I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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A Brief Dream

David McConnell
The Star Man: The True Story of Willie Kean, Journalist and Rebel. A Novel, by Conor O’Clery, Somerville Press, 320 pp, €18, ISBN: 978-0992736460 Conor O’Clery is the well known former Irish Times journalist who reported from the North, from London, from New York and Moscow, sending what Terence Brown called “magisterial reports” back to Dublin. Many of us heard his eye witness broadcasts on 9/11. Author of at least eleven books, including a biography of Chuck Feeney, he now turns his hand to a novel. But this is more than a novel; it is a way of learning about one great Irish tradition, that of the radical northern Presbyterians who in the late eighteenth century fought for equal status for all the people of Ireland. It is the story of a people who participated in great events that shaped the modern world. They were intimately connected with the American Revolution (1776), some joined the Irish Volunteers (1778), some celebrated the French Revolution (1789), some founded the United Irishmen (1791) and took part in the rising of 1798. These events spanning nearly thirty years and reflected the ideas of the Enlightenment. What happened in Ireland affected the fate of Britain, America and France, and therefore the wider world. Most of this tradition is not well enough known today. The novel is based on outlines of the life of a real person, Willie Kean, who was taught by the Rev William Bruce at what was to become the Belfast Royal Academy. Records show Kean there and at a number of other places during these years; O’Clery imagines him at many of the key events in the North and some in Dublin in the lead-up to 1798. Records show him taking part in 1798. His life is woven into the story of the newspaper The Northern Star, where he works after being expelled by Bruce. This was the newspaper of the United Irishmen. He is imagined to have been in love with Betsy Gray, often referred to as the Joan of Arc of the North. Kean becomes the trusted ally of Sam Neilson, the editor of Star and a founder of the United Irishmen. Kean joins the United Irishmen, rising to a position of some prominence, and becoming the aide to General Munro at the Battle of Ballynahinch. So the novel draws on the real lives of Presbyterians of Belfast, Antrim and Down and their allies who were to…

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