In January 2020, Liam Walsh’s 15-year old son Patrick went to a football game with his brother and never came home. He collapsed as they dashed for the last train out of Marylebone and died, suddenly, unexpectedly and still, without cause. Two weeks later, Liam’s Dad, with his sense of purpose desperately unravelled, gently died too.
‘Red Balloons’ traces their last months, and how Liam endured the next ones. It’s a book to preserve them – the beating heart of their stories. All their senses too, their very being.
Literally, their lives, and Liam’s memoir. It’s about how each season of hope and each despair tightened the family’s ties to Swindon Town Football Club, and imperceptibly to each other. There’s a promotion, albeit with an asterisk and a subsequent demoralising relegation.
There are roasted peanuts at Tottenham, an octogenarian John Terry at cricket, the man forever in red trousers at horse racing and bandwagon jumping with Munster rugby. There’s music and the lullabies of Christy Moore as Liam’s Dad slipped away. Liam explores his English accented Irish identity, through mountains, a magical encounter with a blood-stained farmer and Waterford’s desperate hurling odyssey.
It’s about scattering ashes on the bleakest day imaginable and finding meaning in vapour trails. There’s a mumbling World War One graveside appearance on French prime time TV. There’s a ginger cat and wearing novelty hats on the front page of the Swindon Advertiser.
Yearning in the dreich of Edinburgh and leaving stickers in Sharjah. While other precious people die through the story, Liam finds renewed energy through community and connections, running and robins. It’s a desolate, yet hopeful journey through grief and the forlorn search for answers about Patrick’s death, seeking reassurance that the rest of us won’t drop dead, without warning.
More than anything, it’s a family footballing love story.