Emma Donoghue: “Sometimes I’m thinking, ‘I cannot believe how much my Ireland has changed’”
“It’s not that I like all the changes but it’s so exciting to see a country being brewed up in this cauldron of modernity.”
It can be easy to get too caught up in the day-to-day realities of life in Ireland while living in the country, which is why it’s always interesting to hear the take of those who have left permanently for pastures new, still watching on from afar.
Multi-award winning author Emma Donoghue is one of Ireland’s most famous exports.
She is best known for her novel, Room, which has sold two million copies worldwide, was shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prizes and adapted into a feature film, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Brie Larson, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance.
Donoghue has lived in Canada since the early 1990s, but she still retains a keen interest in events at home nearly three decades on.
The Ireland Donoghue left is a lot different from the Ireland she still regularly returns home to visit and in conversation with Dion Fanning on Ireland Unfiltered, she spoke of how she often finds it hard to fathom how much the country has changed, for good and for bad, since she’s left.
“From a distance, I certainly notice the changes every time. I’m back at least three times a year and I’m certainly aware of some particular problems,” Donoghue said.
“Like you know, I saw Paddy Breathnach and Roddy Doyle’s beautiful film, Rosie, recently. I was horrified. I had not realised the housing crisis had got that bad.”
“To see the really rapid changes in Ireland, things like the freedom of choice referendum, the gay marriage one, sometimes I’m thinking ‘I cannot believe how much my Ireland has changed’,” Donoghue added.
When Donoghue left Ireland at the beginning of the ‘90s, the country was still feeling the ravages of a devastating recession in the 1980s.
Emigration was a fact of life and the apparent lack of career prospects was a number of factors pointing her towards the exit door.
Donoghue is long settled in Canada now, but she says she finds it exciting to witness the transformation that Ireland has undergone, at a fairly rapid pace in her eyes, in the time since.
“It’s not that I felt I had to leave, circa 1990,” Donoghue said.
“Put it this way, everything was inclining me to leave.
“I’d been kind of raised to leave in that there were no jobs. So, there was a feeling of ‘Get your degree and get out of here’.
“But also, being gay, I did definitely feel like ‘This country’s a bit small for me’. So, to see the changes every few years, Ireland transforming before my eyes, it’s not that I like all the changes but it’s so exciting to see a country being brewed up in this cauldron of modernity. It seems to have happened so much more quickly than in other countries and it’s just fascinating.
“We’ve caught up anyway.”