Honeysuckle and Custard Creams
‘That’s what you get for going around with Protestants, Sinéad Reilly’
I have a review today of a very special novel, one with a very authentic and personal feel to it.
Written by Deirdre Foley and ‘set in the early years of the Troubles, Honeysuckle and Custard Creams explores the enduring nature of familial ties, and the challenges of escaping a shared history in which shame and remorse are never far from the surface.’
Deirdre Foley was born in Co.Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Her words are just so poignant and gentle, making this a really touching book.
Please do read on for my thoughts…
About the Book
It’s 1978 and Sinead Reilly, a university student across the water, has mixed feelings about returning to Northern Ireland. Called home by her family, she must confront the past she thought she’d escaped. It’s a trip back in more ways than one.
We meet the ten-year-old Sinead who just wants to play with her friends and look out for her brothers and sisters, but she finds herself caught in an undercurrent of distrust and political unrest she doesn’t understand. Her parents, Mairead and Paddy, tell their sides of the story too, as they navigate the difficulties of raising a large family in an increasingly divided society.
A few months back I reviewed a book by Tony Doherty, entitled The Dead Beside Us, (Read review HERE). I was taken aback by his story and the level of remembered detail about his life as a youth in Northern Ireland. I am a child of the 70s, so I remember the stories of the horrors and traumatic events of those days, continued through the 80’s and beyond. But as I mentioned previously, it was all very far away for me. It was a world I only saw on television and it really had no impact on my childhood days. But for many other children my age, their memories of growing up will be very very different.
In Honeysuckle and Custard Creams, Deirdre Foley introduces us to Sinéad Reilly as she arrives off the plane into Aldergrove airport in Belfast. It’s 1978 and Sinéad is now a student in London, having left home, leaving her six siblings and parents behind. Sinéad is obviously concerned about this trip and we are soon taken back to 1968 when Sinéad was ten years-old and her world was about to change in unimaginable ways.
Mairéad and Paddy, Sinéad’s parents are hard-working folk but as the pressures of life mount up, things start to unravel a little for them. Mairéad is at home with seven children, while Paddy holds down two jobs. They are struggling financially but manage, as many others do too. Mairéad is very tightly-wound and the constant daily struggles are taking there toll on her. Mairéad is not happy and her constant mood swings are affecting the balance of the family, leading to, at times, a very strained and fractured home-life for the children.
Both Mairéad and Paddy get to tell their story, which gives a wonderful insight into their feelings and how they both see the cards dealt them so very differently. Sinéad recounts the life of the children, as they bicker and fight as siblings do. But the atmosphere is changing. The family live in a predominantly Catholic area and the Protestant families are moving on. For Sinéad, she is too young to understand the enormity of what is happening and her insight into the simple things and her frustrations, are in sharp contrast to that of her parents.
Honeysuckle and Custard Creams reads almost as a memoir. As a reader, I felt that Mairéad and Paddy, and Sinéad and her siblings were real people. The community that they lived in felt very real and authentic.
When the British forces move in, the local community are afraid. Teenage boys, being just that, boys, do not realise the seriousness of the situation and at times challenge the soldiers. The fear of the mothers and fathers is palpable, as we see through the eyes of Paddy and Mairéad. Neighbour mistrusts neighbour, as suspicion is rife. This community is about to face decades of hatred and fear, punishment and grief. On all sides, the body count will rise as ‘The Troubles’ continue for many years.
What Deirdre Foley has done is give us a brief glimpse into the life of one family coping as best they can in an environment that is very delicate and fragile. It is a beautiful and very touching account, seen primarily through the eyes of Sinéad, and is a very emotive and sensitively portrayed story.
Affecting. Reflective. Emotional.
Purchase Link ~ Honeysuckle and Custard Creams
Deirdre Foley was born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. She studied and worked in London as a welfare officer before moving to Athens, where she lived for many years teaching English and bringing up her two daughters. Now she is a writer and a gestalt psychotherapist.
She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and in 2014 she was shortlisted for the Fish Short Memoir Competition.
She flits between her two homelands, Ireland and Greece, and is working on a second novel.
Twitter ~ @DeirdreMMFoley