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The Past Is Another Country: Happy St. Patrick's Day!

17/03/2013 16:21 GMT | Updated 16/05/2013 10:12 BST

My 14 year-old daughter, her best friend, a native of Co. Kildare in the Republic of Ireland, and I, are touring my hometown, Belfast, in Northern Ireland.

"Do you know anything about Northern Ireland?" I ask my daughter's friend as we enter Milltown Cemetery on the Falls Road.

Silence - and, unfortunately, it's not just the dead.

Right, we need to start at the start, I realise.

"Were the IRA Catholics or Protestants?" I ask.

"Protestants," she says.

Wrong. It's going to be a long day, I think.

"Have you heard of the Hunger Strikers?" I ask as we stroll towards their graves.

"Yes, we learned about them in school," she says, clearly excited to be able to tell me that she knows something about the North.

"They were all women," my daughter adds.

I stare at her in disbelief. She is clearly not thinking of the ten IRA men who died on hunger strike in Long Kesh prison in 1981.

"They called them 'Suffragettes'," her friend explains.

"That was London in 1908," I say. 'The Suffragettes were women looking for the right for women to vote."

What next?! I think.

"My mum is reading The Quiet Life, your novel about the conflict in Northern Ireland," her friend says next, "and she is loving all the bits about the 'Troubles'. Did you have to do much research for it?" she asks.

"No, unfortunately not. I lived it," I say.

I take them to see the graves of my friends and neighbours killed in the 'Troubles'.

"I didn't think you knew so many people who were killed, and where and when they died," my daughter says. "That's so cool!"

These girls are from another world, I realise.

I take them to my old street.

"This street was a regular battle-field. There were daily riots here," I say to my daughter.

"Where did your sister sleep?" she asks, looking up at my old house.

"There, in the room above the front-door," I say. "She opened her window one day and a British Paratrooper told her he would blow her head off if she didn't close it."

"What happened?" she asks.

"She closed it and then he went around the corner and shot a neighbour in the face and blinded her," I say.

I point out bullet-holes on gable walls.

"Cool!" they say, in harmony now.

Time for a break, I decide. They deserve it. And I need it! We head to Belfast city centre. They load up with clothes from Hollister.

"Belfast is just so cool," they say in unison. "The people are so neat. Can we come back another day?" my daughter asks.

I give in and agree to return.

After dark, we walk to a shop near my old home.

"You couldn't go out like this after dark when I was young," I say to my daughter who looks at me, shocked. "From here, I can see the spots where four people died from gunshot wounds."

"Cool!" she says.

Time for the girls to have some time alone to unwind together, I decide. It's been a long day for them - and for me! I drop them off outside an ice-cream shop beside my mother's home.

"Tell the woman who works behind the counter your dad's the writer," I say to my daughter as I leave them to go visit my mother, "and she might give you a free ice-cream."

"What do you mean?" she says.

"Tell her I'm the writer. She knows me," I say.

"Oh," she says and she begins to laugh.

"What's so funny?" I ask.

"I thought you said 'rioter'," she says.

"Yes, there was a time when being a rioter might have got you a free ice-cream in Belfast," I say, "but, thankfully, those days are long gone."

And there's only one word for that - cool!

So what more can I say today than A Very Happy St. Patrick's Day?! They keep on getting better!

You can buy The Quiet Life, a family drama, much loved by Marian Keyes (author of This Charming Man), on Amazon Kindle

or in print copy at Lulu.com. The novel can also be downloaded at Smashwords.com.