Until we Fall: Long Distance life on the left by Helena Sheehan

Until we Fall: Long Distance life on the left is a fascinating and sometimes inspiring account of decades of political engagement.

The words Until We Fall distil the essence of six chapters into three words. Until We Fall suggests a commitment that is unwavering and a purpose all consuming. Anyone who reads this book will know that Helena means what she says and has the skill to say what she means: her style makes for an engrossing read.

The writing in Until we fall is extraordinarily clear. It reveals a thinking which is sharp, sometimes critical, and deeply probing. The book begins where the first instalment of her memoirs left off, and Helena deals with the fall of the Soviet Union and its fallout at some length, bringing alive perspectives and events which may have been lost to the record if they weren’t recorded here.

This is the achievement of this book: it a is contribution to the literature of the history of the subaltern. For example, in the book’s final chapter, Helena records her involvement in the Occupy Dame Street movement in a way that ensures that the experiences and perspectives of activists involved will not be lost to time. Helena writes about her own life, but through this she writes about many others, and records their role in political events with great skill.

Her anecdotes are lively and engaging. Encounters with many characters involved in left wing politics are recorded in such a way that make the reader feel more like a participant than an observer. Helena weaves anecdotes into a broader record of events, and in doing so brings them to life. She also puts on the record her many decades of involvement in politics outside of Ireland, and one would wonder how she managed to find the time to pack so much into her life and work. In addition to politics, Helena writes about her activities in Dublin City University in a very lively and interesting way, with forthright detail of her views and experiences in a changing academic landscape.

At times the book is deeply profound. On the final page of the final chapter, she recalls the death of American New Left activist Tom Hayden in 2016 and how one person wrote online how “Our collective story is coming to an end”. The many voices featured in this book will continue to be heard for decades to come thanks to Helena’s work.

The title Until we fall suggests continuation and continuity. Perhaps there may be even a third volume of this autobiographical series. Failing this, we can only hope that this book is updated in the future as Helena Sheehan no doubt continues her life’s work as the book title suggests.

Until we Fall: Long Distance life on the left is published by Monthly Review Press and is available from Connolly Books.