Tag Archives: Irish

Ireland Says Yes


A Proud Irish Woman Today

I am enormously proud of my country for voting an emphatic YES to repeal the 8th Amendment today.

There was broad agreement across generation and rural and urban demographics that change was needed. There was also a surge of support from young voters who travelled home from afar to kick Ireland into the 21st century. They will hopefully stay politically engaged for a time to come. I was (very positively) shocked by the extent of the support for this result – which contradicted many of the earlier polls.

We have shown the rest of the world that we are not a country of  two-dimensional cartoon social conservatism often lazily portrayed by international media and in art. We’ve been oppressed in the past but we have a relentless tendency to rise up against oppressors. Our yearning for freedom also has a tendency to win in the end. We are a modern, nuanced, complicated, determined nation – and I am very, very proud of us. In short – don’t mess with Irish women.


One’s Point of View

It’s an odd thing being an Irish Catholic over in Britain on the Queen of England’s Jubilee weekend. Whereas it’s always good to experience a country en fete, the abundance of union jack bunting has a disconcerting impact on someone of my cultural background. Still, I went out with my camera this morning with the intention of capturing the natives celebrating their Britishness –  but to my disappointment, most were just shopping, eating ice cream and enjoying the few hours of sunshine – and not doing anything remotely Englishy or Britishy or Queeny.

I’ve always found that watching other nations investigate and express their identity allows me to regard my own with fresh eyes – and this fact feeds my writing. I write endlessly about Ireland and my Irishness. I don’t particularly want to – attempts have been made int eh past to focus on other locations where I have lived or spent time, but my writing always revolts, and brings me back to the land of my birth. And I have not lived in Ireland for a long, long time (I’m in good company, James Joyce put himself into exile for twenty years before he produced his masterpiece set in Dublin on June 16th 1904…)

Other nations’ relationship with their identity that has always held a mirror. It was through grappling with the extreme, blinkered, inward looking nationalism of elements of Eastern European culture that I began to see parallels with a certain promotion of Irish culture in the arts. Can I count the number of twee, riverdancy depictions of us all as mystic Celtic fairies? Oy vey. I’m far more a follower of the school of Synge and Playboy of the Western World and it’s investigation of the dark and surreal side of the Irish identity.

So, I’m here in Norwich on the Jubilee weekend watching a native people largely apathetic to the event – but enjoying the four days off and (weirdly) I’m rather annoyed that they’re not being more British about it all because that would make more sense to me. And now I have to go think about why I feel that way, and why we Irish have to have a St. Patrick’s Day and Riverdance type cultural promotion? Or why Irish writers often feel that they have to write about Irish identity – when British writers rarely feel the same obligation? It’s an interesting question and not quite the one I expected to pop up from today’s excursion…. I feel a short story coming on….

You Don’t Have to be Irish…

A picture from Ireland - Lismore Castle, Co Waterford. My grandmother's hometown.

You don’t have to be Irish to be a great writer, but it helps. An oft debated point is the essential ingredient that has given the Irish the edge re the written word ever since the Book of Kells. There are many takes on the matter. Some say it’s because although most Irish writers write in English, they use the syntax, structure and playfulness of the Irish language which gives a mastery and an unusual manner of wielding English that results in, well, pure poetry. Others suggest it is our tradition of story telling, living on in sizzling and stinging pub banter. Some put it down to our sad history, allowing for a depth and pain to infuse our written word. However, I’m with the crowd that says its simply because we’re a race of freaking geniuses. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Go mbeirimid beo ar an am seo arís…

Famous Irish writers: Sebastian Barry, Samuel Beckett, Elizabeth Bowen, John Banville, Brendan Behan, Dion Boucicault, Roddy Doyle, Emma Donoghue, Maria Edgeworth, Brian Friel, Oliver Goldsmith, Neil Jordan, John B. Keane, Colum McCann, John McGahern, Iris Murdoch, C.S. Lewis, Edna O’Brien, Jennifer Johnston, James Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh, Molly Keane, Hugh Leonard, Martin McDonagh, Frank McGuinness, Sean O’Casey, Joseph O’Connor, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, Colm Toibin, Oscar Wilde, WB Yates, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift… to name but a few.

That’s Easy For You to Say…

Words… as a writer and a linguist, I love words. They are the writer’s main tool and there is a particularly lavish spread on offer for the English-speaking writer.

English is a word-rich language and there are more word-families in English than any other language. Crudely, one could say that the English language sprung from a marriage of French and German. For this reason, English has many words from its parent languages that describe quite similarly (ie “loving” is from German and “amorous” is from French). English has also magpied extensively from other languages. Most of my favourite words are ‘borrowed’ words and include: “pyjama” and “shampoo” which come from India (though I’m not sure which specific languages), “Hacienda” and “siesta” which are Spanish. “Itsy-bitsy”, “paprika”, “coach”, “goulash”, “hussar” and “biro” which are Hungarian. “Smithereen”, “galore”, “banshee”, “slew”, “brogue”, “kibosh”, ‘hobo’ and “shanty” which come from Irish. It seems the more obscure or exotic the etymology, the more intriguing and beautiful the word. And I enjoy writing them, love saying them – to paraphrase Frank McCourt, it feels like having jewels in your mouth.

You don’t only construct literary art from words but they also set the tone of the piece and there are certain words and phrases that are closely associated with particular genres of writing.

Romance  type novels I associate with “tawny” and “chiselled”.

SciFi writers invent words to name their machines, planets and creatures such as “Klingons” and “Zogathons”.

Do you associate words with a particular genre? Do you have favourites? I’d love to hear them…