Conor Bradley’s father Charles passed away five years ago at the age of 88 but before he died he handed over to his son an unfinished manuscript written by his own father Cahal Bradley in 1935. Cahal had published two books in the 1930s: Parishes of Ireland and his poetry collection Songs of a Commercial Traveller but this third book ‘Next Stop Heaven’ has been published after an 80-year wait with his grandson Conor completing the manuscript he had written in 1935.
Next Stop Heaven is set in Ardoyne in the 1800s and centres on a group of families and mill workers in the late 19th century in a time of political and economic struggle. It takes in the hardship and ill-health suffered by the working-class people at the time – with children as young as 11 working in mills – but also highlights the sense of close community, solidarity and strong faith among the characters. According to Conor, the book’s love story of Ned and Sheila is based on Cahal Bradley’s own parent, and it unfolds against the threat posed to it by immigration. Political and economic struggles are teased out through mill workers, the clergy and the rich, as are the merits of protesting and organising for social change. The title comes from the house of one character, Johnny Connor, being so far up Black Mountain that people jokingly called it ‘Next Stop Heaven’.
Born in Brookfield Street in Ardoyne in 1886, fluent Irish speaker Cahal Bradley was an author, nationalist politician, business man, alderman, senator and a significant figure in Sinn Féin, as well as founding member of the Ardoyne Kickhams GAA club. However, despite his fascinating successes as a public figure in the political, historical, cultural, literary and business life of Belfast, Cahal’s history remained relatively unknown to the family.
Next Stop Heaven captures the endurance of family, love and close community against the hardship of the mill-working, Ardoyne community during the 1870s.