No-holds-barred tale of how she made it through

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS - IVANA BACIK

PEOPLELIKE­ME Lynn Ruane Gill Books, 245pp, ¤16.99

In this com­pelling mem­oir, Lynn Ruane tells the no-holds-barred tale of her life story so far. She de­scribes her child­hood, grow­ing up in Kil­li­nar­den, Tal­laght, and her grad­ual slip­page from be­ing a “bois­ter­ous, giddy and hard-work­ing kid with a love of an­i­mals and peo­ple to a more hard­ened ver­sion of my­self”. A rev­e­la­tion made by her par­ents when she was nine or 10 (you’ll have to read the book to find out what) turned her into “the bit­ter, an­gry daugh­ter from hell”, drop­ping out of school and fam­ily life. She gives a graphic ac­count of these wilder­ness years, when she was “miss­ing in ac­tion”. Read­ers will in­evitably feel im­mense sym­pa­thy for her par­ents, who spent most nights dur­ing that pe­riod go­ing door to door look­ing for her, but who never gave up on her, de­spite the de­struc­tive agenda that was con­sum­ing her.

Par­tic­u­larly har­row­ing is her me­mory of the death of a close friend, Jenny Hoban, knocked down by a bus in Kil­li­nar­den on a cold Novem­ber night when they were all only 11. This is just one of many deaths Ruane ex­pe­ri­enced in her com­mu­nity. She states chill­ingly in an early chap­ter that “We were drug users and some of us al­co­holics at the age of twelve. We stab each other, shoot each other and bat­ter the life out of each other. It’s the fate of our births, our lo­ca­tion, our de­mo­graph­ics.” She re­turns to this theme through­out, writ­ing later that “We are be­ing killed by class. Home­less­ness, ad­dic­tion, risky be­hav­iours and men­tal health are not just sta­tis­tics to me, they are not the sto­ries you read in the pa­per, they are my friends.”

Un­like many of her friends, how­ever, Ruane made it through. At 15 she be­came preg­nant and be­gan to turn her life around. Even be­fore her daugh­ter Jor­danne was born, she de­cided to re­turn to school to get her Ju­nior Cert, walk­ing heav­ily preg­nant back through the doors of the lo­cal school. On her first day there, a wo­man said to her, “You have wasted your life. You know that, don’t you?” Ruane says this throw­away, un­kind com­ment has stuck with her all these years. But for­tu­nately, it did not de­ter her from pur­su­ing her goals. Af­ter Jor­danne’s birth, she com­pleted her Ju­nior Cert and con­tin­ued on at An Cosán, the re­mark­able adult ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre in Job­stown, Tal­laght, founded by Dr Ann Louise Gil­li­gan and Dr Kather­ine Zap­pone (now Min­is­ter for Chil­dren).

At An Cosán, Ruane de­vel­oped the idea of pur­su­ing a ca­reer in ad­dic­tion ser­vices, us­ing her own ex­pe­ri­ence of drugs to help oth­ers. She was ac­cepted on to the ad­dic­tion stud­ies pro­gramme at IT Tal­laght. Shortly af­ter her se­cond daugh­ter, Jae­lynne, was born, she was ap­pointed com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment drugs worker in Blue­bell. One of the fun­ni­est episodes in the book is her de­scrip­tion of the job in­ter­view. She was con­vinced that one tough, ca­su­ally dressed mem­ber of the panel was a ser­vice user. On be­ing told she had got the job, she con­grat­u­lated the or­gan­i­sa­tion on in­clud­ing a ser­vice user at the in­ter­view; but John Bis­sett was in fact the chair­man of the board, and went on to be­come an im­por­tant role model for Ruane. She writes that she would never have con­sid­ered her­self ca­pa­ble of go­ing to univer­sity with­out know­ing that Bis­sett had a PhD be­side his name.

With sup­port from men­tors such as Bis­sett, Ruane took up a place on the Trin­ity Col­lege Ac­cess Pro­gramme. She felt at home on her very first time step­ping into the col­lege’s Front Square, be­fore she ever ap­plied to study there. Many of us with a long as­so­ci­a­tion with Trin­ity, I think, will iden­tify with that feel­ing of “com­ing home” upon walk­ing un­der Front Arch and into that beau­ti­ful square.

While an un­der­grad­u­ate, Ruane was elected pres­i­dent of Trin­ity Stu­dents’ Union. She fa­mously went on to be elected in 2016, along­side David Nor­ris and my­self, as a Sen­a­tor for Dublin Univer­sity, en­ter­ing the Seanad be­fore she had fin­ished her de­gree. She is now a hard-work­ing and val­ued Oireach­tas col­league.

The fi­nal chap­ters of the book de­tail her achievemen­ts as a leg­is­la­tor, her work on the cam­paign to re­peal the Eighth Amend­ment, and her on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal pri­or­i­ties (al­though she is, in­trigu­ingly, silent on her po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions for the fu­ture).

Ruane writes that her story is couched in po­lit­i­cal terms, told through so­ci­o­log­i­cal con­cepts, be­cause she is in­ter­twined com­pletely with her class, gen­der and ex­pe­ri­ence. At times, par­tic­u­larly in the de­scrip­tions of her ad­dic­tion ser­vices work, the telling of this story is car­ried out in some­what im­per­sonal lan­guage; yet it is more pow­er­ful when told in the con­ver­sa­tional style that char­ac­terises most of the text.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, this is not just Ruane’s per­sonal story. It is also a story of re­demp­tion. It’s a story about the im­por­tance of com­mu­nity and univer­sity-based ac­cess pro­grammes, the power of ed­u­ca­tion, the sig­nif­i­cance in our lives of men­tors and role mod­els; the ca­pac­ity to make change, to turn around lives, to chal­lenge what may seem like fated out­comes. This is a story well worth telling.

Ivana Bacik is a Sen­a­tor and a pro­fes­sor of law at Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin

PHO­TO­GRAPH: CYRIL BYRNE

Lynn Ruane with her daugh­ters, Jor­danne and Jae­lynne.

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