Shane Connaughton Biography
Nationality: Northern Irish. Born: County Cavan, Northern Ireland. Career: Screenwriter, actor, and producer for both film and television, 1980s—.
A Border Station. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1989.
The Run of the Country. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1992.
My Left Foot (with Jim Sheridan), Boston, Faber andFaber, 1989; Miramax Films, 1989; The Playboys (with Kerry Crabbe), Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1992; O Mary This London, produced 1994; The Run of the Country, Columbia Pictures, 1995.
A Border Diary (nonfiction). London, Faber and Faber, 1995.
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Much of Shane Connaughton's writing is concerned with the notion of boundaries or borders, and interest in these artificial constructs is reflected in the titles of two of his works, A Border Station and A Border Diary. Considering that Connaughton was born and raised in the county of Cavan, bordering Northern Ireland, this is not surprising. His novel The Run of the Country is a semi-autobio-graphical tale of adolescence that takes Cavan as its setting. It is an Irish coming-of-age story with all the obvious episodes included, but Connaughton imbues these moments with an original flair and unexpected twists. At times, he adopts or plays with cliches common to Irish literature—most particularly those of the hard domineering father and the saintly suffering wife.
Following the death of his mother, the unnamed protagonist attempts to live with his authoritative and headstrong father, a police sergeant who patrols the volatile borderland between Protestant and Catholic counties. He may be an authority figure, but he also expresses much of the rage and frustration that is a product of this seemingly unresolvable political-religious situation. While their love for each other is evident, the absence of a tempering female presence makes their living together impossible. The protagonist moves in with his friend, Prunty, and his mother, and begins an apprenticeship in which he learns about women, nature, fighting, smuggling, and the political realities of contemporary Ireland.
But a bildungsroman is incomplete without a love story. The protagonist is soon enamored of Annagh Lee, a young woman who lives in Fermanagh, across the border. This forbidden and doomed love affair serves to highlight some of the political realities that govern the country. Class and religion are the wedges that drive these young people apart. The world of the novel is a troubled place, and Connaughton emphasizes the arbitrariness of the border and the ways in which it influences the construction of identity. Death is everywhere, and the constant reminders of its presence serve to underline the absurdity of drawing lines in the sand: "It appears we destroy. And so we do. But the country remains long after we're gone. The land swallows us in the end." Connaughton's writing captures the volatility and unpredictability of border life. And the metaphor of crossing borders is extended throughout the novel to include other kinds of crossing—developmental, emotional, moral.
Despite its occasional doses of humor, the novel remains a bleak one. Annagh is sent away after she suffers a miscarriage and Prunty dies a painful death, crushed under a tractor. It is only later that the protagonist learns of Prunty's involvement with the IRA and the novel ends with a condemnation of the political situation. Resignation runs deep in Connaughton's writing. For individuals who have known nothing but tense and troubling circumstances the prospect of peace seems nothing more than an impossible dream. As the protagonist prepares to leave at the end of the novel, his father observes, "As long as that Border's there fools' blood is all you'll get in this country. If they wanted peace they wouldn't put a border up, would they? A border is a wall. Misguided fools will always smash their heads against it." This sentiment runs throughout most of the author's writing.
Published prior to The Run of the Country, A Border Station is a companion piece offering a series of seven loosely connected stories that focus on selected moments in the life of the same protagonist as a young boy, and can be read as a composite novel. We find the same characters and many of the same concerns. The innocence of the boy is used to good effect to highlight questions that have gone unasked, situations that have, for too long, been taken for granted. The answers provided by the adults are not always entirely satisfying. The conflictual relationship with his father and the Oedipal attraction to his mother are emphasized to a greater degree than they are in The Run of the Country (one of the stories, "Out," deals with the protagonist's struggle to remain sleeping in his mother's bed). Each story, in fact, describes some form of conflict between father and son, with the mother often acting as an ineffectual intermediary. In fact, mother and son often weather the storm by conspiring together. The events described are often simple everyday ones, but they are momentous in the life of the boy. In "Beatrice," for example, he witnesses his seemingly infallible father intentionally cut down a better tree for firewood than the one his benefactor had indicated, out of resentment. Connaughton resists the cliches and finally paints a realistic portrait of the relationship between a hard father and a son who wants nothing more than to please.
Like one of his contemporaries, Patrick McCabe, Connaughton returns to the 1950s of his childhood and adolescence as the setting for much of his work. Special attention is paid to the wit of dialogue, the quick turn of phrase, the play and the punning of words. And he uses narrative shifts, moving from present to past and back again, filling in plot details as they are needed, but also reflecting his protagonist's thought patterns.
In terms of popularity, Connaughton is perhaps best known for his screenplays, which highlight his strengths—his love of set pieces, and his play with dialogue. These screenplays also use the same setting and include a number of the same characters, including the police sergeant father (in The Playboys). In My Left Foot (co-written with director Jim Sheridan), the story of Irish painter and writer Christy Brown, Connaughton revisits the theme of the overbearing father and suffering mother. Born into a poor Catholic family and stricken with cerebral palsy, Christy must struggle to accomplish the most rudimentary activities. His eventual success and fame are an example of the triumph of the will over the most adverse circumstances, both physical and familial.
A Border Diary, a compilation of notes Connaughton kept during the making of the film The Run of the Country, serves to illuminate some of the themes and situations addressed in the novel. While witnessing the filming in his hometown of Redhills, Connaughton is forced to contend with the disparities among his imagination, the reality of Redhills, and the further discrepant interpretations of the filmmakers. The director and the actors interpret his screenplay in ways that differ from the scenes playing in his head. The Ireland of his youth is no longer, and the antagonisms dividing the land have only deepened. His attempts at reconciling the differences and, at times, raging against them are a powerful metaphor of Ireland's continuing struggle with the past and conflicting visions of its identity.
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