Mapping the Past

by Charles Drazin, William Heinemann, £20

Charles Drazin’s Mapping the Past begins on a melancholy note that never quite departs from the rest of the book. On the first page, his mother is told that no more can be done to treat her cancer. Out of the blue, she expresses a fervent, hallucinatory wish to go back to Quin, the village of her birth in County Clare. She had come to England 60 years before and never returned.

Patsy Drazin did not go back to Ireland right at the last. But, in the short time before she passed away, she began unburdening all she could remember about her childhood and, in particular, about her father, Patrick Lynch, who died when she was nine, an event which she felt blighted her life.

Patrick was one of five brothers who joined the Royal Engineers where they mapped and surveyed far-flung corners of the British Empire. All five went on to serve in the Great War. One died at Armentières. Another suffered severe shell shock. Patrick himself returned to Ireland, started a family and eventually joined the new Irish Land Commission. (Drazin’s other grandfather was a Jewish tailor who fled Tsarist Russia for London, which allows Drazin to award himself the fairly fabulous title of British Jewish Irish Catholic).

Inevitably, there were gaps in Patsy’s story. And so Charles Drazin picked up the gauntlet his mother had gently laid down and pursued “a story of irresistible romance” – five Irish Catholic brothers “charting the unmapped lands of Empire”.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection