Michael McLaverty, a teacher by profession, was born in Monaghan in 1904 and spent most of his working life in Belfast. "Call My Brother Back" - his first novel - was originally published in 1939 and was apparently a favourite of Bing Crosby's.
As the book starts it is 1918, and Colm MacNeill is a 13-year-old boy living on Rathlin Island. Rathlin is found on the Sea of Moyle, between Ireland's North Antrim Coast and Scotland's Mull of Kintyre. It's not an easy life, by today's standards - Colm and his family scrape a living from the land and sea, with light provided by candles and heat by an open fire. There's only one school on the island, which Colm has just left - and he's due to be sent to Belfast, on the mainland, to continue his education. He already has two other siblings living in Belfast - Alec and Theresa - and when he leaves he'll leave two younger at home on the island - Jamesy and Clare.
Life in Belfast was to be hugely different to life on Rathlin for Colm. Rathlin was an isolated, rural existence, where the people were largely oblivious to the workings of the outside world. Belfast, on the other hand, brought narrow, terraced houses, cars, trams and the dirtier air caused by factories and mills. Initially a boarder at school, the transition was to prove very difficult for him. It was made a little easier when his family also leave Rathlin for the city and he is able to move back into a house with them. Prior to his arrival in Belfast, Colm certainly seemed to have little idea that he was living through a period of great upheaval in Irish history. The Easter Rising had taken place in Dublin only a couple of years previously, but had little effect on Colm and his way of life on Rathlin. The Partition of Ireland - the division of the island into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - was to have a great effect on his life in Belfast.
"Call My Brother Back", is an excellent book - McLaverty, like Walter Macken, is a natural storyteller. While some phrases may be a little strange for those readers who aren't familiar with Northern Ireland, it is a very easily read book. It does have a touch of sadness and regret about it, with sectarian hatred having a real effect on Colm and his family. However, it is a book I would highly recommend.