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Let's Not Shut Up

So far I’ve looked at some of the physical factors around THEY SHUT ME UP – the research venues, the settings, the writing process…

But in this final post I want to talk about the inspiration behind this novella. Without leaking any spoilers, I can say that this volume is one of the outputs from my last two years of research into the Hag and her descendants. I’ve been fascinated by the indomitable spirit of older women in Irish mythology. The mighty Cailleach pre-dates canon Celtic mythology; she is older than the gods of the De Danann, more primal, a literal and metaphorical giant, shaping the Irish landscape, anointing kings. Looking at older women in successive epochs of Irish culture, I was struck by their place in the tribe as elders, medicine women, wise women, teaching generations of women their skills, sharing their knowledge.

The place of the women in Ireland was struck a hammer blow by the theocratic origins of the Irish Free State; and a resulting constitution that limited women’s role in society to the home.[1] Hand-in-glove with it came the rise of the Marian movement, encouraging women to aspire to the impossible role-model of virgin mother. Childbearing outside marriage could be punished (and was, up till the 1990s) by incarceration in Ireland’s infamous Mother and Baby Homes.

In global terms, older women became invisible. Literally. They disappeared from prime roles on TV, in movies, in modelling. The entire beauty, diet and even a significant part of the wellness industry became focused on magnifying the cognitive dissonance of female ageing, and societal expectations of maintaining a youthful appearance.

Until recently.

Women are starting to rebel. To confront this idea of ageing as somehow shameful, and instead, embracing the power of iconic figure of the Cailleach and other figures from global mythologies of older women. Books like Sharon Blackie’s excellent Hagitude investigate the transformative female agency that can be restored through re-examination of myth.

This novella, They Shut Me Up, joins with this chorus of rebellious voices. The contemporary women within its pages wrestle with the mental and physical change of menopause; a change that becomes amplified through the lens of the weird. Key to the book is the idea of revoicing; creating a space in which to re-examine female characters reviled through slanted folklore; women condemned as witches, like Máire Rua O’Brien. A stubborn and strident woman, her tenacity was transmuted by rumour into acts of warfare, witchcraft, torture and murder.

From these points of provocation, They Shut Me Up became a novella about ageing, power and the refusal to be silenced.

The worm has turned. And in national news, last International Women’s Day, our Taoiseach (Prime Minister)announced a referendum to take place to reconsider our shameful Clause 41.2. My wish is that this small novella is part of our timely celebration of Irish women past and present.

Let’s not shut up till we get there.

[1] Article 41.2 states: 1. In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. 2. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.


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