How did you fall in love with Ireland?
I do not know. From the name, from the photos I’ve seen, from the idea of Ireland being more Celtic than Brittany, devastated by the 1960s continental drift. “To start living is to go west,” I can’t remember which author.
You’ve lived there several times, what drew you to it to inspire the six books?
I first went hitchhiking in 1971, when I was in my twenties. It was a very poor country at the time, the roads were bumpy and everything was difficult to access. But I fell in love with the beauty and diversity of the scenery, the wonderful wide open spaces, the pubs and the Irish. I met some great people there. I loved the tragic and complex history of this colonized country in the Middle East, which goes back to the 16th century and the reign of Elizabeth I. Indeed, I was deeply impressed by Ireland’s talent in literature and music.
Explain to us this title “Ireland’s Borders”.
Since the Treaty of London in 1921, the island has been torn apart by a unilateral border separating Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland to the south. Apart from a short trip in 1998, for various reasons, I had not explored Northern Ireland during my previous stay. My project with this book, written for most of 2018 at the time of Brexit and its questions, raised the future of the divide, eventually crossing this Northern Irish border, from Cork in the far south, to the Giant’s Causeway in the far north. Along the way, I learned that the entire island is not just a border, but a religious, cultural, generational, economic, and historical one that is in the process of leapfrogging.
Since your first trip in 1971, has your view of the country changed?
Yes, my first books were somewhat indulgent about Ireland. Today I have less fun and my work is more realistic. I don’t hesitate to point out the bigotry, the grip of Catholicism, the wild urbanization that disfigured the coast, the trade of the Irish, who had nothing to envy to the Americans, and the shadowy parts. The skeletons of 800 infants and children were found at the Catholic monastery in Thuma. But this island has also changed a lot.
Are all the testimonies of the Irish people you meet true?
My wanderings from south to north were punctuated by encounters in markets, pubs, shop fronts or among locals. In this book, I wanted to combine reporting with literature. So I enriched my notes, took liberties, changed names, shortened testimonies. But all the background is true.
Are you still planning to settle in Ireland one day?
I haven’t given up on the idea of ending my days there with a pint of Guinness in my hand. Despite the changes, Ireland remains Ireland. It suited my melancholy, lonely, and hard nature better than France today. What we call progress, modernism, lack of reflection, consumption at any cost, perpetual festivity, and now vociferousness evoke more! Today conservatism is progress.
Bernard Berro will be at the Bigoudon Book Fair at Triskell in Pont-l’Abbe on Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th November. On Saturday, December 3, from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm and from 2 pm to 6 pm, he will be signing “Frontières d’Irlande” at the bookstore L’air de Broca in Pont-l’Abbe.
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