Kathleen MacMa­hon

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

Houli­han (

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,

Film, 1952)

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


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