close to the next moment was born in Dublin and my father was born in Clare. And Dublin, not universally but extremely commonly, was made up of half and half. So it was an interesting amalgam, an interesting place. But there wasn’t a huge rejection of rural values as being more basic, or crude, either in my family or in Irish life. There was still a nostalgia for the rural and for the West. I know we partook in an American idea of the suburbs too. And perhaps it was a better new future. Who’s to say?
jar : In 2006 you wrote a piece on consumerism for the Irish Times, about a trip to the Dundrum shopping centre. You described yourself as a failed consumer for forgetting how to want things in a culture that wanted things. A month earlier you’d written a piece about money. You described how consumption had gone from a political problem to a spiritual one. I wonder if you felt consumerism was reconstructing the Irish character in some way, and if so, how this might affect choices given to your characters.
ae : I was reared not to judge people by what they had. I think that was somehow part of the national project. I think that has shifted now. Certainly as children we were discouraged from talking about how much people had. Maybe I was naïve. So when a student in the University of East Anglia said, ‘I don’t know anything about your characters, I don’t know what kind of wallpaper they have’, it took me years to realise he wasn’t talking about pattern, madness and repetition. He was talking about how much money they had. And I thought, oh right, that’s all about class then. He wants to know what class my characters are so he knows how to read my book. But I don’t judge my characters that way. It’s a moral issue with me.
I don’t think we were primed for materialism. In my family, we were primed for education. Exams were hugely important. I think what we absolutely wanted was to reverse emigration. I remember in 1990 I went out to the airport to film on Nighthawks. One of the first pieces we did was to film the returning emigrants. It’s an astonishing place, that arrivals hall in Dublin airport in the days before Christmas. And that was in 1990. Staying home was an ambition in my family. And we were very lucky. My brother became a civil engineer in 1984. Out of 120 in his class, only two stayed at home. He was one of them. In retrospect, that was a minor miracle. But, you know, nobody in my family is very interested in what kind of car he has.