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Link to a review of Donall Mac Amhlaigh’s “Exiles”

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Mortal Sin

By J A O’Brien

There were not many times when I saw my Da really angry. I think the first time I can remember was when he had an argument with Uncle John.

John was a bachelor who lived with his brother Kevin and his wife and five children in the working-class suburb of Kimmage. He was a cautious and careful man who always tried to do the right thing by everybody.

Da reckoned he had this fixation about propriety because he had not gone out in 1916 to join the Rising. John and his brother William had both been members of the Irish Volunteers and on that fateful Easter Monday William had joined his company and marched off to be part of the Boland’s Mills garrison.

John had obeyed the countermanding order of Eoin MacNeill the chief of the Volunteers who opposed the Rising, and so had not joined his unit on that momentous day. For the rest of his life he had regretted his decision and it was to influence his attitude and his dealings with people for the rest of his days.

He had a friend, Dick Duggan, who had died owing close to five pounds to a local publican “Dribbler” Deasy, so called because he had an almost permanent dribble of spittle on the side of his moustache. When Uncle John learned that his old friend had died in debt to Deasy he went to the publican and paid out the five pounds ‘to clear his friends good name’ as he put it.

When Da heard about this he was furious and when Uncle John called to see us one Saturday afternoon, he remonstrated with him in no uncertain terms.

“Five pounds to the Dribbler,” he shouted. “What in the name of Jasus made you do that?”

“It was a matter of principle, Pat,” John said defensively.

“Principle,” Da roared. “What principles does a bloody publican hold? Just look at how they advertise for staff in the papers. ‘Must be strict TT and Non-TU’. Strictly teetotal and non-trade union,” he said contemptuously.

“But Pat, I could not have let Dick go to his grave in dishonour,” John said. “I had to allow for his redemption and clear his soul of his sin.”

“You are living with Kevin and Mary and five hungry kids. Five quid would put food on the table for a few weeks. You could have offered it up in your prayers for him, if that’s what worried you,” Da said, his tone softening just a little.

And that was when Uncle John overplayed his case. “But Pat,” he said piously. “The debt had to be paid as full restitution for his sin. If not, it would be a mortal sin on his soul.”

Da stood up I had never seen him so worked up. “Mortal sin,” he roared. “Mortal sin! Oh, Christ help this bloody country.”

He turned to Uncle John “Get out,” he said. “Get out of this house. I’ll tell you what mortal sin is. It is a mortal sin not to do a bloody publican.”

© J A O’Brien 2009.

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Make sure you get the current edition.

It seems that a search on the internet often shows incorrect information on Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner.

The current independently published edition was released as an ebook and print (POD) with Amazon in February 2019.

Details for the audio book, released in October, 2019 are listed on most retail sites as follows:

  Audible Audio book

 Listening Length: 4 hours and 26 minutes

 Program Type: Audio book

 Version: Unabridged

 Publisher: James A. O’Brien

 Narrator:  Gary Furlong

 Release Date: October 4, 2019  

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Where to buy the book.

Here is a list of the vendors where Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner may be purchased as an audiobook.

24symbols / Apple / Audible, Amazon / / AudiobooksNZ / Authors Direct / Beek / Chirp / Downpour / eStories / Google Play / hibooks / Hummingbird / Instaread / Kobo, Walmart / Libro.FM / Nextory / NOOK Audiobooks / Playster / Scribd / Storytel / 3Leaf Group / Baker & Taylor / Bibliotheca / EBSCO / Follett / hoopla / MLOL / Odilo / Overdrive / Perma-Bound / Wheelers

While I can’t provide links to every retailer where my title is available, here are a few where it is showing up now:


This blog will post regular updates from now to December 31, 2019.

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Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner

Now an audio book

 Capturing the cadences and frequent humour of Irish speech, this historically insightful and highly entertaining memoir Against the Wind by Irish-Australian writer James (Seamus) O’Brien is enhanced by Gary Furlong’s skilful narration.

Though “astute observation and character portrayal” are the strengths of the work. Naturally, it helps to have actors mediating the words on the page, giving them intention and physically embodying them. There’s no doubt actors add immense value to a writer’s words. In the right narration the words scintillate and perform and add to the listener’s enjoyment of them.

In this wonderful grab-bag of recollections O’Brien weaves together the many threads of history and his own life to produce an informed, often bizarre tale, that will interest many listeners and readers well beyond the globe’s enormous Irish diaspora.






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Update to Being Bookish website

Views of my blog at have now reached a total of 3545, with visitors from 89 countries.

In Australia, there are no more copies of Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner available from the distributor Dennis Jones and Associates. But a limited number of signed copies are available from the author; see details on the website.

In Ireland, there are still copies of the book available by contacting the Dublin agents Liam O’Briain or Alan O’Brien at who will be happy to meet your order.

Proceeds from sales will go to support an oral history project on one of Ireland’s oldest building unions the Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick and Stonelayers; established in 1670.

As well as this site other articles and stories I have written may be viewed by those who are interested on

Thanks to all who continue to visit and to share the site.

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Diary of a Dissenter

Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner

By J. A. O’Brien

Reviewed by Fergus Whelan

This is a memoir of a working-class writer, bricklayer, and member of the republican movement.  O’Brien grew up in the Dublin of the 1940s and 50s and worked intermittently in Britain before finally emigrating to Australia in 1968.

The book opens in 1941 with the author as a small child, his face pressed into his mother’s skirt, as a group of families stand on the steps of their south side Dublin tenement listening to the thud of Luftwaffe bombs dropping on the North Strand.  As the bombs fall, his father and uncle discuss what must have been a most controversial question for Irish democrats, socialists, and republicans of the era.  Should they support Ireland’s neutrality or should they join in the fight to defeat fascism?

The author was too young to understand it all.

O’Brien grew up in the south inner-city and went to St. Louis’ School in Rathmines in the period quaintly referred to as the “Emergency”.  His father was a bricklayer his mother worked in domestic service and he tells a colourful and sometimes heartrending tale of the difficulties faced by working class families just to survive.

He also tells of the bullying brutality of teachers.  The sadistic Mr Rafferty who would ‘crash his cane down on the desk’ to ‘hammer religion into them for their own good’ is a familiar figure to any Irish male born before 1972.  (Corporal punishment was abolished in 1982).

However, O’Brien was fortunate in his home life.  In particular, he was a lucky enough to be raised by strong, loving but, above all, independent and left-wing parents who were not afraid to think for themselves or stand up for their rights.

Leaving school, he became an apprentice bricklayer and there is a wonderful chapter on his initiation into the trade and into the union, called “Before the Green Cloth”. Like the author, this reviewer went before the ‘Green Cloth’ of the Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick and Stone layers in 1970, two years after O’Brien left for Australia. O’Brien’s account certainly resonated with this once-proud apprentice of the Ancient Guild.

O’Brien gives a vivid portrayal of the lot of skilled Dublin tradesmen in the 1950s as they crossed the Irish Sea seeking employment.  In England, he rubbed shoulders with socialists and Spanish Civil War veterans and he greatly admired the class consciousness of the English working class. After a visit to a Yorkshire coal mine, he pithily observed ‘I will never waste the smallest bit of coal again’.

Unlike most Southern Irish Republicans of his era, or perhaps any era, O’Brien took the time to visit Northern Ireland, going to see conditions there for himself in August 1954. His sympathy for the oppressed nationalist population in what he described as a ‘closed society’ is palpable.  However, he has an interesting exchange with his ‘Da’. “They are surrounded by hostile forces, where it is well known and asserted that it is ‘A Protestant government for a Protestant people.”

The elder O’Brien replied, “If they feel oppressed they should try living in a Catholic-dominated system like we have down here. The Prods were right about Home Rule being Rome Rule, that’s for sure.”

O’Brien joined Sinn Fein and the IRA in the late 1950s, towards the end of ‘Operation Harvest’ otherwise known as the Border campaign. At a time when the Irish Labour Party was afraid to describe itself as socialist for fear of the wrath of the Catholic Church, he tried to influence his comrades to move to the left. He found that most IRA members were good potential soldiers but not political animals. It is clear that O’Brien greatly admired Sean Garland, Tomas MacGiolla and Cathal Goulding who, would succeed in moving the Republican Movement in a direction O’Brien would have applauded.

O’Brien left Ireland in 1968 and moved to Australia to find regular employment. It appears his main reason for leaving was his rejection of a narrow-minded and bigoted society, writing that he ’found life in the stifling social and cultural conditions of Ireland hard to tolerate’.

The most pleasing thing about this readable, amusing and perceptive memoir is that O’Brien, who is clearly a scholar of literature, drama and history weaves his erudition seamlessly into his life-affirming tale of working class life.  In particular, his use of poetry and song is moving, never more so than when gathered with his fellow Dublin bricklayer republicans at the funeral of Sean South, he quotes Dominic Behan:

They told me how Connolly was shot in a chair

His wounds from the battle all bleeding and bare

His fine body twisted all battered and lame

That soon made me part of the Patriot game.

Fergus Whelan


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Award-winning Radio Play

One of the many events held during 2016 to honour those who took part in the Easter Rising one hundred years before, was a stage play From the Backbone Out which told the story of Richard O’Carroll a labour leader and a member of the Irish Volunteers

O’Carroll who commanded an outpost in Camden Street was fatally shot after he was captured by the infamous Captain Bowen-Colthurst who would murder the pacifist, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and two journalists on the same day.

When he came face to face with Bowen-Colthurst he asked O’Carroll if he was a “Shinner’? O’Carroll’s response was unequivocal, he replied… “From the backbone out”. Hence the title of the play which premiered in Dublin’s Liberty Hall to a packed audience of 400 people in April last year. The play is the work of two young Dublin men, Alan O’Brien and Patrick Ferris and marks their debut into playwriting.

Alan is a poet, writer and part-time actor and has won a Slam Sunday event as well as being shortlisted for the Maeve Binchey Travel Award in 2015. Co-writer Patrick Ferris has a degree in History and Classics and has written ‘as far back as he can recall’.

Now this dynamic duo has written (Alan) and directed (Patrick) an award-winning radio play Snow Falls and So Do We. Winner of the P J O’Connor Award 2016 (RTE) the play has been independently produced for the internet. It has received wide acclaim described by one listener as “Very Beckett. Kept me totally enthralled”. Other comments can be viewed on the link below.

Link to the play on soundcloud:


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Extracts from reviews of ‘Against the Wind’

The most pleasing thing about this readable, amusing and perceptive memoir is that O’Brien, who is clearly a scholar of literature, drama and history, weaves his erudition seamlessly into his life-affirming tale of working class life.

 Fergus Whelan,


  Ah, yes, the Irish sure do have a way with words – a very entertaining, humorous, intelligent, loving and proud memoir. More literary gold from the “Emerald Isle”.


                                                                                                                                Wendy O’Hanlon,

                                                                Acres Australia

  I loved this little bit of history about a big period of sadness that happened in a proud country where people stood solid for what they believed to be right and just. A powerful story written from a heart that witnessed the country he loved torn in two.


                                                                            John Morrow,

Pick of the Week


 O’Brien weaves together the many threads of history and his own life to produce an informed tale that will interest many readers well beyond the globe’s enormous Irish Diaspora.


                                                                             Robin Osborne,

Media Adviser


 The book will also appeal to the Irish Diaspora, as O’Brien’s memories of migration to and from England for work in the lean years of 1950s Ireland will resonate with many. As thousands continue to emigrate every week for places like Australia, O’Brien reminds us in his closing lines, ‘There are Irishmen and there are men from Ireland… I am as Ireland made me. Intentionally or not’.


Dr Sarah Campbell, 

Modern Irish History  

 While his later life took him to Australia, this memoir stands out among those which tell a wider tale than interesting anecdotes about growing up in Dublin or other places in the “Rare Oul’ Times”. It looks into the developing mind of a young person who is not only intensely observant of the world but conscious of their class and the challenges before it, and most critically, can convey it to the reader.


Michael Halpenny,


 O’Brien’s long held view is that it was necessary to remove the gun from Irish politics. Some years later the IRA came to the same conclusion. An erudite and entertaining read.

                                                                              Bendigo Weekly


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Two little “Aussies”

A short extract from Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner

At the end of the war Da was home once again from England. He had got a job with a small builder doing mainly repair and maintenance work on some older houses in New Street.

Ma was very happy to have him home once more and sang as she went about her housework. She could even laugh when the clothesline broke and the clean washing fell to the ground. “Blast it, the bloody nuisance of a thing,” she said under her breath. “Ah sure Pat will fix up a new line when he gets in.”

Nothing was a worry to her then. “And it’s great to be living a natural married life again,” she confided in Mrs Foley across the fence as they both hung out the Monday wash. Mrs Foley laughed and said, “Now Kath, just remember what they say, ‘If you can’t be good, be careful.”’ And they both laughed together as women do in each others company when there are no men to overhear.

But though Da was happy enough to be working steadily he was thinking of the uncertainty of the ups and downs of the building industry and wondered if it would always be so in Ireland. He read the newspapers avidly to keep informed of the trends that were possible indicators to the economy and the foreseeable future for tradesmen like him.

“How would you like to go out to Australia, Kath,” he asked my mother one Sunday, as he looked up from reading one of the English Sunday papers. For the next few days the talk was all about Australia and we kids got in on the discussions and dragged out our school atlases to look at where Australia was in the world.

On the way to school as we walked up the Rathmines Road my younger sisters Mae and Doris and I chatted about “being Australians” and were overheard by a young woman walking with her newly commissioned soldier fiancé. “Oh are you little Australians?” she stopped to ask the girls.

“No. Not yet anyway. But we might be someday. If our Da can stay home from England and save enough money for us to go there,” Mae said innocently.

“So your Daddy can save more money here than he can when he works in England?” she asked. “I thought there was great money to be made in England the way everybody goes there.” She looked at her officer and smiled smugly. “So the streets are not paved with gold in London after all, darling,” she smirked.

Even at our childhood stage we had an understanding of the economic conditions that prevailed in the Ireland of the forties and fifties. We had heard Ma talk of how when men were away they had to keep “two homes” on one wage. I wanted to tell this smug bitch some of the realities of life and how the country could never survive without the emigrants remittances that came back delivered by the telegram boys each week.
I had heard the discussions in our house and in the homes of our relatives many times and over the years had come to understand more of the “grown-ups” talk. I looked up words like “emigrants” and “remittances” in the big dictionary that had been in our family “for generations” Ma had said when I asked where the “big book” came from.

But instead of confronting this woman who was after all only a few years younger than my parents I took my sister’s hands and walked away. When I told Ma what had happened and what I had wanted to say to the couple she just smiled and said, “One half of the country doesn’t know how the other half lives. Probably her officer fella is just back from Sandhurst”. This made my Da laugh and he explained that even those that managed to stay at home and did not have to “take the boat” would have relatives in England or America or Australia. That emigration was “a curse for some and a safety valve for others.”

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