The Land of Saints and Scholars


One week ago, the Irish author Emma Hannigan died from cancer. She was only 45, but had been previously diagnosed with cancer ten times. She also wrote 14 books since her first diagnosis in 2007, mostly fiction with several best-sellers.

It was the middle of February when Emma’s doctors told her they could do no more for her. Her latest book, called “Letters from my Daughters”, was on release, but she had obviously been unable to do any publicity for it. So when Emma announced to her fans and the literary world that she had to say goodbye, her fellow Irish writers decided to promote the book for her. Names like Marion Keyes and Patricia Scanlon got involved, and some authors abandoned promoting their own novels to push Emma’s. The novel got to the top of the Irish fiction charts, with over twice the sales of the runner-up.

I wasn’t surprised that this was how the Irish author community and readers reacted. We are a nation that respects writers, storytellers, artists. Anybody that demonstrates their skills is accepted as such. Accent, addresses, education levels no longer matter if you can spin a tale or play a tune.

I remember having just returned to Ireland for a spell when Seamus Heaney died. When the news broke, it seemed the whole country stopped to pay tribute. Taxi drivers told about their brief encounters with the man, while office workers, shop attendants and the unemployed spoke about how they still remembered his poem they’d learned at age 10 or 11. He was the poet of the people, not just the academics and the privileged few. No wonder, in a land were ordinary folk speak of the everyday in the metre of a bard.

We are now fortunate that the censor board has been infused with common sense, and future Nobel prize winners will no longer feel obliged to emigrate to be able to produce their best. While other nations ban, jail or silence their talent, and their people don’t know of their own artists that are household names in “enemy” countries, we will continue to give our storytellers pride of place in our Kindles and in our hearts.

And may Emma’s family gain solace from knowing how much pleasure she had spread to other through her works.




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