"Build That Wall!" - What Do You Think When You Hear That Phrase?


When most Americans hear the chant—“Build That Wall!”—they associate it with the proposed wall along the 2000-mile border between Mexico and the United States. But I think of the 300-mile border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, and what could happen along that border, as a result of the United Kingdom’s proposed “Brexit” (withdrawal) from the European Union. The Irish border walls came tumbling down as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, when a cease-fire to “The Troubles” was established. But Brexit could cause the walls to go back up and violence to return.

I think about that border over there, first of all, because I’m Irish on my mother’s side and Scotch-Irish on my father’s side. That is, my mother’s Catholic McDade family came from what is now the Irish Republic; and my father’s Protestant Nicholl family came from what is now Northern Ireland. And secondly, I think about it because Volume 5 of my Once Upon a Time in the Texas Panhandle series—a romance novel entitled, Colleen and the Statue—has as its main female character an Irish teenager who has immigrated to Texas, in great part, as a political refugee, leaving her homeland to get away from “ethno-nationalist” violence.

Colleen’s story embodies what my mother and my father told me about why their respective families left the” Old Country.” Both families left the Irish Isle to get away from the centuries-old bloody conflict between Catholics and Protestants, which was thought to be finally settled in recent years, but could now resume as a result of Brexit.

The McDade family members were “Potato Famine” refugees, who left the southern part of the Irish Isle in the 1870s so that they wouldn’t starve. The Nicholl family members left the northern part during that same time because they were caught in the middle of constant guerilla warfare between Catholic rebels and British soldiers. My invented character—Colleen—comes from a mixed family—Irish, Scotch-Irish, and English—and her parents counsel her to leave to keep from having to choose sides.

Colleen arrives in the Texas Panhandle in the mid-1950s and discovers that she has landed in the middle of another centuries-old dispute, in this case between the white Southerner ruling class on the one side and the segregated African Americans on the other. In Dublin, it is the statue of English King William III that symbolizes the conflict in Ireland, while in Mackenzie, it is the statue of Confederate Sgt. Nicholas Ruff that symbolizes the seemingly intractable racial division of society in the states of the Old South—including Texas.

My novel—Colleen and the Statue—tells how a young Irish girl attempts to bring the two American sides together. Her story is a romance and a coming-of-age tale, but at the same time a political commentary. It purports to show how love can help overcome centuries-old hatreds. Colleen naively thinks that if the statue of Sgt. Ruff, C.S.A, which the Daughters of the Confederacy erected to honor the soldiers of the Southern army, could be removed from the City of Mackenzie’s Central Park, its removal would automatically bring people together. White folks and colored folks would then embrace and hold a joint picnic in that park to celebrate the end of hostilities.

Is Colleen right? Or is it just a fairy tale? Read Colleen’s story and decide for yourself.