You know, you get sent flowers the day your book is published. People pay for your lunch and your coffee. So I always insist now on paying for my coffee
The Plough and the Stars, Stage, 1926)
It befits an unsentimental classic like The Plough and the Stars that its heart resides in such an unlikely place. Bessie Burgess, the cantankerous, self-demolishing, crowing unionist (“Oh, youse are all rightly shanghai’ed now!” she spits at her revolutionary neighbours) is ultimately the spine of compassion, quiet heroism and genuine sacrifice amid all the posture and chaos of O’Casey’s street-level view of the Rising.
Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling, Book, 2017)
A modest, sensible twentysomething from Ballygobbard, Aisling has taken Ireland by storm, Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen’s three books are the bestselling Irish fiction titles this century. Declared an “Irish Bridget Jones”, Aisling is as much in the tradition of a Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes heroine as a rival to Helen Fielding’s creation.
Normal People, Book, 2018; TV, 2020)
Despite being a young man both studying literature and writing it, Connell’s trademark characteristic is his inarticulacy, especially with Marianne, his love. What he doesn’t, or can’t, say to her during their school and college years together is partly what makes Sally Rooney’s character so realistic, frustrating and engaging.
Grace Notes, Book, 1997)
In Scotland, composer Catherine is trying to literally compose her life. She is a new mother, but her partner is abusive. She is estranged from her family back in Northern Ireland. In Bernard MacLaverty’s novel, music and a career-changing composing commission both ground her, and then lift her onwards from where she has been in a paralysis.
The Twelfth Day of July, Book, 1970)
Protestant teenager Sadie is sassy and feisty. As we follow her love-across-thedivide relationship with Catholic Kevin over five books, we grow with them. Joan Lingard’s young adult fiction series brought the Troubles home to generations of young people elsewhere and brought fiction home to young people in the North.
Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Play, 1902)
“Did that play of mine send out/ Certain men the English shot?” wondered WB Yeats. If so, they must have been as naive as the question. In 1798, a mysterious old lady disturbs a family dinner to sing of blood sacrifice, tell of her stolen “four beautiful green fields”, and lure a young man to join the Rebellion. Thus appeased, she transforms into a girl with “the walk of a queen” and struts away into several more Irish dramas.
Big Maggie, Play, 1969)
Like all wives, says Maggie Poplin, in 1969 Kerry, pride, ignorance and religion were “the chains around me”. Those break with the death of her husband, grieved as intensely as spilt milk, while her children’s futures come under “new management”. In every pyrrhic victory of her tough love, John B Keane creates a stunning vision of an admirably monstrous, enduring figure: the Irish Mammy.
Derry Girls, TV, 2018) The sardonic Sr Michael is instantly recognisable to every convent- educated citizen on the island. Once described as “the small angry penguin woman”, she is in fact mordantly acerbic. Brilliantly observed by series creator Lisa McGee and chillingly well played by Corkonian Siobhán McSweeney, Sr Michael will probably end up with a show of her own.
Going My Way, Film, 1944)
Barry Fitzgerald was so good as the traditional priest at odds with hipster Bing Crosby in Leo McCarey’s film that the Academy nominated him twice. The Dubliner is the only person to be shortlisted in both best actor and best supporting actor for the same role. He won the former and they then changed the rules.
his younger self – a subversive maverick, who can eroticise everything from flesh to war to death. A compassionately drawn, complex emissary of sexuality and porous identity.
Portia Coughlan, Play, 1996)
It’s hard to find a more torrid version of family tragedies (outside Greek myth) than the work of Marina Carr. And it’s hard to find a more striking figure in her Gothic Midlands than the savage, desperate, unapologetically sexual Portia Coughlan. More in love with death than life, more besotted with her dead twin brother than anyone living, and more at home in myth than the earthly realm, she is an unspoken psychology writ large, a creation of rugged darkness.
Kelly ( Columns in the Sunday Tribune and The Irish Times from 1998)
Speaking of lovable monsters . . . Paul Howard’s comic creation is a legend in his own liquid lunchtime. This self-deluded rugby jock who never grew up has outlasted the Celtic Tiger Ireland he satirised, spawning 20 novels and several hit plays.
Family, TV, 1994; The WomanWho Walked Into Doors, Book, 1996; Paula Spencer, Book, 2006) Roddy Doyle’s heartbreakingly resilient Paula was first delivered with unflinching accuracy by Ger Ryan. Emotionally, physically and financially battered by her life with husband Charlo on a north Dublin housing estate, the character, despite her circumstances, defied stereotyping. Funny, passionate and clever, she ripped open a seam of Irish life that many would have rather ignored.
The Dead, Short Story, 1914; Film, 1987)
Every now and then an actor grasps a literary character and makes that creation their very own. Nearly three-quarters of a century after James Joyce published The Dead, Anjelica Huston brought her unique intelligence to the role in her father’s final film. Exists both within and apart from the source material.
Father Ted, TV, 1995) Mrs Doyle, part human teasmade, part clerical carbuncle, was played by the irrepressible Pauline McLynn. The agonised housekeeper and comedy queen of Craggy Island launched a tea-cosy revival and was single-handedly responsible for an entire nation saying “Ah go on, go on, go on” any time a tipple of any description was being refused.
The Quiet Man,
It goes without saying that Maureen O’Hara is teasing stereotypes – the flame-haired colleen with a volcanic temper – in John Ford’s tribute to an Ireland that never existed. But the actor’s unquenchable charm gave Mary Kate eternal life. Forever waving from the arched bridge.
Bailegangaire, Play, 1985) Tom Murphy never let Mommo go, a character revisited in four works, but
CHANNEL FOUR; RTE