Arts

Next stop publication: Conor puts heirloom into print

Cahal Bradley's novel Next Stop Heaven has been an unpublished `family heirloom' for 80 years and now the Ardoyne nationalist politician and businessman's grandson has finally got the book printed. Conor Bradley talks to Brian Campbell.

Belfast man Conor Bradley has published his grandfather Cahal's 1930s book Next Stop Heaven. Picture by Mal McCann

CAHAL Bradley published two books in the 1930s: Parishes of Ireland and his poetry collection Songs of a Commercial Traveller.

But a third book has now been published for the first time, after an 80-year wait. Cahal’s grandson Conor, who – as his granddad did – lives in Ardoyne in Belfast, explains how the novel went from being a family heirloom (`the big red book’) to finally making it into print.

“We think Cahal wrote Next Stop Heaven in 1935 and then just put it away. It was given to my dad when Cahal died in 1957. My dad said to me, `This is yours now. Make sure you get it published.’ I read it and thought it was amazing. It makes you laugh and cry. I had always taken a real interest in Cahal, so that’s why my dad gave it to me."

Conor was intrigued by his grandfather’s life and found out he was a businessman and a significant politician.

Born in 1886, Cahal (also known as Cahal O’Brallaghan) became a fluent Irish speaker and was a fierce anti-partitionist. He was a member of Sinn Féin and had links to the IRA and the Irish Republican Brotherhood and knew high-profile figures including Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera.

“I interviewed my dad about it all,” says Conor. “He told me about the links to Michael Collins and how De Valera was actually at the family house in Herbert Street for meetings.”

Cahal moved to Derry in 1919. He had four sons with his wife Mary and became the first nationalist deputy lord mayor in the city council after partition.

“The first thing Cahal did at the council in Derry was to take the Union Jack down – history is repeating itself now – and then the Derry riots were sparked,” says his grandson. “Cahal asked Michael Collins for help in Derry and Collins sent up sharp-shooters.”

He says Cahal and a delegation of nationalist politicians had met De Valera in Dublin to campaign for Derry to be part of the Republic in the event of partition.

Next Stop Heaven is set in Ardoyne and centres on a group of families and mill workers in the late 19th century in a time of political and economic struggle.

It takes in the hardship and ill-health suffered by the working-class people at the time – with children as young as 11 working in mills – but also highlights the sense of close community, solidarity and strong faith among the characters.

The title comes from the house of one character, Johnny Connor, being so far up Black Mountain that people jokingly called it 'Next Stop Heaven’.

The central love story of Ned and Sheila is based on Cahal Bradley’s own parents, according to Conor.

“In the book the family is evicted from Donegal and settles in Ardoyne and that’s what happened with Cahal’s parents. It’s funny because a lot things in the book actually reminded me of my own dad – ghost stories and stories about fairies that my dad told us too and about how they would go up the mountain.

“I think people from Ardoyne will love the book, because it’s living history.”

Conor has been researching his grandfather’s story intensively since his father Charlie passed away five years ago – contacting historians, genealogists, the public records office and the archive of The Irish News, for which Cahal used to write.

He had planned to publish the book last year but is glad he took his time.

“I keep finding out new things. I stumbled across the fact that he was involved in starting up the Ardoyne Kickhams Gaelic club; the first meeting was held in his house in Leopold Street.

“I went into the club and they were having a meeting and I asked about Cahal and one of the guys, who was about 80, had actually met him.

“I asked him to put everything he knew in writing. He said he remembered seeing my granddad outside the Holy Cross church and that he was always immaculately dressed. His dad told him that Cahal was the first Catholic deputy lord mayor of Derry and was `a man of strong character’.”

After Cahal’s stint in Derry, he moved back to Ardoyne in 1926 and took over the family grocery store business. He was elected as a member of the Anti-Partition League to the Senate at Stormont from 1951 until his death in 1957.

Conor says he wants to start a campaign to have a blue plaque erected in Belfast in honour of his grandfather.

So how would he like him to be remembered? “He was a great politician and a great businessman. I got to read transcripts of his speeches from Stormont in the 1950s and he was really funny. Hopefully putting this book out will make people know more about him. But I still want to find out more.”

:: For more information on Next Stop Heaven and where to buy it, visit Facebook.com/nextstopheaven1930. The book will be launched at 3pm on Saturday at the Ardoyne Kickhams GAA club.

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