The book is written as a letter to my father who died 30 years ago this coming June 3rd.
My new book, “Give Us Back the Bad Roads”, is an attempt at writing down the history of the recent unhinging of Ireland, written by someone who had a prime vantage point to observe this dismaying, scarifying process.
It begins at approximately the moment when some kind of seismic rupture occurred in the life and rhythm of Ireland. My sense is that this metastatic phase began suddenly, almost overnight, sometime around 2012, after decades of ideological conditioning by rogue media elements, whose diabolical efforts have now culminated in the introduction of abortion to Ireland at the start of 2019.
You might say that the book is an attempt to capture what things were like before this rupture, what happened to cause it, and what is missing now that it has occurred.
Interviewers have tended to focus on one or a handful of ‘issues’ in the book, but any or all of these are mere details: the recent referendums, the corruption of public conversation, the role in our undoing of Ireland’s dependency on exterior forces, etc.
Someone who read it recently wrote to me that, although as far as he could tell the word appears only once in the text, “Give Us Back the Bad Roads” is about transcendence. I believe he is right: it is about the attacks upon, and impending loss in our culture, of those characteristics of human society that cause us to reach above ourselves: to be found in family relationship, love of country and fear of God.
The title is in a sense literal but also not. It’s really intended to capture something people already feel about Ireland today: that it’s been hi-jacked from under them and that as a result it is no longer the country they loved as children – and in many cases even more recently. I find either people act all puzzled when they hear it (‘How’d’ya mean now like?’) or they just laugh straight out in recognition, like it’s a thought they had but never voiced and now here it is!
Of course, it’s literal as well: the new motorways we encounter everywhere being a symbol of the interference with and pollution of Ireland. In truth, these are not roads at all but merely expedient routes which join two dots on Google Maps. On a motorway you could be anywhere. A road joins places together and is also a place in itself, because every point along a road is a nameable place and cries out to be recognised as such. In this sense the ‘bad roads’ have the benefit of being our bad roads. If we could have them back, perhaps we might be able to retrace our steps and take up at the point where we were still driven by our own impulses, travelling by our own lights.
The book is written as a letter to my father who died 30 years ago this coming June 3rd. He’s pictured in the front, as a young man sometime in the 1930s, pulling a broken-down Model T Ford, which is full of children. It’s an astonishing picture, which fascinated me from the time I discovered it, soon after my father’s death. I explore its meaning in one of the chapters: how it captures the essence of the moment it was taken and the location, which is Tulsk in Co Roscommon. But I missed the most extraordinary thing about it, until it was printed on the cover of the finished book: the demeanour of my father, with the rope pulled tight over his shoulder, is that of Christ resting momentarily on the road to Calvary. That was the journey Tom Waters perceived as his life, the journey people in general understood as the meaning of their lives in the Ireland of that time. It is the journey that defines our civilization.
By John Waters