|Bishop Christopher Hegarty was a 6' 4'' quiet music-loving Dublin priest in his forties with a taste for rich foods and fine wines, whose expertise lay in book-keeping and who had "spent most of his career alone in the Archbishop's Palace". Then, much to his surprise he was ordained bishop. This was "due to the fact that a place had suddenly become vacant and that there was no obvious candidate. He had been selected because he was viewed as someone who was reasonably competent and would do no harm .... He had not wanted to be made a bishop" because he did not want "the responsibility of management" as he "did not think he was good at evaluating complex human situations .... He liked accountancy and company law precisely because of their logic and rules."
He never seemed to spend time on religious services or worry about praying. He was very much a loner and not one "who was anxious to engage." He is named Christopher as the author saw parallels between his life and that of Christ, as, according to the author, both believed, "If you're good, everything will be alright."
Colm Keena is public affairs correspondent with The Irish Times and the author of books on Gerry Adams, Bertie Ahern, the finances of the late Charles Haughey, and on the the secretive banking system that operated during the Haughey period known as the Ansbacher Deposits. His report in 2006 about the Mahon Tribunal's inquiries into payments to the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, created a political crisis. He won a Hennessy/Sunday Tribune Short Story Award in the early 1990s. Bishop's Move (reviewed below) is his first novel. Like the main character in this book, he too was brought up as a Catholic, but subsequently lost his faith.
Bishop's Move (2013)
Bishop's Move, which is set in Dublin during Ireland's economic boom, tells how priest Christopher Hegarty after being ordained a bishop, quickly gets into trouble with his archbishop by giving too honest a radio interview about his predecessor's financial misdemeanours. He goes on to find himself confronting some of the most powerful political and business people in Ireland, such as the unscrupulous property developer Buzzy Hogan.
This leads to surprising changes to his life, including his first sexual encounter (with the attractive Simone who is one of the core members of Hogan's staff). He admits to Simone that he is lonely: "I think all priests are. We're all actors in a way. We act out our role in the community which, when you think about it, is a very particular one. Spiritual leaders, and what do we know? And then we become the role." It is with Simone that he discovers that "the purpose of life was the life of the heart".
After this, it comes as less of a shock when he suddenly tells his archbishop, "I don't believe in God any more .... I'm not sure exactly when it was that I stopped believing. It's just gone. Completely. My faith I mean. I don't believe any of it. Not one word." Later, 'he wondered if he had been foolish to reveal his loss of faith to Whelan. There were probably hundreds of priests in the Church who no longer believed, kept their secret to themselves, and continued to give comfort to their parishioners and to avail of the opportunity the Church provided for other good works." But he was too honest to do this. The author seems to have been thinking about his own loss of faith as Christopher seems less anguished than you might suppose, but then right from the start, he had never bothered to pray or even attend Mass, so was never an entirely convincing priest.
There are lively portrayals of corrupt businessmen and their tasteless extravagant mansions, and of a very angry obscenely swearing Taoiseach, based apparently on real people. These were the subject of the author's previous non-fiction books, so his indignation at the follies and corruption of the time are well based in fact and well described. What is less successful is his portrayal of an extremely violent beating-up scene which is graphically described in unnecessary gory detail. But this era of Irish boom and corruption is certainly brought alive with verve and conviction.
There is an interesting 12 minute interview with the author about this book on the RTE Radio 1 site, and there is a brief profile of him on The Irish Times site.
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