Speaker 0 00:00:03 <inaudible>
Speaker 1 00:00:23 I'm Doug <inaudible> and you're listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the Irish diaspora. We all come from somewhere else. Find out more about us on www.plasticpodcasts.com. Now, quick warning, please note that this podcast does use one example of bad language, very bad language, but only the one. So you've been warned. My guest today is John O'Donohue poet, author, publisher, and all round good mush. His memoir sectioned a life interrupted was the mind book of the year in 2010 and six years later, he won the Irish post short story competition. He's the founder of wild geese press an independent publisher of works by and concerning the Irish diaspora. Now officially speaking, he's Dr. John O'Donohue, but seeing as I've known him as John for a quarter of a century, that's not about to change right now. In fact, the first question I'm going to ask him is how are you doing
Speaker 2 00:01:14 Very well? Very well, Doug, uh, locked down is, uh, making me feel very well rested. Let's put it like that.
Speaker 1 00:01:22 And, um, and I, I, are you getting your full eight hours?
Speaker 2 00:01:25 Um, possibly a little more dark lassitude. Hasn't quite done for me yet, but, uh, I'm contending with it as well as I possibly can. Like manfully, manfully like so many of the rest of us, Doug, and, uh, how's the hair, uh, while not having had a haircut from February to when the Barb was opened again, Doug, it had got a little bit wild and wooly. Uh, so I was very relieved to get a haircut about a week ago. Uh, and now I'm looking as felt as I've ever been done. Yes.
Speaker 1 00:01:58 Well, it's like, uh, we, we briefly met up on the Friday before this interview and John is indeed as felt as felt can be. Yes, it's just the eyebrows. I need taming now.
Speaker 2 00:02:08 Indeed Doug and the, the, but doesn't insist on shading them, which I think is making them worse. Yeah,
Speaker 1 00:02:13 I think that with eyebrows, isn't it, you know, so the more you pluck them, the more they come back and I should be careful how
Speaker 2 00:02:19 I say that. So let's,
Speaker 1 00:02:21 Let's, let's, let's start towards the end as it were. And, uh, and, and talk about wild geese press. Um, now how long has that been?
Speaker 2 00:02:31 It's been going for a year, Doug, but of course, uh, like all great ideas. I've had it for a very long time. I've had that idea for about 20 years. Uh, the Monkees press, you might know, your listeners might know the wild geese were the Irish aristocrats who fled the country, uh, after the decline of the Gaelic border. I think the battle of the Boyne was the big watershed there. So the, the chieftains, as they might be known, yeah, the Irish parents, the Kratts left Ireland, and a lot of them became in the courts of Europe. Uh, you might remember the seventies film, the wild geese. I think that's what it's referring to. Um, so it, in our sort of dispensation, Doug, it means, uh, exiles, if you like the people who left the country and came abroad and live abroad. So it's a press, uh, particularly focused on, um, books by people who are of an Irish background like ourselves and who live abroad.
Speaker 2 00:03:34 So you see, you had the idea 20 years back. Yes. So what prompted that? Uh, well, I've been, uh, a member back in the eighties, Doug of an Irish writers group in London called grinning writers. Uh, and they used to meet at the Camden Iris center to begin with. And then Ken Livingston gave them some money to open a bookshop in Archway, under Archway tower where the DSS was or the DHSS as it was then. And, uh, we used to meet there and we would put out five anthologies of work. I was in the fifth one, uh, I think actually a few more anthologies. So I looked at, uh, what we're doing and I thought, Oh, this is, this is a really a good thing to be doing. Um, on several levels on, on the level of, uh, people like myself, being able to explore further and perhaps more deeply their, their Irish roots, their culture and, and how that culture then was manifesting itself in, in the London of the eighties.
Speaker 2 00:04:33 I found myself in as a young man, uh, and I, I wanted to, um, widen the scope perhaps of what green ink were doing. Uh, the bookshop went, I think, around about the mid nineties or so. So, uh, I want to provide the kind of forum I'd enjoyed myself perhaps on a slightly larger scale, which is what we're hoping, uh, who's back then, greening were pre-internet Doug. These days, we have a website, social media platforms, uh, and we hope to be, uh, as down-home and local, as the Irish are renowned for all over the world. But with the kind of global reach, also, the Irish are, are famous for
Speaker 3 00:05:17 The walkies press has two books out at the moment. Doesn't it? It's um, yeah, it's what I wouldn't start from here. And the kinks,
Speaker 2 00:05:23 I wouldn't start from here as an anthology of essays, poems and stories by divers, Hans Dugger, a lot of different authors there in Duhigg the poet when McCrory the novelist and short story writer, Ray French, um, Sean Campbell, the academic, a lot of great work in there. We believe it's the first anthology of work by second generation Irish writers. And then there's a, Oh really? Yeah. We, we believe it is, uh, uh, uh, excuse me, I've got an anthology with that USP in particular, we believe it's the first. Why, why do you think it's
Speaker 4 00:05:58 Taken so long for it for an anthology of second generation Irish writers to,
Speaker 2 00:06:02 Well, of all that sort of, shall we say the, that the Aspro communities living in this country, Doug, um, we're perhaps most renowned for winding the naked. I think the Irish had been over here or centuries dug really, uh, and for various reasons, cultural, political, um, we wanted to keep our heads down. Of course, uh, I came of age just as the troubles were starting to really intensify, um, back there in the late seventies. Uh, I remember leaving home and of course the Irish in London, which is where I was, uh, there were the Jack cartoons that were almost hopped back to the Victorian, uh, Patty and Mr. Punch cartoons, uh, from the century previously, uh, there were, there was the prevention of terrorism act, which seemed to be particularly focused on mung community. I know now that franchise has been widened, but back then, uh, if you were Irish, it was almost been synonymous with at least been a suspect if not an in that terrorist.
Speaker 2 00:07:13 So they were, they were different times for the Irish in this country. Then I think, uh, various, various other things happened then in the nineties, such as the good Friday agreement, which rolled back the troubles, um, Jack Shelton's football team, uh, the spread of, uh, the Irish theme pub, uh, suddenly the Irish having been for a long time, a kind of, shall we say, bet, vet Doug, if I can coin that neologism, I kind of bet and roar to the English suddenly became, uh, friends again to the English, I think, and, and the Irish were again. Cool. So, uh, so I think that has something to do with that, Doug, but I think also it's something to do with the way, uh, the Irish diaspora tends to see themselves when they compare themselves to the native born Irish, the native born Irish, uh, pride themselves on their authenticity.
Speaker 2 00:08:14 Uh, if, if, if the English need people to look and look down on Doug, um, the Irish do also I'm afraid. And of course, uh, with your brilliant podcast series, and we we're up to the kind of notion of the plastic Patty. It's no surprise that started to in great currency in the eighties and nineties, as the, as the expert tried to assert itself a bit, of course, Mary Robinson, when she became president, she paid as he put a light in the window of her presidential residence, uh, as a symbol that she was reaching out to the diaspora. So that was a great moment too, I think for, for all stripes of Irish people, Doug. So I think that's, I think that's why it took so long to get, uh, to get that ontology off the ground. Doug,
Speaker 1 00:09:00 Did you have any difficulty getting hold of authors to, to contribute to that given, um, the, the, the, the history that you just cited, but
Speaker 2 00:09:07 I was approached by Maureen McCrory, who was one of the editors of the anthology. And she sort of said to the contribution from me several years before we published it, she then told me that she'd got into difficulties with the publisher had lined up. And it was at that point, I thought, well, uh, this is a good time to take the plunge and get this project off the ground. Uh, 20 years previously, Doug, I knew very little about the world of publishing. Um, I'd only had the experience of being with greening. That was those anthologies were what we'd call community published, uh, works. But then, uh, as, as the years went on, I got to know smaller presses. I got in with, um, some big boys, John Murray, uh, an imprint of Hachette now, but a very famous name in English publishing went all the way back to Lord Byron Jane Austen, Conan Doyle, Charles Darwin, queen Victoria, John Benjamin. They published all of those great authors. Um, so, uh, I started to make a few contacts and doing the jigs and the reels as, as the Irish have under saying, I was able to publish both the, the anthology and the King from over the water, which is a collection of my short stories based on my experiences of going over every year to honor and be my mother to where my six cousins and my aunt and uncle lived in rural County modern. And,
Speaker 1 00:10:31 And when were these, um, published and released because obviously we were, we've been dealing with COVID and so time becomes a rather fluid thing.
Speaker 2 00:10:39 Yeah, there's the space-time continuum has been seriously effective.
Speaker 1 00:10:43 That's me and my friend, a great big crown shape ringers.
Speaker 2 00:10:47 It happened to us, Doug we're, we're not the same as we used to be. Um,
Speaker 1 00:10:53 I thank God for that every day,
Speaker 2 00:10:56 Indeed, the books were published in, uh, officially in April, 2019. Um, and we've just recently published the eBooks. Um, we had a very good welcome, uh, the Irish times wrapping in do Higgs essay in the Irish times, and then gave us a wonderful review by my Tina Evans, that the anthology, uh, Martin Doyle, the books editor of the Irish times also ran a short story from of mine in the Irish times. That's called dust to dust available online. If anyone wants to look it up, uh, and then he ran a review of the King from over the water as well. The Irish post, uh, the newspaper of the Irish in Britain, they were fabulous to us. They ran about six pieces altogether on the press and RT radio in Ireland. Uh, we were an item on their most popular mid morning show, the today program. Uh, so we were, we got off to a very good start.
Speaker 2 00:11:52 Uh, the Irish literary society up there in London, they go all the way back to Yates. Um, they invited us up for launch of, I wouldn't start from here and we had a great evening sold a lot of books, um, made a lot of friends in the audience there. And then of course, just as we were gearing up to do some more books uh COVID and the pandemic hit and locked down. So as we're quite reliant at the moment on selling the books directed events, we've decided to kind of, um, furlough ourselves, Doug, and, uh, we're keeping our wings folded just for a little bit, but we've, we've had some very interesting submissions come in and we're looking to go again around October,
Speaker 1 00:12:40 You're listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the Irish diaspora. We all come from somewhere else. You can find us on www.plasticpodcasts.com or indeed, and the usual Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram malarkey. My guest, John Donahue has written novels, poetry, short stories, and memoirs. And I asked him which of these he found easier.
Speaker 2 00:13:00 Well sectioned, when, when any book has a title like that, Doug you'll appreciate that there were parts of that were a bit painful to write a bit painful, to recall. Um, it recounts all sorts of experiences. It starts off with, uh, the death of my father when I was 14. Uh, my mother becoming unwell. She had a history of poor mental health herself. Uh, and after my father died, the grief sort of took her. So I was asked by a social worker if I'm going to be fostered. So I went to a nice foster family out there in Woodford green. I thought I'd get a nice middle-class foster family, but I had two very nice Cockneys. Um, then of course, uh, I had a nervous breakdown myself when I was 16. I was in a hospital again when I was 17. Then my mother died when I was 19 and I was in a therapy community.
Speaker 2 00:13:51 I was in a lounge hostel for homeless men in squats, on the streets. Uh, and I ended up in Pentonville prison on remand when I was unwell. And then, uh, in this halfway house, chapel Martin lung, a young psychology student from university of Kent at the time said to me, did I want to apply to university? And I was able to swap one set of institutions for another Doug universities, asylums. They both have a lot in common, uh, large buildings, uh, grassy, Parklands, uh, hierarchical structures with eccentric people at the top, maybe. So, so right in the memoir was, uh, yeah, there's, uh, there's a few laughs in it. There's gotta be a few laughs and everything. There's a few laughs in it, of course, but there was, there were painful memories. I had to recall. Uh, I got through it all. Okay. Wrote it, published it.
Speaker 2 00:14:41 Um, then my agent had seen some of the short stories I'd written that ended up in the King fro the water. And I said to him, what do you think I should do next? He said, I think you should do these job. So I sat down and had a real good go at that. Um, but of course the market for short stories is not as strong as the market for a memoir. So unfortunately my agent wasn't able to sell them. So it gave me the opportunity to work on the short stories over a long number of years. I wrote, I wrote the first draft of the book quite quickly, about a year, less than a year, Doug. Uh, and if you like, it's the kind of, uh, it's the happy memoir. If section is the, is the kind of account of hard times. Um, the King from over the water is the account of good times, my childhood in my summer holidays and on.
Speaker 2 00:15:34 And they were very happy. I go over as an only child with my mother to meet these six wonderful cousins of mine, my aunt and uncle, uh, the village. They came from the characters around that village, uh, the countryside, the fresh air, the, the beauty of it all. Uh, and my, you know, my, my uncle wasn't by any means, uh, in, in English terms, uh, in a, in a great job, perhaps he was a postman, but a postman in Ireland at that time in the sixties and seventies, that was a good job because, you know, it was secure. Uh, uncle Tommy had a pensioner at the end of it. And the great perk of the job for him was that he was in the post van. So he used to go on a 60 mile round trip around Monahan to all these farms and homesteads dropping off newspapers, parcels letters, uh, and stopping at most of them to get a cup of tea and a bit of bond break though.
Speaker 2 00:16:28 So sometimes he'd take us off in the band and that would be a real treat. So that was the kind of experience that went into, um, the King from over the water. And, uh, it was a joy to remember those times. I fictionalized quite a bit of it, Doug. Uh, but I did the Dylan Thomas thing and portrait of the artist is young dog where I use the real names of my aunt and uncle, my mother, my cousins, uh, but I fictionalized where we were from. And I fictionalized some of the other characters in the village lightly. I fictionalized them and, uh, the topography slightly, but not much. Right.
Speaker 5 00:17:07 I mean, that's briefly, it's like staying with, staying with your family. Both of your, both of your parents came across from her.
Speaker 2 00:17:13 Oh, yes. Yeah. And, and when about, was that? I think it was in, uh, I don't know. I think it would have been in the fifties, Doug. I think they were part of the post-war broadened drain when the country, I love that. It's a nice one is that it's not my own I've I, I heard that, uh, a good while back, I think seventies or eighties, um, the country needed rebuilding. Uh, my father signed up for it. He was on the buildings to begin with. Uh, then he was on the railways. Uh, he met my mother. He was from Kerry. The girl talked where they, they speak Irish as their native language. He only left the, um, the words banya August shukra, which I think was his way of telling me we'd come to a land of milk and sugar, Doug. Um, my mother come from Monaghan. Um, she said that when they used to rail, sometimes before I came along, that my father used to curse her in Irish. So he was a bit of a quieter Cove by the time I was born. Um, so, uh, so they kind of only met really my mother coming from Monon, the top end of the country, my father from Carey, uh, the kind of Cornwall of Ireland. They could only met in Camden town. And I think that's where they got married.
Speaker 3 00:18:29 So, uh, so when, when your dad came over, what was he doing first off?
Speaker 2 00:18:33 I think it was on the buildings, like so many something of that generation. I didn't know him when he was on the buildings. Uh, he was on the railways when I come along, he used to work up around summer's town and, uh, King trust. I think he was, he was, he was a, what do they call it? A fitters mate. He was a fitters mate. So he was somebody when they were laying the tracks and things like that. I think he didn't get to do the August job of actually laying the tracks. I think he used to, he used to fix it them and mend them. Uh, so that was, that was my father. Did he come across? Good question, Doug? I don't know. Uh, he was, he was a man. Would you believe to belie the stereotype? He was a man, a few words.
Speaker 2 00:19:17 My mother was the more garrulous one. Uh, I don't know if it was because my father spoke as a second language. He was fluent as far as I knew him, but, uh, he was slightly, slightly more, um, slightly less inventive with language than my mother or all mothers, all Irish mothers in particular have sayings. My mother had quite a few. One of them would be, um, uh, you'll you had to wait to be born. You'll wait for your dinner. That was one of them. Uh, perhaps the choices one was, I was born on a Wednesday. So she said to me that I was born in the middle of the week. I met the two ends of it and I've been resting since I thought that was particularly, I thought that was particularly cute, that, so, uh,
Speaker 3 00:20:06 When she came over, what was she
Speaker 2 00:20:08 Doing? Oh, God, she worked, uh, she told me she had a number of jobs. She worked as a nippy in Joe lion's corner house. For those, those who are completely unfamiliar with Joe lines and hippies and corner houses, they were the, um, they were the sort of working man's cafes, but, but w slightly posher, as I, as I understand it, and a nippy was a waitress cause they had to nip in and out of the, around the tables. So she, the nippy, she said she was also a nurse, but, uh, she didn't like emptying the bedpans. She had a particularly choice epithet for what those bed bans were like dug and what they contained. I've repeated it or leave your listeners to imagine. Um, but, uh, all the time I'd come along and she was, they were in that, uh, kind of 50 sixties nuclear family sort of set up. My dad went out to work. My mother was a housewife by March, but then she did have a few jobs, a dinner lady cleaner. So, so that was my mother.
Speaker 5 00:21:14 And you were raised, you said, was it the ball's pond road area?
Speaker 2 00:21:17 Well, uh, the first address I can remember is the Beauvoir roads, Doug, which, which when we lived there was, you know, Hackney, uh, quite a poor area. I think, uh, we were in number 55 to Bobo road. I went back there a while ago, a couple of years back, not having seen it for a good 50 years. And it still stands there. It's a, it's a detached house with pillars in the front, got a sort of faded shabbiness to it, which I think it probably had, even when we lived there, we lived in the attic at the top. Uh, my father used to Dodge the landlady for the 20 shillings a week rent on a Friday. Um, so that's where we live. First of all. And the bulls from road wasn't too far away. Uh, we've got a mass in the ball's pawn road. Uh, I think the first school I went to Wilson Joseph's in Dalston.
Speaker 2 00:22:07 Uh, and then we moved, we moved around about 1967 to Leighton. Um, further out East. I think my father got the offer, uh, a kind of council flat in the mid sixties, but I think it would have been in a tower block. So I think what happened was, I don't know for a fact, but I think he tapped the brother in Kerry where there was a farmer, 30 acres. And I think he tapped the brother for some money to put down a deposit on a, on a flat and get a mortgage. So we got a kind of flat, uh, the upstairs of a terrorist house in late. And that's where, and that's where, that's where we lived. Um,
Speaker 5 00:22:48 So you're out East, really East London,
Speaker 2 00:22:51 Doug, not quite a Cockney, not quite born within the sound of bow bells. Uh, but, uh, almost. So was there a lot
Speaker 5 00:23:00 Ducking and diving, you mentioned your dad trying to avoid having to pay the rent, uh, of a Friday. I mean, was there, was there a fair bit of ducking and diving in the Donahue household?
Speaker 2 00:23:08 Well, give you some indications that kind of Manny was Doug. Um, my mother told me that, um, he come back from the pub one Saturday night, a bit the worst for wear when we were living in Dubbo road. And there was a little English lady living down in the sort of basement of the house. And, uh, it managed to kick a window in how he did that. I don't know. So he come down very apologetically the next day, Sunday and managed to get hold of a bit of glass, uh, to fix Mrs Martin's window. And he was scoring all out then and ready to tap it with a little hammer to, uh, detach from the, the, the big spread of the glass that he had there. And he took up the hammer and he hit the bloody thing into smithereens said, fuck it. He said, smashed it in a bit.
Speaker 2 00:23:55 It's a bit stuck. So, uh, there was a bit of wildness still in my father. By the time we got to Leighton, he'd calmed down a bit, but the, um, the fondness for drink never quite left him. And of course, um, it became a Rite of passage for me then, um, the summer before, uh, he died, uh, we went over to Ireland, know if we went over to Monon, we didn't see the cousins much. We went to carry them across the state of the hotel, which we never really did at all. And he, he never would come over. I don't know what happened, whether he couldn't get the time off work or whether there was a feud. My cousins say they don't think there was a feud. Uh, uh, if he embarrassed himself somehow and didn't want to come and stay with the aunt and uncle, but anyway, this summer we did come over and we would always, when we would go over my mother and I we'd stop off in Dublin before we went off to Monahan back in those days, Doug, everyone went on the boat. So we'd go from the boat from Hollyhead, we'd go into Dublin, my mother book into a BNB and a little shopping expedition and clear he's done O'Connell street. So that's what we did. Uh, the weekend we landed, I think. And, um, my father took me out to my first point, aged 14, Doug. So we had a, I had a pint of Guinness in Dublin with the old man. Um, and it was a kind of, it was kind of magical moment. <inaudible>,
Speaker 1 00:25:24 You're listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the RD. Aspro we all come from somewhere else that we've ended [email protected]
This is the section that I call the plastic pedestal, which is where I ask my guests to nominate a member of the diaspora who is a personal or cultural significance to them. John's contribution will come in the next podcast. But in the meantime, you're stuck with me. You're lucky people now, back in the early eighties, when I was still a faithful left foot, or I had my confirmation ceremony at St. Joseph's church in Maidenhead myself and my brother were both there to be confirmed. My mum and dad were there. My dad obviously was beside himself with <inaudible>, but not because of the ceremony, but because three aisles up and starting to the left, there was one Michael Terrence, Wogan, Terry, or tell to the rest of us, sir, Terry in later life.
Speaker 1 00:26:09 Now it's easy to think of Terry Wogan as the link between Ayman Andrews and Graham Norton. Very easy, indeed. And I think that's partly because of history and partly because of ubiquity, certainly he did seem to be everywhere for a long, long time. There was not only the morning show on radio too, but there was also come dancing, blankety blank, various chat shows. And of course your revision, but it is the radio inevitably that I think showed Wogan at his best playful, welcoming and surreal, frankly, he was a constant voice in my childhood. And I think he broke the mold of perceptions of Irishness when Irish men and women on the television and on radio were seen as either idiots or intellectuals and nothing in between. He offered the variety, not of a personality, but of a person. He was urbane and approachable. He was sophisticated and down to earth, he was erudite and frankly, very, very silly.
Speaker 1 00:27:02 Indeed. He was one of the original lineup radio on DJs when it's on radio two, but one in the same, he brought in record audiences of 7.9 million for his breakfast show and who could forget the floral dance? God knows. I've tried. He did seem to treat his fame with the same offhand amusement that he reserved for the Eurovision song contest. But I do think that he changed the face of light entertainment and that's no small achievement. He could be subversive as well as comforting. And if you watch any presenter today, they owe a debt to Wogan. Certainly he changed the voice of radio and the perception of Irishness in this country. And it is a measure of his influence that the BBC changed the name of Western house, home of radio to two Wogan house. When he died, it was a bit like a member of the family going an eccentric uncle, perhaps a, certainly a warm voice in the corner. And definitely one of us had really made it on the Monday after my confirmation ceremony, by the way, a Wogan mentioned the ceremony itself on his morning show. And my dad was beside himself with chuffed. And once again, now back to the interview and I asked John O'Donohue about the death of his father and how he started writing.
Speaker 1 00:28:15 So you lost your father at 14, right? You are. And it was a year later you're asked if you wanted to be fostered or
Speaker 2 00:28:25 Yes. A year later. Yeah. Right.
Speaker 1 00:28:27 But also that time you started taking it, taking it poetry. Yes I did. And do you think that was that they were connected the death of your father has done?
Speaker 2 00:28:38 Oh, definitely. Uh, definitely. I had a great English teacher when I was at school Mrs punch-in and, uh, she introduced us to, uh, Dylan Thomas and I was so entranced. She had a record of doing someones reading his work. So in transfer this voice and what was coming out of the record player, I sort of made a study of Dylan Thomas. So I found out that he kept these exercise books, these notebooks and exercise books, remember model, remember them well. And, um, I read these local books and started keeping some of myself. Uh, and the first times I started trying to write where I I'm almost ashamed to say they were, they were like paraphrases of Dylan Thomas. And I served a kind of apprenticeship, I suppose, from the age of about 14 to, or I suppose about 19. Uh, and then, um, a little bit later I ripped up the notebooks and so my love work I had, cause I didn't want to be always looking over my shoulder.
Speaker 2 00:29:39 Uh, so then, then it was a greening writers. That's when I got a foot, a couple of pounds published and a little bit before that in 1985, I went along to the city of London where you could read out your poem as part of the competition. And there was a poet there called Adam Brown, John. It was adjudicating and he awarded me a little prize for this poem I read out. And, uh, and then I got into green ink and, and the rest is not quite history yet, Doug, uh, cause whatever that is, we dug, I think blocked down as, as not sideways at the moment. Isn't it almost I'm sure about the future either? No, I think, I think for the purposes of a, been an Irish writer, the rest of it is not history dug it, I think is more geography. Most of it, most of it is geography, Doug, and you've written,
Speaker 5 00:30:27 You, you, you, you you've written bravely and eloquently about your, your own struggles with mental health. Um, and so on. Does the writing help?
Speaker 2 00:30:38 Well, it would be, uh, it would be wonderful if I could say that the writing does help Doug, but, um, I'm not sure. I think that the keeping with those notebooks was a big help to me. And then later, later on when I was in various in Salubrity places, when I was in homeless, hostels and asylums and all that, you know, I wasn't just keeping company with an X merchant seaman, Argentina jock, or when I was in the squats, a couple of hippies, big Steve and general Steve. Uh, I was also keeping company with, um, you know, V on or a Woody Guthrie or, uh, you know, maybe even, um, maybe even John Keats or Dylan Thomas or, or, or pallets like that. I had, I had still that in a freedom, uh, that my artist circumstances perhaps would seem to chafe against. So I had this kind of sanctuary that, um, poetry opened up for me if you're like a kind of asylum of poetry, Doug, uh, but they want to come to write the memoir.
Speaker 2 00:31:41 Um, you think that that would, uh, bring a moment of catharsis for the course catharsis as it was originally conceived, wasn't meant to be a private thing. Doug cause you'll know it was meant to be something, uh, an audience experience and an audience sitting together in a Greek amphitheater. Uh, the moment would come when the play reached its climax, when this purging of the audience, this emotional purging would happen. So I suppose, um, we've, we've taken catharsis to mean I kind of therapeutic process, uh, when it comes to writing. And of course after I wrote, um, section, I had quite a big nervy be after it, Doug. Right. So, so, so, uh, what happened was I went over to Ireland, uh, as part of the promotion for the book. Things have got, things are going great there. And then I go up to see my cousin, Matt who's about my age in, um, in hand and, uh, he's married and we were going out for a drink.
Speaker 2 00:32:41 And my, my cousin's wife said to me, and he said to me to keep an eye on him, John. So as we're going out, I thought to myself, I, to hell with this, I'm not going to keep an eye on him. He's going to have to keep an eye on me. So I got a bit tanked that night then of course, uh, I'm lying in bed the next morning. And Matt comes in and says to me, will we go and see your mother's grave? So we go to see my mother's grave. And then that's what started me. That's what plunged me into this five months of depression. So, um, I'd like to S I'd like to say to your audience, Doug, yes. Writing, it's wonderful for you. Uh, if you're having any problems, do turn to writing it, or it'll do one this week, but the caveat is perhaps if you're going to go too dark and well, as I experienced them to be potentially dangerous places, it might be good to avail of somebody who can be a support to you as you're going through that. And not only to help you with the writing and the kind of emotional fortitude you need for that kind of writing, but also to, um, to advise you on, uh, on the moves you should make, once it's done,
Speaker 1 00:33:49 I was reading and, um, two years back the OECD, uh, put out, uh, results of a study, which suggested that the Irish are among the most depressed people in the Western world. Goodness, with 12% of Irish, uh, suffered from depression, it's coming second only to Iceland. Um, and then, um, they're also in the same year in 2018, there was a, there was an endeavor to study whether or not depression was, uh, had genetic factors involved. So you've got those questions aside, whether it's a, it's a, it's a racial thing or a, or, or genetic thing. And we were talking about that. And you were saying that you, you, you felt as much, it was kinda more as much sociological as anything.
Speaker 2 00:34:30 Indeed. I think, I think there's something in that, the idea that the generations have passed it down as a, as a terrible legacy. Um, as much as we're a people who are congenitally started, I think we might be congenitally depressed. Uh, I think the kind of traumas that were visited on us, historically, the penal laws and, uh, you know, farming and I don't know, immigration and things like this, they've, they've, they've, they've taken their effects on the Irish. I'm sure to say nothing perhaps of the weather and, uh, you know, uh, look at my own parents, you know, they, they had to leave the country just in order to make a living. But I think, uh, it's it's, as we were talking about, uh, or, well, my wife was saying to me the other day, here's a, here's an article here. She says where they've looked at the weather, the likelihood of places in the, in the UK for new, uh, new spikes in the Corona virus epidemic.
Speaker 2 00:35:30 And she says, look, they're all, they're all pockets of social deprivation. Uh, it's perhaps not any surprise that Leicester, uh, is in lockdown. And I think as we, as, you know, as we were saying, people want to say something about, you know, culturally, the Asians have Lester. They, you know, they live in crowded housing and they, they work in sweat shops and it's no wonder it happened well, or why are they living in crowded houses? Why are they working in sweat shops? I mean, you know, you can't describe just these things to Asian people's culture,
Speaker 1 00:36:03 Start with like the, um, the, the, the Irish of your, of your dad's generation and so forth. They would have been living in crowded conditions and working on building sites.
Speaker 2 00:36:10 Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean, uh, you know, uh, a lot, a lot of the Irish then, I mean, my dad was quite lucky really to get to the place where he got to in terms of, you know, having a bit of property in this country, because a lot of the blokes who, who didn't get married, who carried on has been single, you know, they would be in the rat, in the house, the, the, the, the hostels for homeless men. Then, I mean, even to this day in Arlington house in Camden, uh, it was still, I think a lot of Irish people at that time, that generation started to die out a little bit. I think these things are inextricably linked. Doug, I think, uh, mental health is, is as much to do with politics as is, is to do with personal circumstances. I, I experienced my, uh, awkward time.
Speaker 2 00:36:58 Shall we say when the asylum system was kind of more or less at its height still? I think when I went into hospital, first of all, in 1975, the treatment was open-ended. There was no pressure on me to give up the beds and get out, and I need to be there for a fortnight that I, I was there for months. I was there for six months and many years later, I went to the Maudsley to sit on a panel to talk about mental health. And I met a few psychiatrists before the panel was due to convene. And they told me that in the profession Claiborne the hospital, I was first then bridge genetics was known as beautiful slavery because the grounds and a lot of the oldest items of course had been stately homes. Right? So, so, uh, so the grounds, whereas beneficence as, as any, any other kinds of treatment night, and I experienced that, but of course, I also lived through the eighties then, and start to see the, the asylums winding down. And the morale in the, in the hospitals then was palpable. Uh, the, the, the complete collapse of it, the depression, it seemed to me was coming more off the staff than the patients. Then
Speaker 1 00:38:15 You're listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the Irish diaspora. We all come from somewhere else, find us on www.plasticpodcasts.com. I asked John O'Donohue how he felt as a member of not just at the diaspora, but also the London Irish. And whether that made a difference,
Speaker 2 00:38:32 Wherever the Irish go, they, they take the sense of community with them. And that's what I found. Um, in the eighties in London, I found, uh, a great sense of community and, um, wherever I've gone, I sought out other Irish people, um, try to create some of the things or recreate some of the things that were important to me. I mean, my, my mother, for instance, uh, could play the fiddle. My uncle played the fiddle. My oldest cousin could play the fiddle. I passed on that. Um, Irish music, making the music making in general to my own children, tried to ensure that they got good musical education. Uh, and I suppose, um, the emphasis on education was a big thing as well. Although, of course, again, back to my mother's sayings, she had the typical Lang and double bind about it. The first thing she said to me would be, um, study hard at the books. And then when I seemed to be taken too long over this, you say, I books on feed. Ya, she'd say so. Uh, so one of the books have fed me or not. I'm not sure Doug, but, uh, I perhaps I tried to prove one of those sames wrong. Yeah.
Speaker 1 00:39:39 Now you've entered into the, the, um, the, the, the hallowed halls of academe. Dr. John O'Donohue. Yes. PhD and bar. Yeah.
Speaker 2 00:39:46 I've managed to leave school with, uh, three levels and actually an elementary students certificate, uh, and elementary swimming. Oh, yes. I, I, I think to master that to a proficient enough level for them to award me this much <inaudible>, which of course, like all my certificates, apart from the ones, uh, I gained laterally, they will be lost those ones. I don't, I don't, I don't think they can't even much anyway, Doug, but no, uh, I was, I was in, I was in this halfway house, as I say, and I sort of, I sort of caught myself on a bit. I got to my late twenties and I S I said to myself, I don't think I can get on with this kind of life, much more, you know, the psychiatric merry-go-round, it was starting to take its toll, uh, when you were young and resilient and kind of adventurous, you're able for these things.
Speaker 2 00:40:40 But I was getting towards the age of 30, and I thought to myself, I got to get sorted out a bit here. And luckily, as I say, uh, it had been an aspiration of mine, um, when I was a teenager to go to university. But as you'll see, I didn't get the levels of, for various reasons. So this young fellow might in London said to me, um, well, why don't you apply to university? And actually said to them, at that point, I said, well, it's for posh people, isn't it? And he said, no, no, no, it's it's for John. He says, why don't you, why don't you apply? And I'll help you just do it to keep your options open. So I thought, well, I'm not going to lose anything by this. So I, uh, I applied to three universities, Kent Sussex, and UVA Kent didn't want to know Sussex wanted me to do history.
Speaker 2 00:41:25 And UVA seem to like the look of me, asked me to do an essay, uh, which I got in a week late, uh, a typical student or student, typical Mia as it's got on Doug. Uh, but a woman there called Jocelyn the Houseman who was not like the Howard Kirk's of UVA, not a Marxist academic by any stretch of the imagination. More like somebody who might've read the daily Telegraph wrote the hounds, really a posh woman, but she was the one who interviewed me. And I think it was her basically opened the door. So I'm forever grateful to Martin London to her. Cause I, I went and studied at UVA. I, I kind of did some extracurricular things as all students do. But one thing I did was I went to the library and, uh, read the stories of Frank calmer. Uh, particularly I remember reading the guests of the nation drew.
Speaker 2 00:42:20 I got to university a story of his, which is a particularly famous story. I don't know, got into the rest of his work, tried to see how he did what he did. And I think they're a bit behind the King from over the water. Some of them as other stories have shown failing. And then of course I met my wife. Uh, we, we moved to London and then, um, I thought, well, I quite like this student Lark a lot. And I like studied and I wanted to take my, my kind of studies of Irish literature in particular a bit further. So was it, but back then the ma the modern literature in English, I studied quite a lot of, uh, Irish authors, uh, and did my dissertation on three London, novels of JMO, Neil Gerry. O'Neill all great novels. And, uh, then I went and did, uh, but by this, I was running a road dug site to go and get a teacher cert when, and got the teachers, certain did a bit of teaching for a while, got me 10 hat.
Speaker 2 00:43:20 And, uh, you know, who used to say to me, what'd you teach Johnny? I teach English and good manners. Uh, that'll give you some indication of the kind of place I was in Doug. So then, um, I started trying to do this PhD at Sussex, but couldn't get any funding for it. Uh, so then things have to go into the long grass for a bit. And then around about 2000, I saw an advert in the guardian bus spa roughing, a bursary to go and study for a PhD in creative, writing, a PhD in creative writing. Doug only UVA were doing it before them. And they were, there were very few places at all offering a PhD in creative writing. So I went and, uh, rolled it past bar to cut long story short. I managed to get on the, on the first cohort of six of us. And, uh, then I, I, I managed to get started to get work in higher education while I was doing the PhD. And, uh, I have had, uh, a 14, 15 year record of, uh, of working in various universities, Doug, my time I had always on precarious contracts, tenure, Doug it's when you w when you, when you say
Speaker 3 00:44:32 It's like, uh, Oh, education is for posh people and things like that. Was that a sense of what you as John Donahue led from London? Or is it you John Donahue? Um, uh, some of it's under two Irish.
Speaker 2 00:44:43 I, I think I got brutalized to tell you the truth though. I think it has got, I think it got knocked out of me, those aspirations, uh, the ability to see beyond survival. I think, uh, you know, Mrs. Stature is seen in some quarters as a, as a person who was, uh, able to inspire a generation of entrepreneurs to allow working class people, to, um, you know, do well for themselves while I think there was also a large tranche of the country that didn't do well for themselves, the misses that, you know, and went in another direction entirely. And I think I was one of them, you know, if, if she was a revolutionary, what does this say about resolutions? You have to crack eggs to make it on that. And I think for quite a while there, it was one of the crack bags. When you, when
Speaker 3 00:45:34 You, when you talk about your, your, your literary, uh, influences. Uh, so th there's a, there's a vast range of, uh, of Irish writers that you cite. Yes. Um, is your Irish identity of course, up with that creativity there? I mean, so what does being a member of the diaspora mean for you?
Speaker 2 00:45:53 Well, it took me a little while to work it out. Doug, I'm not, I'm not Irish in the sense that my cousins were Irish. I'm one of the London, Irish, I'm one of these hyphenated, Irish people, uh, I'm miracles, Evers. I kind of as distinct the culture is perhaps the Dublin Irish <inaudible> dairy Irish, or the cork Irish. Uh, we've got our own thing going on. Shane Mugham exemplifies it wonderfully, but it's also there in the novels of Gerry O'Neill, uh, some of Edinburgh Brian it's there and, uh, she's, uh, another great Irish writer, uh, connected with London. Um, so I think what I'm very aware of is that I draw on this heritage of mine, but it's not just, uh, a nativist heritage, if you like, I'm not just looking back to, shall we say the mainland? I'm not just looking back to Ireland. I've also, I've also found that there's a great Irish writers in London, and of course, London, uh, is a bit of a theme.
Speaker 2 00:46:49 It's definitely a theme in section because a lot of it takes place there. Uh, I've gone on to write another novel called lullaby of London, which is a bit of a thriller set amongst the Murph Waze of Irish London, the generation after my parents, my own generation, a lot of the Irish who came over in the seventies and eighties had a more secular view of how to set up things. I think in my parents' day, welfare vision was mainly the remit of the church for the, the generation inspired by the civil rights movement in the North. And, and shall we say, uh, a gradual secularization of the country, the nation of Ireland itself, they set up housing associations, they set up Irish centers, they set up welfare agencies, advice agencies in, in London. And I'm very aware of that. So I wanted to write a novel about those kinds of experiences, but also of course, uh, in the novel, the main character that cabinet, um, receives a tranche of letters from an ancestors of his, it was alive during the famine.
Speaker 2 00:47:56 So I wanted to touch base with, you know, I kind of a seminal Irish moment that the novel is one of a projected series of five, uh, as you'll know, dug the world's biggest library, the book I'm about to write. So I won't, I won't say too much about them, but, uh, they tried to take on the subject of two things, I suppose, crying with a small C uh, this fellow becomes a bit of a sort of private detective in, in some ways a private eye type figure, but also, um, the larger crime of imperialism. Oh, yes,
Speaker 1 00:48:29 Absolutely. Just a couple of things. Um, one is that you said that you, you thought that the London, Irish have their own particular culture and identity there. What would you say that
Speaker 2 00:48:39 Defines that? Well, I spokesman of course, is Shane McGannon and Shane McGann does the two things that I'm sort of talking about here. He's got great, uh, songs, uh, that are about Ireland. Uh, but he's also got songs about, you know, the old main drag. Uh, he's got a rainy night. And so he's got songs that are well, uh, you'll have noticed that the title of this novel of mine, lullaby London, that's the title of the Polk song as well. So he's, he's very much, she's got this kind of this hardness. I think there's what characterizes the London fairish is a hardness because London, uh, for the Irish was a hard place. You worked hard, you played hard, you probably fought hard, you drunk hard. Uh, you did a few other things hard. Uh, I'll leave the listeners to work those ones that, um, but at the same time, you're aware of this hinterland, uh, this, this place just, uh, a couple of hundred miles or so across the water.
Speaker 2 00:49:43 Uh, which of course your parents, if you're, if you're like me would have called home, they used to say, my mother used to say, every year we're going home, we're going home for the holidays. So home was kind of Ireland. Uh, now I've, I've come to realize that yes, for my mother that was home and, and in many ways, uh, is my home too, but England is also London's home. So, so, um, I've arrived at this, shall we say accommodation with England? I've got to, I've got to loving them. Don't I think my father, my father had a different attitude to England in the English, but I, I suppose I've had it easier than him in some ways. So, uh, so that's, that's the kind of synthesis I suppose I've arrived at.
Speaker 1 00:50:33 That's brilliant. I suppose the last thing I wanted to, I want to say is we call this plastic. Yes. Uh, the podcast because of the term plastic patio and so on, is that sense, I suppose, that there's no authenticity to the, to, to the RFD Astro, particularly in this country. Um, but I think what you do kind of gives the light of that,
Speaker 2 00:50:53 The whole notion of authenticity it's for everyone to work out. It's not for other people to ascribe authenticity or lack of authenticity to other people, it's for people to claim, um, that for themselves and to work it out themselves. And I think that's what I've been trying to do these long years. Uh, I was bequeath, um, and identity, uh, you know, uh, the, the, the rural holidays I enjoyed with my mother that the Irish music and, uh, the sense of the crackers, they say the Whitson, the repartee of the Irish, but then, uh, you know, uh, when my parents went there and I had to go and find it and find other, other ways into that sense of home and identity again, but I also had to make it for myself too. Uh, and I, you know, I think some of the Irish, uh, sort of wanting to, uh, go on still about plastic patties. I mean, I've heard, uh, I've heard another, uh, refundable that Doug, the elastic Patty, which I, which I quite like, but, uh, I think what they, what,
Speaker 1 00:52:00 For both of our listeners, why don't we, um, why don't we explain what the elastic Patty is?
Speaker 2 00:52:05 It's certain, there's a couple of senses. I understand. One is the one, the elastic Patti is somebody who leaves Ireland and then comes back to it. So there's the diversity there, but I think there's also a certain sense to have an elasticity of identity that it can be stretched a bit. So that's, that's what I like to tap into, because I think the thing about the Irish who want to call their cousins or whatever, plastic valleys, I think they see it as a diminution of Irishness. Whereas I actually think I've added to my identity. I've got the Irishness. Yes. But I've been able to add this Englishness to it as well, just as shame of Garnez it's London ness, shall we say in the first instance, but also, uh, Brighton, uh, where I live now and beyond that sort of Sussex. So I think, uh, I've my parents, they didn't lose by leaving Ireland.
Speaker 2 00:53:01 They kind of gained themselves and I've been able to do that also. So I think that's where I come from. And I think that's what Mary Robinson, when she lit that candle in the presidential residence, I think that's what she was trying to say. She was trying to say, we recognize that you left the shores, but we still salute you and recognize you as a kid. And, you know, we, we remember what you did. So John O'Donnell whose work can be found courtesy of the wild geese press, which is on www.thewildgeesepress.com and, um, and books were available in all find independent bookshops, uh, once they're open Doug, uh, online usual sellers online, um, yeah. And, uh, once we get a locked down lifting, Doug of course events again, events. So, so keep, keep, keep following us on the, uh, on the website and social media, you will find us quite easily. And, um, if you've got Facebook and Twitter and all that, we have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram duck, Instagram. What do you do with Instagram? We have a fine young intern who deals with that though? I know nothing about Instagram. I believe if you take a hundred selfies, you get an Instagram from the queen. That's how I understand. Marvelous. Yeah.
Speaker 6 00:54:32 You've been listening to the prosec podcast, tales of the RSDs, rough with me and my guest, John O'Donohue theme music is by Jack Divan. Now you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram email, the practice [email protected]
I think I might've mentioned it's got all the links and details you could possibly want, or indeed need the plastic podcasts to support it. Using Publix
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