailed physical description of the city, including the prominent landmarks that you will still find today. Some of the significant accounts of events presented in the book are proofs of what was the real situation/atmosphere during the towns riots, burnings and bombings in the early 80s in Belfast. The love of Irish people for drinking and football are also introduced in the story, but on the other hand, it also brings facts that the country has beautiful places to offer, not to mention its adorable good-looking men and women!
P.S. The sequel, Roman Song gives the continuing discoveries of Fergal, accepting himself for being gay and at the same believing, shaping himself to change his future through his talent in singing. It also brings exciting revelations for Fergal about his mentor, Alfredo and being instrumental to heal the wounds of Alfredos past.