Origins



Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland



I saw Kenneth Branagh’s film ‘Belfast’ last night. Set in August 1969, the story follows a Protestant family whose lives are torn apart when sectarian violence flares up in their community. For years Protestants and Catholics have lived peacefully side by side in the same street. But one fateful afternoon, bigotry and hatred arrive in the form of the local Loyalist militia who are determined to carry out ethnic cleansing. One by one, the Catholic families on the street are either driven out or flee. British soldiers start arriving in Belfast. The barricades go up.

The film is great and I highly recommend it: powerful, moving, funny, and chilling in its portrayal of the dark forces that tore Northern Ireland apart.

I have a strong connection with Northern Ireland. My adoptive family, the Lintons, are of Northern Irish stock – Scottish Protestants, in fact, originally sent over to put the Catholics in their place (not something I’m proud of). But I am also connected by blood: my birth mother – who was originally from South Norwood – went to Northern Ireland in 1963, the year after my birth, and she never left, raising a family there. I was reunited with her in 1997. I flew to Belfast, in August 2010, for her funeral.

Before I got to know my birth mother, I had already visited Northern Ireland several times. One occasion was the long, hot summer of 1990, when I was on holiday with English friends in County Down. I had no idea then that my birth mother and my biological siblings were living close by.

For someone with such strong Celtic connections, I have no idea whether I actually have any Irish blood. Like my birth mother before me, I grew up in south east England, on the edge of Greater London. My birth surname, Coward, is an old Norman name meaning ‘cowherd’, which indicates that my ancestors were the workers and peasants who came over with the Norman Conquest. Whoever they were, I would rather be descended from working men and women than the ruling class who conquered Ireland and began 800 years of colonisation.

Many adoptees are fascinated by their origins and seek them out. I did. I love reading about other people’s origins and the quest motif is one of my favourite story tropes.

What is your family’s history? What are the cultural forces that have shaped you and your life? Even if this is not an area you write in, eg historical fiction or memoir or autobiography, there are many factors which shape us as people and as writers. What secrets lie in your family’s story? (Every family has them.) Those secrets can be redeemed. Mine were.

Our origins are often complex and dark, but they are also rich and fascinating. As Christian writers, we can celebrate that. We can also hold out the hope of our final destiny in Christ, who can redeem all histories and cultures – and our origins.

… he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will … For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 1: 4-5, 2: 10, NRSV



I am the administrator for the education and learning office of the United Reformed Church and a lay minister in the Church of England. I wrote a devotional for the anthology ‘Light for the Writer’s Soul’, published by Media Associates International, and my short story ‘Magnificat’ appears in the ACW Christmas Anthology ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’.

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