The Sydney Rose, #TwoWomenTravel and the End of Silence


It has been a very interesting week in Irish women’s long-running quest for bodily autonomy. First we had the brave duo, Two Women Travel, using Twitter to document their journey to the UK to avail of abortion services there. The international news media paid attention but coverage in Ireland was patchy. Next we had Brianna Parkins, a contestant in the Rose of Tralee, who, when discussing women’s rights, expressed her desire for a referendum on the 8th Amendment.

Parkins’ statement was met with applause from the crowd. The seventh circle of hell did not open, nor did the Dome spontaneously combust. Two Women Travel was the focus of much sympathy and solidarity in Ireland and right around the world. Critics have been quick to argue that there is, apparently, a time and a place for such ‘political’ conversations. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t on one of the country’s most viewed television shows or on social media. They maintain that using such platforms for ‘outbursts’ and ‘stunts’ is sensationalist and trivializing. Faced with the question of what the right time and place might be for such a long overdue discussion, the sound of a can being booted down the road is so deafening it would split an eardrum.

Activism has always meant being creative and opportunistic enough to capture the attention required to win hearts and minds. And, note to successive Irish governments, there is surely nothing more trivializing of an issue (and its lived experiences) than ignoring it. How interesting it is that an event like the Rose of Tralee which professes to be a celebration of Irish womanhood should be seen as the last place on the island to discuss, never mind mention, that which harms women. Perhaps the issue isn’t so much the talking about the difficult realities of women’s lives as having to listen to them, to acknowledge them, to act.

What did take a battering in the past few days, and has been under attack for some time, is a uniquely Irish myth of femininity which is one part Lovely Girl, one part Irish Mammy and three parts Virgin Mary. ‘A lovely mammy named Mary,’ if you will. The kind of chimerical comely maiden so beloved of de Valera and his ilk. A cailín álainn with a twinkle in her eye and rosary beads in her handbag, who doesn’t backchat to her husband or (God forbid) the priest, bears suffering like a stoic and births nine children before her fortieth birthday.

As the scars on Irish landscapes and psyches show, silence never saved the comely maiden who became a fallen woman. It never won her a single right. Instead it exiled her to Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, on early morning flights to Britain. It condemned, and still condemns, generations of Irish women to live in its shadow, its cold fingers clamped over their mouths.

No more.

There is never a ‘right’ or pleasant time to talk about that which has been rendered unsayable for so long. Such conversations are necessarily emotive, frustrating, heartbreaking and uncomfortable.  But the mark of maturity, of a society, of a person, is to face what must be done. In the words of the poet Audre Lorde who wrote so movingly, so precisely about ‘the tyrannies of silence’, ‘My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.’ 

For Irish women, it’s time to live the truth of our lives out loud.



FGM in Ireland – Tatler

Tatler 2016 Feb

In Tatler this month, I look at the lives of women living in Ireland who have undergone female genital mutilation or FGM, as it is more commonly known. FGM has a host of longterm effects. For those dealing with it, the Irish Family Planning Association now runs a specialized clinic to help which free to use. More information here and here.

Daddy Cool: looking at Ireland’s new paternity laws for Irish Tatler

Irish Tatler Jan 2016

One of the greatest struggles facing families in modern Ireland is how difficult it is to get the time and support needed to successfully juggle careers and child-rearing. Much of this responsibility still falls on women. Thankfully, Ireland’s new paternity leave law will ensure all fathers have the right to two weeks paid paternity leave when their child is born, a step in a right direction. For this edition of Tatler, I look at what the new law will mean for women, men, and changing Irish attitudes to parenting.

Read: ‘The Rise of Irish Revenge Porn’ in U Magazine

U magazine

As cyber crime goes, revenge porn has to be among the most malicious and depraved. For this piece I spoke with people who have experienced revenge porn and those who are experts in tackling it. For anyone concerned about intimate material of theirs being distributed online, please know there are people who can help and that laws are being updated to address the problem. More info here.

50 Shades of Hypocrisy, Irish Style: We Can Talk About Dirty Films But Not Our ‘Dirty’ Secrets

designLast week I took part in a radio discussion about the impending cinematic release of 50 Shades of Grey. I was not an obvious candidate. I haven’t read the books (I like my erotica Nancy Friday style) and find the cultural hysteria around them and the film unsettling, even depressing on a bad day. The subsequent chat would not have been out of place in an episode of that famed Irish documentary series Father Ted, part ‘careful now, down with this sort of thing, wink, wink’, part ‘Jesus Jim, we can’t be going to that – what will the neighbours say? We’ll get the DVD instead.’ I used the term ‘dirty film’ far too many times. I felt like I was trapped in a Carry On nightmare of crass innuendo to which I unthinkingly contributed ten-fold by blurting out, ‘well, this will be massive exposure for Dornan, in terms of his career.’

Jesus, Mary.

Scanning Irish news sites afterwards I realised this tittering-school-kid tone is almost ubiquitous wherever 50 Shades is mentioned. The troubling facets of Anastasia Steele’s and Christian Grey’s relationship (and there are many) are rarely referenced but whips, handcuffs and naked male torsos sure are. On the other hand, the lusty Irish women who are supposedly responsible for pre booking 55,000 tickets  are treated with a patronising sneer that is as snide as it is snobbish. Crap films get released every week but a potentially-crap film aimed at female audiences? Well, that’s the absolute worst.

Our childish frenzy over such a notoriously sex-centred popular phenomenon says a lot about Ireland’s relationship to sexuality, none of it inspiring. Despite the long shadow cast by Catholicism, our culture today is sex-saturated. We watch it, read about it, we talk about BDSM and vibrators on morning radio. But unlike so many other countries in the West and elsewhere, we lack the basic maturity and yes, backbone, to treat the messy, unpredictable consequences of human sexuality the compassion and nuance they demand.

Newspaper pages away from the 50 Shades coverage are the latest reports about the on-going heartache and irreversible damage being caused to Irish women and those who love them by the 8th Amendment. We giggle about 50 Shades, then look the other way when someone raises the unforgivable lack of sex education in our schools. We raise our little girls on fairy tales in which a handsome prince saves the princess, making her his forever and ever. Then we ridicule grown women for being drawn toward what they’ve always been told to be, towards the floaty white dresses, towards the beauty that never fits quite right or lasts like you’d like it to, towards the man who loves her so much he could kill her.

I won’t be going to see 50 Shades in the cinema (surprise, surprise) but I know I’ll still hear about it, in crushing, minute detail, especially the ‘wild’ sex scenes. ‘What does this film’s massive popularity say about Irish women?’ the media will ask and hordes will rush to answer. You see, in Ireland we can talk for as long as you like, as openly as you like, about dirty films but not our ‘dirty’ secrets. When all the smut and stifled giggles are pushed aside, therein lies the real shame.

Read: Be Your Own Hero

imeldaBehold the bootiful new edition of Irish Country Magazine with the super-talented, super- stylish Imelda May on the cover. Inside I’ve a feature entitled ‘Be Your Own Hero’, which you can read the opening to here. The premise is that we – hello, ladies – are often the ones that hold ourselves back from going after what we want because, sadly, we lack the self-belief required to really go for it. Life, I’m sure you’ll agree, is too short and too precious for that. The article has plenty of good advice on cultivating self-belief and testimonials from women who went after what they wanted and succeeded, so if you fancy a read skip down to your newsagents tout de suite mes amis, tout de suite.


Culture Night 2014

culture night 2014

‘A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and minds of its people’ – Mahatma Gandhi

Everyone could do with a little bit more culture in their lives. Alas, between the hectic practicalities of living and the sense that many people (unfortunately) have that a) creativity is something they relinquished in childhood and b) cultural spaces and practices are often ‘elitist’ or ‘out there’ somehow, our culture becomes something we underrate or overlook. This is a real shame, given that Irish culture -from the language to the literature to the digital arts – is as vibrant and as vital as it has ever been. If you’ve been meaning to recharge your cultural batteries, Culture Night on Friday September 19th is the perfect opportunity. Since 2006, this fantastic annual event throws open the doors to Ireland’s cultural treasure chest, inviting citizens to experience and enjoy the best culture this country has to offer. There’s so much to see and do across the length and breath of the country – including your own locality – that it makes a must-see site. If you’re a literature fan and Galway-based, I’ll be taking part in an Over the Edge reading at Kenny’s Bookshop and Gallery as part of the festivities. More details of that  here and be sure to sample the delights nearest you.

The Bohemyth, May 2014

Amsterdam Books

On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I snapped this outdoor bookshop near Mueseumplein. Ain’t it grand? I could spend hours pottering about an Irish equivalent. Keep a few bin bags to throw over the shelves in case of rain and sure, you’d be away for road. Speaking of things that are grand, the kind folk at The Bohemyth included a story of mine in their May edition. If you like photography and writing, there is much to enjoy.

The South Circular Issue 9


The South Circular is a Dublin-based literary e-journal. Beautifully produced by a team who know their design as well as their writing (really, really well in both respects), I was delighted to be one of the authors featured in their ninth issue, which you can purchase here. Special mention has to go to Dave Comiskey who designed the cover. It’s great to see Irish publishers like The South Circular team developing new formats and new ways of reaching readers while also creating fresh spaces for writers to share their work. Bravo to all and thanks for having me.

Crannóg 34 Launch

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Creative writing is a curious thing. Locking yourself away, squinting at a page or a screen, scribbling down sentences that are ninety percent awful, seven percent passable and three percent vaguely satisfying, is hardly the foundation for a healthy social life or any type of functional life, full stop. It’s hard and lonely and if people think you’re a little bit mad because you feel you simply have to write, then hell’s bells, they are probably correct. 

Having written non-fiction for the bulk of my life and having it come relatively easily to me did not prepare me for the realities of fiction writing. Creating opinions as opposed to creating entire worlds are two very different crafts. Last week, for the first time ever, I read something I had written to a room of almost complete strangers ( a group of friends came along from my MA course to surprise me, which they did. They also made me very happy, bless ’em.) Now, I’ve been on stage, radio, TV etc. and reading things to an audience is generally not a problem for me. That is, of course, because the ‘thing’ is at a quite a nice remove. A script, a running order, notes – all written by someone else you see or by me in a professional capacity, all concerning topics I can talk about but still remain, on a personal level, a safe distance from.

There is no hiding place when it comes to reading your fiction in public. If people hate it, you’ll see it in their faces, you’ll feel it in the air. No wonder so many writers eschew reading their work for audiences altogether. Even if the story is entirely fictional, it is still you, on a page, laid bare for people to draw all kinds of conclusions from, not safely tucked away at home where you can’t see them but right there, in front of your eyes, as you quiver on stage.

But I did it and it wasn’t bad. I survived, without gagging, crying or making a hasty beeline for the loo mid-performance. The generosity of the other writers was what really blew me away though. As a novice, I will never, ever forget it. People don’t have to be nice or kind or encouraging, especially those far more established than you, but when they are, what a gift it is. The piece I read is called Two Eyes, Watching from the latest edition of Galway’s brilliant (if I do say so myself) Crannóg magazine, issue 34, whose launch we were celebrating. The cover is by local artist Harriet Leander. As you can see from above, it is just gorgeous. Thanks to team Crannóg for having me and to all the authors and poets who lit up the Crane Bar last Friday night. You can pick up Crannóg here or from (the best bookshop in Ireland, folks!) the always outstanding Charlie Byrnes in Galway City.

P.S. Here’s a nice collection via of brilliant author’s reading their work in public. Hope it inspires you.  Truman Capote is probably my favourite out of the lot. To Tiffany’s!