Where Are You Really From?

Where Are You Really From?

Culture Northern Ireland

Joanne Savage

Race, republicanism and a mothers love in Tim Brannigan’s memoir

Peggy Brannigan met Michael Ekue at a dance in Belfast in 1965. She was from Beechmount; he was a medic from Ghana. Their eyes met, they danced and sparks flew. She was gorgeous and vivacious and republican. He was well groomed, educated and, exotically for Belfast in the 1960s, black. Both were married but swept away by each other. It was a passionate affair and the result was Tim.

His skin colour meant Peggy Brannigan had to go to extraordinary lengths to placate her husband and stave off the judgement of her devoutly Catholic neighbourhood. A black baby would have sent the busybodies fingering their rosary beads behind the net curtains into overdrive.

The little boy was smuggled from the hospital to St Joseph’s Baby Home. Peggy told everyone it had been a stillbirth. When the dust settled she began to visit her son in St Joseph’s, soon bringing him home on weekends. Eventually she would adopt him.

Meanwhile, Doctor Ekue did what so many philandering married men do. He stuck his head in the sand and carried on as usual, never contributing to his son’s education or upkeep. He returned to Ghana and left Peggy to do the rest.

Being black in the almost totally white working class area of Beechmount in the heart of west Belfast (an area this writer knows all too well), Tim obviously stood out. Narrow-minded people made stupid remarks, including the British soldiers lining the streets. Some classmates were unkind and Tim was increasingly aware that he was different from his four brothers. As he grew up he became embroiled in the republican struggle, despite backward men in bars insisting that it wasn’t his struggle or that, being black, he somehow couldn’t count as republican…

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