BOOK REVIEW – McKiernan has written “a compelling memoir”, says Aine Rynne. Published as the pandemic broke, it became a bestseller and could be the perfect gift for the community activist in your family!
When we see how a dramatic turn of events in the world can really shape things for us, it’s time to reflect. The timing of this book ‘Hitching for Hope’ – published during a global pandemic – has been unexpectedly fortuitous.
What we reflect on while reading this book is how the Irish population rallied together in many towns and cities up and down the country during a particularly brutal recession. McKiernan gives the reader space to explore human nature during tumultuous times. He digs deep and finds resilience and hope at a time when there was little of these. He very carefully and sensitively handles the timely need for community involvement by offering the shared common goal of getting through a difficult time through strength, humility and humanity.
What immediately grabs the reader in this compelling memoir is how Ruairí McKiernan makes no bones about his reason for embarking on a quest for hope in the midst of a crisis during a bruising recession in Ireland.
From the outside, it seemed like he had it all. He was in his early 30s, had achieved a lot of respect as a mental health advocate, having founded the young people’s charity SpunOut, and he was engaged to be married. But he was heading steadily for burn out and this was beginning to impact his outlook greatly.
Now based in Lahinch, Co. Clare, where he lives with his wife – singer and meditation teacher, Susan Quirke – McKiernan is much happier. Before the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown, he planned to hitch to the venues around the country where his book would be launched. But instead, he launched the book live on his Facebook page with senators Lynn Ruane and Frances Black along with musician Colm Mac Con Iomaire.
“Matters of hope, happiness and vision for Ireland weren’t going to be resolved through a brief solo hitching trip lacking in any great academic depth; that much was for sure. This was an amateur adventure, and I was fine with that,” he writes.
HE CHALLENGED HIS OWN CORE BELIEFS
The part of his journey which stood out the most was when he challenged himself and his core beliefs. This was particularly striking on his visit to Derry and his decision to attend an Orange parade. Having grown up just a few miles from the border, his sense of ‘The Troubles’ growing up in Cavan has a much more real and personal perspective than most of us have in the Republic.
“There is a desire for people to come together and celebrate their culture and heritage and it’s clear most people are just here for a good day out with the families. Ultimately, I know we’ve more in common than what sets us apart, something we need to remember as we build towards a better future for all on this beautiful island,” he writes.
McKiernan writes in a very accessible way, with an empowering humanitarian vision, referencing the need for community and for elders to be more central in their role of advocacy, especially for young people.
He notes: “Time after time I had seen the need for intergenerational connection – young people who needed guidance from elders and elders who could benefit from the ideas and energy of our youth.”
It felt at times that this concept of hope could be diluted by the overall themes of the book, which included some real gritty details and heavy topics about a country crippled to its core. However, with McKiernan’s honesty and vulnerability weaved into the narrative, this made hope a compelling hook for the reader to grasp and get on board with.
“(While) the sharp decline and the Irish government’s response evoked widespread anger, it also gave way to self reflection. People started to ask bigger questions about the vision we were working towards as a society, and as individuals,” he writes.
What this book does ultimately is take responsibility for how we react to societal issues and political upheaval. Do we allow this to continue to happen or do we stand up to those in power and find our voice in these decision-making processes? Mckiernan’s voice is one that allows these questions to penetrate and sift deep in the ultimate quest for a better world and a more equal role that we all should by right get to play.
‘Hitching for Hope’ is available in all bookshops nationwide and online. #BuyLocal
* Main photo by A. Meagher.