Monday, 18 March 2013
Celebrating the Irish
The whole world appears to be behind the Irish on the 17th March. Half a million extra people descended on the capital for the weekends celebrations. Where else should you be on St Patrick's Day?A rhetorical question apparently. One woman travelled solo from Istabul. She said her friends asked her why she would do this, to which her reply was - 'Why not?' The 500euro a night for a hotel in Dublin didn't deter her. She found a more reasonable resting place in an upmarket hostel. She was kitted out in the green, white and gold without holding back. She was here to celebrate what it means to be Irish.
An inner city grandmother had been queuing since 10.30 with her two grandchildren aged 3 and 5. They were dressed as a bear and zebra. I think the warmth of their hats contributed to this, not anything to do with being Irish. With green ponchos and matching wellies, she knew what to expect that day. The ache in her back and arms from supporting them on the barriers was not part of the bargain. Yet, she entertained and cajoled the children for almost two hours until the parade started. It was their first parade she said. I admired her for taking them out on her own on a day like that but she scoffed at me. It wouldn't be St Patrick's Day without the parade and some rain. What was the point in watching it on TV? Is this what it means to be Irish?
Shauna Gilligan is a new Irish writer to watch. Her debut novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere is exquisitely written, emotional, poignant and real. It charts the life of four main characters who are interconnected not only through familial ties but through a similiar journey of discovery experiencing isolation, societal pressure and expectation. They deal with this in different ways explored through shifting points of view by Gilligan. This could be seen as deliberately trying to make the structure complicated in an attempt to be different but it works. Sepp, Mary, Dirk and Sheila are 3D,we share their humiliation, expectations, anxieties. Too closely sometimes. Gillligan treats delicate issues such as depression and suicide with a keen understanding, a rawness that is not overdone or condescending. Her characters are not in a faceless place - Dublin comes to life through her words. All aspects are shown as the story transcends decades and social classes. It's a vibrant city, throbbing with party life yet a lonliness and isolation behind closed doors.
Happiness Comes from Nowhere is a philosophical book in it's subject matter. Gilligan has a keen insight into the human psyche but it is not a heavy book to read. The characters don't allow it. They are just looking for the answers to questions we all have.