Eden Halt: An Antrim Memoir

Author(s) : Ross Skelton

Eden Halt: An Antrim Memoir

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'We read, as if memory is being assembled in front of us. It is this precision, the beautifully executed detail, that makes Eden Halt a deeply moving memoir.' - Roddy Doyle

Eden Halt describes a childhood spent on a remote coast of Northern Ireland, in the shadow of the Second World War. With his father absent in the African campaign, a yound Ross Skelton's constant companion is his taciturn grandfather, a UVF veteran and caretaker of the local big house. His father, Tom Skelton, returns, troubled by malaria and nightmares. An aspiring writer, with connections to Louis MacNeice in nearby Carrickfergus, and to the artist Raymond Piper, he deserts the civil service for the life of a navvy, given to sudden absences, tramping the roads and sleeping rough, as the family falls from comfort to extreme poverty. They live off fishing and beachcombing in a tiny community of wooden bungalows on the wild Antrim coast, inhabiting a 'land that God forgot'.

Despite primitive surroundings, the family is highly literate, with Ross's mother an avid reader, while his father writes at night. The memoir sensitively evokes a boyhood spent in a ceaseless quest for driftwood by a sea in its restless and violent moods, escaping to the hills on his home-made bicycle and raising racing pigeons in a make-shift loft. Reconstructing a time and place long gone, its sounds, smells and echoes, Ross Skelton pieces together the fragments that constitute a life, and gave rise to his career as a psychoanalyst and writer.

'...writing of the highest quality... I found Skelton's book deeply refreshing as well as rewarding. Instead of overheated prose and portentous themes, here is restrained writing of striking accuracy, leavened with wry asides and great insight. It is an absolute joy to read.'

- Irish Independent

About the Author(s)

Ross M. Skelton is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Psychoanalytic Studies at Trinity College, Dublin. He is also an experienced psychotherapist with a private practice. He is an editor of the American Journal of Psychotherapy and a former editor of Kleinian Studies.

More titles by Ross Skelton

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Eamonn Mckay on 25/02/2014 11:05:29

Rating1Rating2Rating3Rating4Rating5 (5 out of 5)

Ross Skelton's rendering of his childhood and young adulthood in "Eden Halt" is a beautifully narrated tale of escape, poverty, threat, and survival.
The wild seas, the looming skies, and the dense sand of the coast give such a great, dense heaviness to this memoir. One can feel the struggle inherent in the family's survival; the hard work the father puts into his every scheme - and there are many to relish, beautifully detailed in all their frustrations and victories - and the threat of the family being blown away, rickety bungalow and all, by the next north-easterly blasting over the hills and onto the lough.
This is not a memoir about struggle, in the end. It seems so, but it's not. This is a memoir about the development of empathy, of compassion, of the capacity to watch and learn as seen through the eyes of a young boy. One can only hope there is a second memoir in the works, detailing how this wild, wind-buffeted boy became the man he is today in the Dublin of fifty years ago. I'm first in queue.

Conor Bowman on 24/02/2014 15:35:21

Rating1Rating2Rating3Rating4Rating5 (5 out of 5)

This is a sensational read. It is a memoir, gently told, of an incredible childhood on the Antrim coast. It is a poignant, sad, and often comical tale of an unusual upbringing on the shores of the Irish sea. In this memoir
the author tells of the daily struggle his family faced to survive, and of their travails and experiences in the heartland of East Antrim in the 1950's and 60's. Above all, though, this is the story of a boy seeking to grow up and to come to terms with and understand his strange and angry father. It is a world of memories from the original Troubles, racing pigeons, home-made bicycles and the dual aspects of close family life: security and claustrophobia. In the middle of all of this is a boy trying to grow up and to forge his own identity in a family where education is alien and where the love of a devoted mother and wife is sometimes the only glue holding the whole thing together. This is the best memoir I have ever read and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who wants to learn a little more about themselves through the experiences of another.

Eamonn Mckay on 23/02/2014 13:19:53

Rating1Rating2Rating3Rating4Rating5 (5 out of 5)

Ross Skelton's rendering of his childhood and young adulthood in Eden Halt is a beautifully narrated tale of escape, poverty, threat, and survival. The young Ross seems trapped in a very grey arena, growing up in the shadows of a father struggling to find much of his own identity; a mother heroically struggling to maintain a household on her salary as a senior, if unqualified, librarian; and in the oppressive environment that is the East Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. One can feel wind in the hair and sleet on the face as the author rejoices in his time beachcombing along the coast, seeking wood for the family's hearth and construction projects at home, such as the author's pigeon loft. The coast offered escape on many levels, and not simply the chance to enjoy the freedom of being a youth with copious time and a relishing for the adventures the rugged shores offered. It provided also bounty in the form of fish, and much effort was expended in attempting to harvest the next meal. Fish became such a staple of the household that, soon enough, even the dog would refuse to eat the scraps remaining. Catching fish and eating it may seem a weak premise for a story - and there is great detail allotted to the struggle for fish in the book - but the act is more than that. This was necessity. The act was adventure, often life-threatening. The struggle for just the right crab a pursuit all of its own, for not everything was edible in the meagre fares the sea proffered.

The wild seas, the looming skies, and the dense sand of the coast give such a great, dense heaviness to this memoir. One can feel the struggle inherent in the family's survival; the hard work the father puts into his every scheme - and there are many to relish, beautifully detailed in all their frustrations and victories - and the threat of the family being blown away, rickety bungalow and all, by the next north-easterly blasting over the hills and onto the lough. I trembled with the uncertainty, the risk. The roof leaks. Seawater laps the doorstep and steals a piano. Trains thunder by. But enough colourful characters punctuate the pages, bringing their owns brands of comedic relief: we are permitted witness when the author is invited to learn how to start a fire, of sorts, and, when in the building trade, how one's glass eye can come in handy when absent a spirit level.

Young Ross engineers, quite literally, his way out of this sticky quagmire, building his own bicycle on which he visits local family, and, most importantly, feels the wind of the coastal road in his own long hair. His past-times, mostly solitary - cycling, then motor-biking - are core to his survival. He never mentions in the book that his preference was for a solitary life, but he spends an inordinate amount of time on his own - and in his own head - and one can only guess at the comfort he gained from his own thoughts, his own dreams. One can almost hear him thinking about thinking.

On this point, it is useful to defer to the foreward of this book, provided by the inimitable Roddy Doyle. Doyle praises the incredible detail - and it is incredible - Ross Skelton remembers and incorporates into this amazing book. One gets the feeling that young Ross is always recording, always monitoring, always watching. Little escapes his notice. This, in my humble opinion, makes him one of those few with an enviable talent, a watcher of others, as such. This is what makes this memoir truly outstanding: the detail, the empathy, the knowing that one and one's family is in trouble but all the while knowing there is little one can do about it, until one can do something about it. And this experience is etched hard and deep. This process creates thinkers, engineers, the masters of the necessity of invention. In short, this is not a simple story; this is an insight into the development of an incisive consciousness.

This is not a memoir about struggle, in the end. It seems so, but it's not. This is a memoir about the development of empathy, of compassion, of the capacity to watch and learn as seen through the eyes of a young boy. That young boy is like one of his father's boats for much of this book; stuck in sand, disintegrating, leaking, direction-less. He tells us this. His initial career is chosen for him. He struggles for direction even during his time in the army, but one can feel the utter discomfort, which, again, is allotted only a few pages, but one has to feel it. Like the boat stuck in sand, the author attempts to rescue himself, by bailing out, going to England. He is freer, yes, but he feels not free.

Like many, the author could find his true calling through education. And this is all but hinted at by the end of "Eden Halt." There are two terminals in this memoir; one is the rickety wooden halt at Eden, the other the back arse of Trinity College, Dublin, the womb of Irish genius for five hundred years. Entirely different worlds politically, geographically, potentially, characteristically. One can only hope there is a second memoir in the works, detailing how this wild, wind-buffeted boy became the man he is today in the Dublin of fifty years ago. I'm first in queue.

Carole Morgan on 12/02/2014 17:41:01

Rating1Rating2Rating3Rating4Rating5 (5 out of 5)

I know the author personally but I would have loved the book even without knowing him. Beautifully written, very moving, poignant.

John Alderdice on 11/02/2014 12:15:00

Rating1Rating2Rating3Rating4Rating5 (5 out of 5)

This is an eloquent, thoughtful childhood memoir which, rather like a potent cocktail, slips down easily but affects you much more than you realized at the time. I found myself coming back to it repeatedly in my own thoughts after I had finished reading. Ross Skelton takes us through an early life lived largely on the sea-shore of Belfast Lough with a father, much affected by the war, and a mother who also had literary interests way beyond her humble station. Father was a writer who had some ability, but was never able to make a living at his craft. Mother lived in hope but it was in Ross that this hope has seen fulfillment rather than in her own struggles to keep the show on the road. Using his considerable literary and psychological abilities Ross Skelton puts some settledness into his own troubled past but more than this I think many of his readers will find that he takes them on a journey too.

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