‘The Cow Book’ author publishes second book

The author of the award-winning ‘The Cow Book’ turned to his other great passion – running – as subject matter for his new book. John Connell, who lives on his family farm in Soran, Longford, has just had ‘The Running Book, A Journey Through Memory, Landscape and History’ published by Picador in hardback.

Set in summer, John sets off on a marathon run of 42.2km through Longford. He remembers other runs he has done in Australia and Canada, and tells the stories of some of his running heroes such as Haile Gebrselassie.

Part memoir, part essay, ‘The Running Book’ looks at the similarities between running and farming. “With each passing day progress is made,” he reflects. Weather has its impact on both too.

Running and exercise have given him a control of his life, a real foundation on which to build, and from that the new man he has become has been forged, he says. Out there on the road, on the roads of life, he has never felt more alive, more connected to the moment.

The jobs that need to be done at home – cattle that need to be cleaned out and feeds that need to be given, recede and it is just the road and him. Difficult times when he ‘had not the joy of life’ also fade away, thanks to running which got him going after a serious illness.

Joy in the present moment

In the recess of the past, he looks back through history, seeing his grandfather on the run, fighting in the War of Independence in his flying column, moving from safe house to safe house. He also imagines other historic happenings and people with Longford connections – famous and infamous – that live on in the memory of locals.

As he traverses the countryside, he notes the ruins of small cottages and old homes, harking back to a time when farmers and animals often lived together. Both cleaning out cow houses and running have taught him the mantra that there is joy in the present moment even though the present moment may be difficult. In a way, he reflects, it has prepared him for just about any situation life can throw at him.

Running long distances has helped him escape the mental prison of being stuck in the past or being preoccupied by the future. We are all on the road of life and might as well try and feel the ground beneath our feet as we move through it, he reflects.

As well as bringing in lots of historical vignettes to the book, John also recounts stories of neighbouring areas that made the news such as the Ann Lovett tragedy and how it became another catalyst in the division of church and state in this country. Some things happen in living that change the entire course of our lives and some moments we cannot come back from remain with us forever, John observes.

We find that running has given him literally a whole new lease of life as he looks back at a time, three years ago, when all joy and hope had been taken from him.

He remembers that ‘Lost Time’ when he was stuck in a bedroom for six months with that ‘Lost Time’ taking everything – a love, a life, a marriage – from him. To have a life reduced to just four walls is a sentence he will not commit again, he pledges.

‘Home to the animals and fields that know my name’

“I run so that I might never go back there again,” the author says, remarking that he doesn’t run from the ‘Lost Times’ anymore but rather for them. We are tied together in our tragedies, he remarks as he views life from a local and global perspective.

‘The Running Book’ celebrates the nature of happiness and the value of the landscape and characters of rural Ireland, past and present, as the author prepares to walk home ‘home to the animals and fields that know my name’.