A Tribute to Nuala O’Faolain

Four years ago I was fortunate enough to travel to Ireland. Unlike many foreigners who visit the Emerald Isle, I wasn’t there to conduct business, meet up with long-lost relatives or search for my “Irish roots.”

The trip was almost a last-minute decision; it was 2004, the year the Republican Party decided to hold their national convention in New York City. As local authorities issued dire predictions about the chaos and congestion that would accompany the event, I opted to leave town and skip the whole mess. Tickets to Dublin were cheap and available, so I flew there shortly before the convention began and didn’t return to New York until it was over and the protesters and politicos had all gone home.

While I was in Dublin, I met a woman who gave me a copy of a book entitled Are You Somebody? and urged me to read it. That was my introduction to Irish author Nuala O’Faolain (pronounced new-lah oh-fway-lawn), who died a few weeks ago. Tonight I attended a tribute to the famously brilliant and cantankerous author at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

The room was packed with friends, colleagues and admirers who came from as far away as Ireland to honor the woman who said, in one of her last interviews, “I’m not nice or anything — I’m not getting nicer. I’m sour and difficult you know….I think look how comfortably I am dying, I have friends and family, I am in this wonderful country, I have money, there is nothing much wrong with me except dying….I kinda hoped there was some kind of way of fading away, that you lay on your bed and you were really a nice person and everyone came and said goodbye and wept and you wept and you meant it.”

A Tribute To Nuala O’Faolain

Tue Jun-24 at 7:00PM

The New York Public Library
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
NY, NY 10018
(Enter on 42nd St)

Friends and fellow Irish writers of Nuala O’Faolain, who died in Dublin on May 9, will gather to pay tribute to one of Ireland’s best-loved writers.

Internationally known for her searing memoir, Are You Somebody, as well as her acclaimed first novel, My Dream of You, O’Faolain was widely respected in Ireland as an award-winning television producer, journalist, and columnist for The Irish Times before her memoir caused a sensation on its publication in 1999. Her unblinking, unsentimental description of an impoverished Irish childhood that struck a cord with readers world-wide became a New York Times bestseller.

Frank McCourt, Paul Muldoon, Fintan O’Toole, Polly Devlin, Julie Grau, Sheridan Hay, John Low-Beer, and others will honor Nuala O’Faolain’s life with reminiscence, traditional music, and readings from her work.

Special live musical performance by vocalist Susan McKeown, guitarist Eamon O’Leary, fiddler Dana Lyn, and piper Ivan Goff. During March 2005, McKeown appeared with O’Faolain at LIVE from the NYPL.

About Nuala O’Faolain
Nuala O’Faolain is the author of Are You Somebody, My Dream of You, Almost There, and The Story of Chicago May. Her first memoir is often seen as a feminine, and feminist, counterpart to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. “A lot of us suffered in the Ireland of my day,” she later said. “We came out of a culture where women were utterly powerless and children had no value. If you were hit at school you were hit at home for being hit at school. The only education a lot of us got was in neglect and being unloved.”

And yet, O’Faolain’s humanity softened her observations and her humor was irresistible. Despite being a well-known opinion columnist, a television and radio commentator, and bona fide celebrity, her work often chronicled her own sense of personal failure. She turned her vulnerability into a strength that enabled her to empathize with ordinary people’s fears and hopes. Her opinion column developed from a broadly feminist commentary to a narrative that spanned all aspects of the human condition. Her memoirs touched many readers, who responded by sending her hundreds of letters with their own tales of unhappiness and failed family life.

A resident of Manhattan for the past seven years, O’Faolain ascribed her affinity for the city to her experience growing up one of nine children. “When you live in the middle of mayhem for so long, you grow to need mayhem to construct peace within it.” As Maura Casey wrote in an Appreciation in the New York Times: “Although her mortal life has ended, her words, her sympathy and insights, are here. Her writing helped her legions of readers believe in her and in the validity of their own experiences.”

About Polly Devlin
Polly Devlin is an author, journalist, broadcaster, filmmaker, and conservationist. In 1994 she was awarded an OBE for services to literature. She has been a columnist for the New Statesman, features editor for Vogue, and had her own page in the Evening Standard. She has published eight books, including a memoir. All of Us There, a novel, Dora, a guidebook to Dublin, and, most recently, A Year in the Life of an English Meadow.

About Julie Grau
Julie Grau is Senior Vice President and Publisher of Speigel & Grau, a division of Random House. Previously she was Vice President and Publisher of Riverhead Books, where she edited Nuala O’Faolain’s novel, My Dream of You, her memoir, Almost There, and her work of biography, The Story of Chicago May.

About Sheridan Hay
Sheridan Hay is a novelist, editor, and teacher. She met Nuala O’Faolain in 1999 and remained a close friend until her death.

About John Low-Beer
John Low-Beer and Nuala O’Faolain met in 2002 and registered as domestic partners a year later. An attorney for the City of New York and a former professor of sociology, Low-Beer lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, Anna.

About Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt received the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for his memoir Angela’s Ashes. He is also the author of ‘Tis and Teacher Man, both international bestsellers. McCourt appeared with O’Faolain and others for “Silence, Exile and Cunning: What’s So Irish About That Anyway” on March 15, 2005, at LIVE from the NYPL.

About Paul Muldoon
Paul Muldoon teaches at Princeton University and is an Honorary Professor in the School of English at the University of St Andrews. He held the chair of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University five years and he is an Honorary Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford University. In 2003 he won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and in 2007, he became poetry editor of The New Yorker.

About Fintan O’Toole
Fintan O’Toole is a literary critic, historical writer, and political commentator. He is known for his commentary on a remarkably wide-ranging number of subjects—cultural, historical, political, social and economic. O’Toole has written for the Irish Times since 1988 and was drama critic for the New York Daily News from 1997 to 2001. He is the author of more than ten books.

frank mccourt 2
Frank McCourt after the tribute (taken with borrowed camera)

frank mccourt
Frank McCourt inside the NYPL (taken with borrowed camera)

Are You Somebody?
My Dreams of You
Independent.ie: Nuala O’ Faolain interview: ‘I don’t want more time.”
New York Times: Nuala O’Faolain, 68, Irish Memoirist, Is Dead
Eircom.net: Poets, writers and musicians in Stateside tribute to much-loved figure
Huffington Post: A Tribute to Irish Writer Nuala O’Faolain

4 Responses to A Tribute to Nuala O’Faolain

  1. photowannabe says:

    I wish I wasn’t so ignorant of current events and the people that make them. Thanks for this enlightening tribute to a very interesting person.


  2. Trotter says:

    Hi Annulla! Great post! Always learning when coming here…
    Wish you a great 4th of July and wonderful weekend!


  3. Hi there, great blog! Here’s a tribute I wrote to Nuala two years ago: http://bit.ly/a4sdnx


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