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Kicking The Black Mamba: Life, Alcohol And Death

21 September 2012

A new book by Robert Welch, Research Professor and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ulster, will be launched at the Coleraine campus on Tuesday, September 25 at 6.30pm and at The Royal Irish Academy, Dublin at 6pm.

‘Kicking the Black Mamba: Life, Alcohol and Death’, is a powerful, poignant and provocative memoir of a father’s ‘helpless love’ for his alcoholic son.

On 28 January 2007, 26-year-old Egan Welch fell into the River Bann outside Coleraine and drowned. Egan was an alcoholic.

A good looking and courteous young man, he was also a talented musician and a brilliant technologist who brought love and laughter to the people around him, including his parents, siblings and fiance.

“Everyone who loses someone they love thinks the same thing,” writes Robert Welch, “How can such an excess of life’s vitality not be any longer in the world?”

‘Kicking the Black Mamba’ is, in Robert Welch’s words: “A search for meaning in the death of a greatly loved son”. Welch started writing it just over two months after Egan’s death, not as a “chronology of misery” but a tribute to a “good man”.

In this book – which, by Welch’s own admission, was a terrifying and exhausting thing to write – the author made the brave decision to “Lay bare my own experiences of what it is like to live with and to love an alcoholic, to go through the agony of watching someone decline towards what you know is going to be the outcome – death - unless some transformation of the mind and will intervenes”.

Egan’s death came at the end of four years of turmoil for him and his family. During this time, Egan went through various attempts at rehabilitation, only to succumb to drink again.

At one point, he was drinking more than four bottles of wine a day. Three times he attempted to commit suicide. His parents lived in a constant state of tension and fear, desperately trying to help their son, but all too aware that their attempts might ultimately be in vain.

In a narrative, which is by turns passionate, raw, haunting and poetic, Welch tells of their helpless love for Egan. Along the way, he confronts some uncomfortable questions, including whether Robert’s own indulgent attitude to drink when Egan was young, may have helped to pave the way for his son’s alcoholism.

As well as being a “martyr to the drink”, Welch writes that Egan was also to some extent “a martyr to the damaged history of Ireland”. In exploring how his son’s surroundings and upbringing in Ireland may have contributed to his alcoholism, Welch seamlessly interweaves Irish history, mythology and folklore into the story of Egan’s gradual downward spiral.

Richly literary in its style, scope and references, this multi-layered memoir draws on a broad spectrum of literature through the ages, including Aristotle, Beckett, Coleridge, Conrad, The Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Egan O'Rahilly, Yeats, Heaney and Wordsworth.

Poignant and provocative, ‘ Kicking the Black Mamba’ is an unforgettable account of the death of a son and of a family’s journey towards this life-shattering event and through its aftermath.

It is a vivid, haunting personal tragedy, set amidst the political and social overtones of a beautiful and unsettled Ireland and against a breathtaking literary backdrop.

*Kicking the Black Mamba: Life, Alcohol and Death, by Robert Anthony Welch will be launched on Tuesday 25 September 2012, at the University of Ulster, Coleraine at 6.30pm and on Wednesday 26 September 2012, at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin at 6pm.

Booking is required. To attend, contact: Cheryl Mullan (, T: 028 71675679.

* Kicking the Black Mamba: Life, Alcohol and Death, by Robert Anthony Welch, published by Darton, Longman & Todd will be available in all good bookshops from 21 September, 2012, priced £12.99.