New book by BAFTA winning Achill Islander

Kevin Toolis has a new book out on death.

Kevin Toolis has a new book out on death.

In a world spiralling into chaos over the viral pandemic, how do we face the greatest but eternal challenge of our lives, our own fear of mortality?

Achill Islander and BAFTA-winning writer, Kevin Toolis, says he knows the answer and has even written a new book - Nine Rules to Conquer Death - to explain how we can all lead less fear-filled lives.

In Nine Rules to Conquer Death Kevin Toolis distils insights drawn from millennia of human experience into a profound and punchy guide to dying – and living – well.

From the wisdom of ancients, from the Aztecs to the Iliad and the proud tradition of Irish wakes, Nine Rules reveals the hidden mortal rules our predecessors used to guide themselves through life and death.

After a lifetime in exile, Toolis, who also writes screenplays for TG4, is back home in his father's village of Dookinella, just beneath the cliffs of Minaun in Achill, he says, 'forever.'

Nine Rules was written on the island during the lockdown and is being published by OneWorld, a prestigious London publisher.

The book is a mix of philosophy, some intriguing exercises for the reader to think about their own lives, and stories of how we can all learn to embrace our own mortality to lead more authentic lives.

Toolis said: "Ireland is a lot better off than England when it comes to death but part of the reason why we are still so scared is we are getting death wrong.

"We are forgetting the old ways by which our ancestors overcame death with full-scale wakes, keening and grieving, feasting and drinking and story-telling.

"Nine Rules up-ends every presumption we hold about death to help us beat it, not run from it. What are the benefits of seeing and touching a corpse? Why is our life is miserable if we did not die? And what’s the value of working out your own death date?"

Although Nine Rules is short and punchy, less than 200 pages, Toolis says that the book is the work of a lifetime covering wars, famines and plagues all across the world as a foreign correspondent when he worked for The Guardian and The New York Times and making documentary films.

Toolis added: "I didn't invent those nine rules of mortality but I sort of rediscovered them. They were always beneath the surface and unconsciously we operate them all the time ourselves. We just need to remind ourselves what we are doing. Even if the rules sometimes sound counter-intuitive.

"So here is an example. Rule Two states - 'If we did not die life would be terrible.' Sounds shocking. Normally of course we say the exact opposite, how life would be wonderful if we never died. When you think of all the pain, loss and grief even during these Covid times.

"All the people we have lost. And of course that has been very painful for the families involved with all their grief and the lost years of their loved ones. But it would be even worse, even more painful, if we stopped dying and became immortal.

"Let's just try and imagine that for a moment. What the world would be like if we got to live forever and the celestial bell rang and we never aged, never weakened or ever changed. So you would always be two if you were two or 36 if you were 36 or 89 if you were 89.

"But how much fun would it be to be forever the same age? Playing the same games that a two-year-old does over and over?

"In the normal course of our lives we spend huge amounts of energy, time and training learning to become something, a nurse, a teacher, a doctor, or develop a skill, sewing, driving, basketball, even French. Change is part of our nature.

"We either congratulate or berate ourselves all the time for our achievements, or lack thereof, because we are only in our twenties, thirties, forties or sixties.

"And we do so because we have an inbuilt understanding that we won't live forever and that one day our chances of becoming something else will stop and we'll die.

"But if I am going to live forever then my becoming anything would stop. What would be the point of going to university to study engineering if I knew I was going to live for a million years? Could you ever have children in a world where nothing changes? Does time itself make any sense if one of your future birthdays is not November 2020 but November 202,000?

"The supposed heaven of an infinite future would actually be the hell of an eternal eerie present where we were forced to live the same thing over and over. A perpetual groundhog day where we would be bored out of our minds after what used to be called a week but would just be more of the same. Even the concept of a 'year' would become nonsense.

"In reality our world, even Time itself, makes sense to us because we die, not the other way round."

Toolis's previous book My Father's Wake: How the Irish Teach us to Live, Love and Die, on the Irish Wake, was a New York Times best seller but Nine Rules to Conquer Death will be his last death book.

"It has been a great privilege to write about our greatest fear but also show how from the time of the fall of Troy onwards, our ancestors, even my own ancestors on Achill Island, faced death with courage and conquered death through rites like the Irish Wake. I am just passing on that knowledge to a wider world."

Nine Rules to Conquer death is available in all good bookstores or on Amazon at


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