close to the next moment own ideas about the family, that it’s not the most glorious institution. I was thinking the other day that of all the institutions I thought I might end up in, marriage wasn’t exactly top of the list. I have my doubts about the cult of the Irish family. But there’s no doubt that it has social benefits.
jar : In a recent Irish Times article you observed ‘a renewed keening, that ancient Irish lament, for all we have lost, though it’s hard to say what it is this time around, which Ireland is gone’. There has been a sense at times in your journalism of a culture perhaps having gone too far, of something valuable being lost. And at the same time a sense of doing battle with or mistrusting the past in order to get fully to the present.
ae : What I mistrust is not the past itself but stories about the past. Ireland was built on the fiction of an idealised past that was stained by the English occupation. If you look at what Yeats and Lady Gregory were doing, they were deliberately building a romantic Irish fiction. And that romantic Irish fiction was perpetrated in order to support Irish nationalism. And it continued to form ideas of Irish national identity right through my childhood and beyond. Once a relative in London turned to me about one of the bombings there and said, doesn’t it make you feel ashamed to be Irish? And I said no. And she was very shocked. But I felt, well it’s absolutely nothing to do with me. I don’t support these people. Why should I be blamed for what they’re doing? Why should that be more Irish than I am? You do feel a strong sense that the word ‘Irish’ has been stolen by many different groups over the years. And that the last thing an Irish person is, is middle class, urban and female.
jar : And yet you’ve written urban middle-class women into the centre of Irishness or definitions of Irishness. Having done that, is it any clearer to you, from where you stand now, what has been lost or gained culturally over the past twenty years?
ae : I don’t think something valuable was lost when Ireland got money. I actually welcomed the increase in prosperity. My nieces and nephews have work. Nobody’s leaving – which is, as I say, a core value, in the extended family – unless they’re going away for holidays. These days nobody’s in Ireland, because they’re always on a