A grand uncle of mine was killed three hours after WW1 ended. He died in an accident on a RAF airfield in France.
I came across that fact by accident. I had been researching my family tree and working through the Irish census data from the start of the twentieth century, as you do.
One thing led to another as I chased up who was this character I have never heard of. I eventually tracked him through the war graves website and there he was buried in a war cemetry in France.
I was left wondering why he left Waterford at the start of WW1, how he got into the RAF and became an engineer. He left a wife behind him.
The more research I did the more I discovered how many men from Waterford left the country to fight in wars, to sail ships and to colonise remote and dangerous parts of the world.
Having so many ships from all over the world putting into the port of Waterford made sailing away an obvious choice for anyone wanting to better themselves.
The idea behind my book, Snuff O’Brien’s Private War, grew from this unlikely collection of facts. In the book I imagined a group of twelve young men leaving to fight in the Spanish Civil War.
The real story grew from that point and took on a life of its own as I worked out what would have happened to them on their return home. Some of those Waterford men who went abroad did return, unlike my grand uncle.
I made the main character struggle to adjust to life at home even though he was determined to lead a life of peace. I made it more difficult for him when he lost a leg in the conflict. How would he be treated on his return? Not too well it seems from reading the history of the times.
The year was 1939. At that time in Ireland, politicians were frightened by the threat of returning experienced fighters being recruited to political causes that could destroy the young Irish State.
The Catholic Church was a power in the country and treated those who had fought against Franco in Spain as enemies of the Church.
The government and the Church were ready to take action against anyone that threatened their power.
The book grew from those unconnected ideas and took on a relevance to today that still surprises me.