Long way from here
Watching her friends die young gave senator Lynn Ruane the drive to experience life, motherhood and education at a young age, writes Patrick Freyne
Senator Lynn Ruane t ells me about the tattoos on her arms. There’s a rose for Jenny, a childhood friend who died in a road accident when they were in their early teens. She and another friend told the tattooist that they were 18. Her daughter Jordanne’s name is beneath the Rose and above that you can also see, now partially obscured, the name of Jordanne’s father, Alan. On her other arm there’s the figure of St Christopher for her dad. “He used to say St Christopher was the patron saint of travellers, so when I went on my travels for days and he couldn’t find me, St Christopher would mind me.”
Above this there’s Badb the Celtic war goddess. “She’s about transformation, for me.”
There’s a poppy and a cocoa leaf which represent her work with addicts. Nearby are Medusa and Balor, a one- eyed Celtic monster. “Everybody he looks at dies. [ When] all my f riends were dying, I thought ‘ Oh my god, that’s me, I’m Balor.”
And the flowers – there are a lot of flowers – these represent the months friends died and family members were born. There’s a gladiolus for August, to mark her daughter Jordanne’s birth. There are two snowdrops, for January, because her younger daughter, Jaelynne, was born then but it was also the month her friend John died in prison. She herself was born in October, she tells me, pointing at a chrysanthemum. And her friends Curly, Tracy and Daithí died in October. There are a lot of flowers. She has names for them all.
Ruane has written a fascinating memoir. It’s called People Like Me and in it she re- counts her journey from the Killinarden Estate in Tallaght to Seanad Éireann. It’s not your typical political memoir. Ruane finds it hard to see it as a “political” memoir at all. “I’m more connected to who I was than who I’m becoming,” she says. “I light up more when I’m talking about the younger years.”
When I arrive at the house where she has l i v e d o n a n d o f f s i n c e s h e w a s two- years- old, now with her mother and daughters, she’s straightening her hair after a morning at the gym. We’re soon out in her car and she’s pointing out places mentioned in the book “to bring it to life a little bit.” She’s warm, insightful and funny. She’s also incredibly open. Someone once told her, she says, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
The cul- de- sac was a wonderful place to grow up, filled with newly- moved young families. She recalls herself and her brother out playing rounders and “the odd game of IRA, where you got battered” and she recalls her dad cycling from town on “a little racer” with work to be completed by her sewing machinist mother. Her mother now works in the nearby Uchiya thermostat factory. Her father died of Lewy body dementia in 2013.
She may have always had some issues with authority, she says. She was told not to return to preschool “because I karate chopped some boy over a tractor”. In primary school she had a run in with a cruel teacher who lied about her behaviour and, she adds, with comical disgust “stopped me going on School Around the Corner!” When, years later, she discovered Jordanne was to have the same teacher, she