Artistic Licence column

Artistic Licence by Nadine O’Regan (published 07/02 in the Sunday Business Post)Fergus-OFarrell-in-Prague-by-Anthony-Fenn

Last week, a man called Fergus O’Farrell died in West Cork. Lots of people in Ireland – even committed music fans – will never have heard of him.

But for people who knew O’Farrell and his band Interference, they will understand how great a loss to the Irish music community his death represents. Formed in 1984 in Dublin and best known for the track Gold, from the Once soundtrack, Interference did not have much in the way of recorded output. But if you saw them play live, you’d never forget it.

It wasn’t because O’Farrell had muscular dystrophy – he was in a wheelchair, with limited use of his hands, his lungs half wasted away – it was because he and they were brilliant. This was no sympathy vote. Interference were the real thing. Thinking about O’Farrell this week, I couldn’t help but think, he’s not the only brave musician in this country. For many Irish artists, their enemy holding them back and pinning them down may be less visible, but it is no less present.

Every day, Irish musicians are being left hanging by the country that houses them: left stranded by lack of funding, lack of committed support from the arts ministry, lack of willingness by Irish radio stations to play them, as they choose instead to drip-feed the public an anaemic diet of Rihanna and Taylor Swift. Musician and film-maker Myles O’Reilly, an astute observer of the Irish scene, wrote a despairing Facebook post recently, in which he criticised the disenfranchisement of Irish artists and how the government made them ‘beg’ for financial assistance. “Ireland, today I hate you,” O’Reilly said, lamenting his negativity but unable to find any other reasonable response to the circumstances which surround him.

Some weeks ago, there was a social media outcry when the founders of Block T, based in Smithfield in Dublin, revealed that they would not be able to keep up their current premises. Block T is an important cultural space: it houses dozens of writers, artists, video-makers and photographers. But now that the leafy shoots of a new boom are sprouting, the Block T rent is boomeranging back to Celtic Tiger levels and the space has become untenable for the very people who kept Smithfield alive during the recession.

The Block T members aren’t the only ones struggling. In a few weeks’ time, on March 3, the Choice Music Prize – a celebration of the best Irish albums of the year – will take place in Dublin. Founded in 2005, and previously sponsored by Meteor, this year, the Choice Prize is limping along without a title sponsor. In an interview with the Irish Times, founder Dave Reid said he would personally underwrite any losses this year. Contrast the Choice Prize’s precarious situation with, for example, the Mercury Prize in England, which has the support of the BBC, and which represents a major boost and badge of pride for musicians.

Maybe it’s naive to think that we could do better; to dare to hope that our artists and musicians could get more than they’re getting. But it’s galling to see Ireland complimented abroad for its talent, as a nation of writers, musicians and artists, while undercut at home by a lack of funding – the Irish Film Board’s funding has been frozen for years; our national cultural institutions have lost out; writers earn buttons for their novels.

And still artists struggle on, because they understand how vital the arts are for their health and sense of self. In 2011, I interviewed Fergus O’Farrell in West Cork. He didn’t want to talk about illness. He wanted to talk about the importance of music in his life. ‘‘It’d be great if I was able to wave a magic wand, and – bang! – I could walk,” he said. “But, to be honest, if I had the choice between being able to walk again and losing my musicality or artistic nature, I’d keep up the art.”

The arts are not an indulgence. They are central to our wellbeing. Will a new government understand that, and act accordingly?

Artistic Licence: Stupid is on the Rise

B.o.B. newArtistic Licence
By Nadine O’Regan, published Jan 31, 2016, in the Sunday Business Post, Ireland 

Have you heard of B.o.B? If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. He’s the US rapper who hit the headlines over the past week for his bonkers opinions, including his belief that the Earth is flat.

Last week, the chart-topping rapper wrote numerous tweets to his followers – and he has more than two million of them – expressing his conspiracy views and unveiling pictures of the horizon, which, in his head, back up his theory because, to paraphrase the man himself, cities in the distance would not be visible if the earth was round.

The important thing to note about B.o.B is this: it’s all silly, except for one detail: his media platform is massive. He’s communicating his thoughts to an audience of potentially over two million people. And now that the media has seized hold of the story, his opinions are snaking their way around the (decidedly round) world.

No matter how ridiculous B.o.B’s views are, someone’s going to wind up believing them, right? Oh, and by the way, B.o.B isn’t just a zany rapper who thinks the Earth is flat. He’s also a fan of David Irving, the Holocaust denier. (Asked about B.o.B, Irving approvingly said he will “now take a greater interest in American rap”.) B.o.B. is not just a science-scoffer and anti-intellectual. He’s a dangerous man.

There are quite a few B.o.Bs out there of late. Increasingly, I find myself watching US news and trying to distinguish the caricatures on satirical shows from the real people being mocked. Take the case of Tiny Fey, a brilliant comic who returned to Saturday Night Live to satirise Sarah Palin’s recent speech endorsing Donald Trump.

Fey had a whale of a time delivering her version of the speech, all the while rocking an identical silver tasselled black jacket, with spectacles and pale pink lipstick. But in truth Fey couldn’t hope to compete with the caricature that is Palin herself. With her speech about “holy rollers”, “spinning heads” and “pussy footin’ around”, Palin’s speech was sheer cartoon spectacle. Media outlets rejoiced in delivering Palin and her speech to the public, as they have with the speeches of Donald Trump.

Why wouldn’t they be pleased? Although Trump and Palin claim to provide us with political views, for millions of people out there, they’re just another entertainment. Nobody takes Trump seriously – and so the presidential candidate continues to rise in popularity, even while he tells us he will be responsible for deporting 11 million people and cracking down hard on Muslims.

“Would I approve waterboarding?” he has said. “You bet your ass I would – in a heartbeat.” That’s the kind of rhetoric Trump specialises in: folksy, down-at-home and rabidly anti-intellectual. Forget science, forget empathy, forget facts. Trump is part of a powerful wave of anti-intellectualism sweeping America at present.

But back to B.o.B. In a recent statement, the rapper said that those who disagree with his ‘flat Earth’ theory are “sheep”. “No matter how high in elevation you are,” B.o.B tweeted, posting a picture of some clouds viewed from an aeroplane, “the horizon is always eye level. Sorry cadets. I didn’t wanna believe it either”.

Handily, the rapper has a new song out called Flatline. With all the attention currently on him, thousands of new fans will probably buy it. Actually I’m okay with that. It’s just a song. It’s just your dime. At least B.o.B doesn’t want to be the leader of the free world (or so you hope). Not everyone is as lacking in ambition.

Stupid is on the rise. And yeah, most of the time, it’s all pretty funny. But – as the months wear on and the American presidential campaign gathers pace – if smart people don’t start to take the phenomenon seriously, then they risk being foolish indeed.

Fergus O’Farrell, RIP

*I was so sad to hear of the passing of Fergus O’Farrell of Interference on Tuesday. I didn’t know him well (I interviewed him at his home in West Cork in 2011 and we kept in touch afterwards by email) but I was so struck by his decision to keep making art, music and visual, in the face of such serious illness. He couldn’t walk, he could barely use one of his arms, but he kept going. His music was magnificent — everyone who knows Interference knows that, and I feel so lucky to have seen them perform live — but Ferg’s entire life was an inspiration. If anyone wants to find out a little more about him, here’s the interview I did with him in 2011: may you rest in peace, Ferg. x

Redemption songs, The Sunday Business Post
BY NADINE O’REGAN ON JUNE 4, 2011

Muscular dystrophy robbed Fergus O’Farrell’s muscles of their strength, but it has failed to sap his songs of their power

Just before Christmas, Fergus O’Farrell nearly died.

He developed serious pneumonia – it was the sixth time he’d had pneumonia – and a kidney stone.

He was on a ventilator in hospital for 20 days. But O’Farrell doesn’t have much interest in talking about his near-death experience. He faces down those threats most days of his life.

O’Farrell suffers from muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes his muscles to slowly waste away. Doctors told his parents that he would be in a wheelchair by 14 and dead by 20. At 43,O’Farrell has no interest in talking about death.

Instead he talks about his pneumonia only in the context of what’s really important to him: his music. ‘‘It delayed getting the album finished,” he says. ‘‘I won’t release it if I’m not happy with it. But I definitely want to have it ready soon.”

Small shouldered, clad in a hoody top and sporting a well-trimmed beard, O’Farrell, the frontman of renowned cult Irish band Interference, has blue eyes that have seen pain, but which also radiate a sturdy form of optimism against the odds.

The room he’s sitting in couldn’t help but inspire positivity in a person. Bordered on three sides by windows, it faces directly onto Schull harbour in West Cork, with the east end of Long Island and its Copper Point light beacon just visible.

When I arrive, sunlight is filling the spacious room holding a piano, a large wooden table covered with art created in watercolours, acrylic paint and ink pens, and a leafy potted plant in one corner. It’s beautiful and you feel glad that it’s so.

This room is where O’Farrell spends most of his time. In a wheelchair, O’Farrell’s hands are no longer strong enough to play guitar anymore, so, in the past few years he has learned to express himself through visual art. ‘‘When you’re playing a musical instrument you become one with it,” he says.

‘‘And a song emerges. I use the same process with painting. I start improvising with the colours.”

Right now, he’s sighing over one of his mixed media works. A few nights ago, O’Farrell poured some white paint on it ‘‘and ruined it’’.

He’s cross with himself, thinking of the time he had to spend scraping the white paint off, the work that has been potentially wasted and must be started again.

O’Farrell is a perfectionist – it’s one reason why his band Interference are so revered – and not just by DJs such as RTE’s Dave Fanning and Dan Hegarty, but by musicians, young and old, all around the country.

‘‘I’ll give 150 per cent,” says O’Farrell. ‘‘I always wanted to be so good that it’d never be this [pity thing].” It never has been.

In his salad days, O’Farrell, born in Cork, spent ten years living in Dublin, where, as Glen Hansard, one of his biggest fans, explains in an e-mail, ‘‘they were looked up to by all the biggest bands in town, and yet they were a secret kept from the common music fan’’.

Decades later, owing to O’Farrell’s condition, Interference are rarely in the public eye, but music fans are still in thrall to them. When I mentioned on Twitter that I was on my way to see O’Farrell in West Cork, musicians, including Choice Music Prize winner Jape, got in touch to ask me to pass on their best regards.

There’s a love there for the band that is rooted in a genuine admiration for their artistry. Live, Interference are something to behold.

Their music washes over you, all held together by O’Farrell’s voice, which is a remarkable instrument. His phrasing has an incredible elegance to it and his tone is warm, world-weary and beguiling. Cumulatively the band make you think of two of the most hyped young acts of today, Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear.

When Interference performed last year at the Cork X Southwest festival, they were better than both. Next Friday, they will perform at the Temple House festival in Sligo – a rare gig for them that represents quite a coup for the festival.

Every gig O’Farrell travels to costs him far more physically than most musicians – and in a week when Prime Time Investigates exposed the gaping holes in the health care system, it’s easy to imagine how difficult his life – even in such beautiful surroundings – must often be.

O’Farrell rattles off the background details of his diagnosis in a matter-of-fact fashion. ‘‘I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophyat the age of eight,’’ he says. ‘‘Your muscles get worn away. They don’t get replaced. I was cycling until I was 15, on a motorbike until I was 16. I was walking until my early twenties. Then I was in a wheelchair. By the end of the first album I was in an electric wheelchair. ‘‘With some conditions you inherit them in your genes. In my case, it’s not present in the genes of my mother or father.

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An economy recovers — artists suffer?

Nadine O’Regan: Artistic Licence

 

You can feel it, can’t you? It’s in the little things: the purchase of an unnecessarily expensive birthday gift, the impulse shopping in the sales, the decision to go on a foreign holiday. Slowly but surely, confidence is being restored to the Irish public.

The so-called green shoots are flourishing. We’re all thinking about upping the ante, changing our cars, negotiating our jobs upwards, selling our houses. Companies are hiring again.

There’s a heady whiff of banknotes and excitement in the air.

But what does an economic recovery mean for artists? You’d think it would be a good thing: more arts fans will want to go out, spend money on seeing plays, buying books, going to the cinema.

Perhaps funding for the arts might increase, particularly if the government sees fit to stop squandering all its cash on 1916 spectacles, and diverts the money into more meaningful engagements for those artists who are creating independent work and need financial support for those projects to bear fruit.

But, in truth, a thriving economy puts a terrible pressure on artists. As more than one artist noted back in the boom, the Celtic Tiger did little or nothing for them.

They didn’t see the kind of pay boosts that many office workers and those in the building industry enjoyed. Instead, almost paradoxically, they faced more pressures: pressure to take up nine-to-five jobs that were available and vaguely suitable; pressure to spend more money on nights out with friends in fancy restaurants; pressure to rent places they couldn’t afford; and pressure to ostentatiously spend, spend, spend.

When the wheels of the construction industry ground to a halt and the cranes vanished from our skylines, the artists returned. Over the past few years, it’s been a pleasure to live in a Dublin that is so full of creative life.

The crash brought with it intense financial hardship for so many, but it also gave us back a sense of community and cameraderie.

Theatre practitioners shared their work spaces, musicians helped each other out for free on studio recordings, debut authors wrote books, partly because they’d been made redundant from their jobs, and had the time to do so.

Novels by authors such as former Sunday Tribune writers Gavin Corbett and Paul Lynch might not have emerged without the kind of push the bust offered.

The Guardian wrote in late 2015 about the astonishing surge of fiction coming from Irish authors of late. Headlined “A new Irish literary boom”, the article by Justine Jordan chronicled the rise of debut authors such as Eimear McBride, Sara Baume, Lisa McInerney and Colin Barrett, describing how there was a “palpable energy” in Irish fiction.

The timing of such energy isn’t a coincidence, as novelist Claire Kilroy noted in the article, arguing that the consumerist ideology of the boom had meant that Irish writers became “artistically neutered” during that time. She wasn’t wrong.

We are a nation of dreamers, thinkers and creatives. But we often undervalue our own gifts, and, in tandem, our needs in terms of doing creative jobs that we find fulfilling.

Study after study has shown that money only brings us happiness up to a certain point: after you become financially comfortable, a bigger pay cheque no longer increases your happiness in the same way.

In Dingle at the Other Voices festival last month, I was lucky enough to hear Donal Lunny giving a Banter talk in Foxy John’s pub. “It’s important for your wellbeing,” Lunny said, “to be involved in things one likes.” It was such simple advice, but it stuck with me.

We need to learn lessons from our boom-to-bust past. We need to nurture our artists and remember that, if and when the good times come again, it shouldn’t be at the expense of our national creativity. A commercial boom shouldn’t have to spell a creative bust.

Songs in the Key of Life: 2015 remembered

SITKOL

Happy Christmas!

Can’t believe we’re nearly at the end of another year; it’s been a great one for us on Songs in the Key of Life.

A particular highlight this year was winning Bronze in the category of Specialist Music at the PPI Radio Awards for the show with Blindboy of the Rubberbandits, but to be honest, every show has been really great fun: it’s been an honour and pleasure to hang out with so many great guests on behalf of the programme.

In case you missed anything, below is a list of all my guests from the past year. You can listen back to many of the more recent shows by going to http://www.txfm.ie/listenback.

Coming up in Jan 2016, by the way, we’ll have a two-part special with Matt Berninger of The National and El Vy, so make sure to keep an ear out for it.

Have a lovely holiday.

Nadine

x

 

 

2015 on Songs in the Key of Life

January 3rd — a special for the new sounds of 2015 with Pitchfork’s Chris Kaskie, Royal Blood and Lily & Madeleine

January 10th — singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes

January 17th — Richie Egan of Jape

January 24th — Mike Scott of The Waterboys

January 31st — Hilary Woods, ex JJ72, singer-songwriter

February 7th — Steve Garrigan and Mark Prendergast from Kodaline

February 14th — comedian Neil Delamere

February 21st — Sam Fogarino from Interpol

February 28th — Father John Misty

March 7th — Roisin Ingle, journalist with the Irish Times and author

March 14th — singer-songwriter Duke Special

March 21st — Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters

March 28th — Blindboy of The Rubberbandits

April 4th — Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney

April 11th — Niamh Farrell of Ham Sandwich

Arpil 18th — Broadcaster and author Dan Hegarty

April 25th — Mercury Prize nominee Ghostpoet

May 2nd — The Airbourne Toxic Event’s Mikel Jollett

May 9th — singer-songwriter Matthew E White

May 16th — Dublin DJ Dandelion

May 23rd — Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh

May 30th — Jon Ronson, author and screenwriter

June 6th — Broadcaster George Hook of Newstalk

June 13th — Johnny Borrell, ex-Razorlight

June 20th — MayKay from Fight Like Apes (presented by John Caddell)

June 27th — Ron Sexmith, singer-songwriter

July 4th — Graham Hopkins, drummer with The Frames among others

July 11th — St Vincent

July 18th (no show owing to Longitude)

July 25th — Aidan Gillen, actor

August 1st — Paul Murray, author

August 8th — Oliver Cole, singer-songwriter, ex-Turn

August 15th — Jack Whitehall, comedian and actor/writer

August 22nd — Shane Hegarty, author and journalist

August 29th — Leagues O’Toole, promoter, author and broadcaster

September 5th — Michael Shuman of Queens of the Stone Age & Mini-Mansions

September 12th — Karl Geraghty of The Workman’s Club in Dublin

September 19th — Thomas Bartlett of The Gloaming

September 26th — Catherine Hardwicke, director of Twilight

October 3rd — Tom and Hayden from Wild Beasts

October 10th — Cait O’Riordan, ex-Pogues

October 17th — Adrian Crowley, singer-songwriter

October 24th — Ezra Furman, singer-songwriter

October 31st — Paul Cleary from The Blades

November 7th — Louise O’Neill, Irish author

November 14th — Matt Cooper, Today FM broadcaster and author

November 21st —  Irish author Kevin Barry

November 28th — Sinead Gleeson, broadcaster, editor and journalist

December 5th — Aoife Woodlock, music producer of Other Voices

December 12th  — Irish musician and producer Joe Chester

December 19th — Best of Part One

 

Bono & Me: Why I’ve Started to Warm to Bono (again)

bonoPublished in The Sunday Business Post, 13th September 2015 by Nadine O’Regan
Don’t hate me for saying this, but I think I’m warming to Bono again. I’ve been trying to figure out quite when this strange development came to pass.
It’s not a recent thing; it’s not just because U2 have finally resolved, after much indecision and bellyaching about suitable venues, to bring their Innocence and Experience world tour to Ireland.
And it’s not because – after years of being seemingly the only music journalist in the country not to have my own personal U2 anecdote – I finally had a brief encounter with the band. I had the good fortune to find myself at a fancy dinner in Dalkey last summer where I sat within spitting distance of the Edge; I can confirm he did not remove his hat for the duration of the meal.
It certainly has nothing to do with the patchy quality of their newish album, which they inserted into everyone’s iTunes last year without permission, leading to all manner of jokes about everyone needing better firewalls against Bono.
No, the truth is I started to like Bono again when I heard something bad had happened to him. Last November, Bono came off his bike in New York’s Central Park and hurt himself seriously, requiring surgery on his arm. And that was it: I heard the news and I felt awful for him. I felt that quiver of alarm that you get when you hear something terrible has happened to one of your relatives, who happens to live in a foreign country, but who you keep in tangential contact with through your folks.
Bono is family. He’s your annoying uncle. He’s your dad when he drinks too much and spouts off. He’s your entrepreneurial cousin who made a fortune in an internet company and who everyone pats on the back while secretly resenting. Sure, he’s on a TV screen instead of on the settee in the front room, but he’s there nonetheless, being annoying, being talented, being in your face, then rushing off and meeting the Pope on you.

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Colm Toibin interview (Sunday Business Post)

I published this interview with Colm Toibin in April in The Sunday Business Post. Here’s hoping that by this time tomorrow, Toibin gets his wish — the right to marry his partner in Ireland.

Colm Tóibín on same sex marriage: ‘The idea that I’m being excluded is hurtful to me’
03:55, 19 April 2015 by Nadine O’Regan

Colm Tóibín feels wounded, personally attacked and damaged.
The reason for his feelings is simple. Over the past few months, as the debate over the impending gay marriage referendum has gathered momentum, Tóibín has watched with increasing agitation as commentators have argued against granting him the right to marry his partner in his home country.
“When there’s somebody telling me that I can’t share my love with my partner publicly, I call that discrimination,” the renowned Irish novelist told The Sunday Business Post. “It’s very hurtful.”
In a phone call from New York, where he is teaching at Columbia University, the thrice Booker-nominated author of bestselling novels including Brooklyn, The Blackwater Lightship and Nora Webster, spoke eloquently and with palpable emotion about how Ireland’s response to gay marriage – and by extension to him as a gay man – has affected him.
“This isn’t like other debates,” Tóibín said. “In a debate about the economy or foreign policy, everybody could have a different view and you could argue your point. The problem is, if you’re gay, it’s fundamental to you.
“If someone thinks that I should not have the right to love, it’s very difficult to handle and it’s very difficult to be rational in response.
“I see people such as David Quinn and Breda O’Brien as a fundamental part of our democracy. They’re people who make arguments and if they didn’t Ireland would be the poorer. Having people represent another side of an argument is important.
“But in this case it’s very difficult because it’s so fundamental. I don’t think that in the large cases of discrimination that we know about – for example Catholics in Northern Ireland – that if someone told them that their right to love, and their right for it to be recognised in public, would be added to the other indignities they would be suffering under – well, it’s an extreme thing to do.”
Same-sex civil unions have been recognised in Ireland since 2011, but Tóibín does not believe they should be considered an appropriate compromise or substitution for the institution of marriage.
“In Ireland, ritual is important to us, especially because families are so close. Weddings matter in Ireland and being excluded from them is really sad. If you’re at your brother’s wedding and you realise, ‘I can’t have one of those’, it makes you feel that [people consider that] you’re not really in love with your boyfriend. You can have civil partnership but we [straight people] can have the whole thing.”
Tóibín was particularly distressed recently by an article written by political writer Bruce Arnold, in which Arnold argued against the prospect of gay marriage in Ireland, describing how important his marriage had been to him in his life.
“I’ve known Bruce Arnold a long time and I knew his wife and I have enormous respect for him as a journalist,” Tóibín said. “When I read the piece I was personally hurt by it. I was happy I wouldn’t see him on the street. I would have tried to get by very quickly.
“In the piece he was thinking about his own life, and the way in which his marriage had mattered to him. If I were to argue to him, I would argue about my life. I’ve done my best in Ireland as a writer. People read my books and I have made a contribution to Irish society as a journalist and a writer.
“The idea that I’m being excluded from something that Bruce treasures so much is very hurtful to me. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t say that, since he had all this happiness and it came his way and mattered so much, that surely he would want to give other people that rather than exclude them from it.”
Born and raised in Enniscorthy, Tóibín, who is 59, has struggled in the past with his identity as a gay man, rarely speaking publicly on the subject. In 2009, he defended his decision to this reporter not to answer questions about his sexuality.
“It’s bad enough being bald,” he said. “It’s bad enough being Irish. The labels don’t matter. When you’re working, you’re working to get things out.”
In 1993, Tóibín refused a commission to write about his sexuality for the London Review of Books, fobbing them off at the time by saying that he had “nothing polemical and personal, or even long and serious, to say on the subject”.
But the truth was, back then, he found it hard to get the words out. “Everyone knew I was gay,” he said, when asked about coming out as a gay man. “This would go back to me being 18 or 19, but I didn’t write about it. I didn’t feel comfortable writing about it.”
The subject seeped through into his fiction nonetheless. One of his early novels The Blackwater Lightship (1999) dealt directly with sexuality, telling the story of Helen, her mother Lily and grandmother Dora, who have come together to tend to Helen’s brother Declan, who is dying of Aids in an Ireland of the 1990s.
In The Story of the Night (1997), meanwhile, Tóibín’s gay lead character Richard understands that he will feel his relationship is meaningless unless it is recognised by other people.
Tóibín believes it is important for voters around the country to frame the marriage referendum in personal terms, asking themselves how they would feel if it was their son or daughter who was gay or lesbian and wished to get married.
“If you ask people hard abstract questions, using words like ‘institution of marriage’, that’s one thing,” he said. “But if you say your nephew is gay and he’s 16, the first people would feel is a sense of worry – ‘Will he be all right?’
“It becomes pressing and important that this person you know would have a reasonable expectation of a happy life. The less abstract it is, the more sympathetic people are.”
Tóibín accepts there are voters who will refuse to vote yes in the marriage referendum on religious grounds, but pointed out that Irish people live in a secular state. “I have no argument with Catholic teaching or with Muslims or Jewish people,” he said.
“This is not an argument of religion. It’s an argument to do with our state. Our state is a secular state. Mary McAleese is a practising Catholic, but from the moment she became president of Ireland she welcomed gay people and lesbians into her world. She said, ‘Why are we discriminating against people who are totally innocent?’”
Last week, in an important development for the Yes campaign, the former president publicly urged voters towards a Yes vote, asking them to quell any of their fears about the future of children. “People have been saying it’s about children,” McAleese said. “We believe it to be about Ireland’s gay children and their future and the kind of future we want for Ireland.”
Asked to respond to voters’ concerns over issues such as gay adoption, Tóibín said the rights of the child were of paramount importance in society. “The rights of the child have been established in law,” he said. “If anyone is going to adopt a child there has to be enormous attention paid to who these people are. It’s not as though there’s suddenly going to be a free-for-all and that children who are otherwise happy and cared for are going to be put into a situation where their rights aren’t put first.”
Tóibín still dislikes speaking about his sexuality. He agreed to do this interview – and to speak at Trinity College on May 14 ahead of the referendum – because he wants people to understand what it feels like to be in his position. “It’s important,” he said simply.
Life for Tóibín is moving at a busy clip – his novel Brooklyn has been made into a hotly tipped film starring Saoirse Ronan, set to be released later this year, and he has just published a new critical study: Colm Tóibín on Elizabeth Bishop – but he will make sure he is home in Ireland to vote on May 22.
He laughed bashfully when I asked him about his partner, who lives in the States. Will Tóibín marry if he is given the opportunity in Ireland?
“That’s a lovely idea, isn’t it?” Tóibín said. “That’d be lovely. These things are very personal and I think I’d better not make any proposals via The Sunday Business Post. But I’m not ruling anything out. I’d love to say to my partner that we could go back to Ireland and get married in my country.
“I’d love to have that right.”