Wednesday 7 June 2023

Sorry for your trouble

Ann Marie Hourihane is a Dublin journalist, she has written memorable obits on such celebs as Gay Byrne and Marian Finucane. Her father, Dermot Hourihane, a pathologist and social pioneer who took the fight to the Catholic church before it was fashionable to do so, died in the first summer of Covid [Obit BMJ].  Because she's a writer, she wrote about the messy, busy days surrounding that transition. Hindsight allowed the chagrin that her own demeanor and actions had been, hmmm, imperfect. Including some of those acknowledged insensitivities in the account shows a certain self-awareness and humility. Someone, quite possibly herself, must have suggested that others would benefit from hearing the story because it would surely resonate for anyone who was a) Irish b) recently bereaved. Too short for a book, too long for a column . . . why not make it a book chapter?

And so Sorry for Your Trouble; the Irish way of death was published the following year.  I was recently gifted a copy by a friend who is, like me, engaged with end of life issues. It is well written if, given the subject matter, not always an easy read. But it's like Hourihane has riffled through her back-catalogue looking for keyword "death" and decided to incorporate all the hits into the one book. One standout inappropriate inclusion is a superficial (1500 word) look at the horrors of the meat trade, including a visit to a working abattoir.  This section is tucked in between a chapter on cillíní - where unbaptized children are interred - and the Islamic burial practices for men of our Bosniac community. The funerary practice of Ireland's Muslim women is in yet another part of the book. That's great; Ireland is no longer a Catholic monoculture and we need to know - respeck! - how our neighbours do this stuff.

My beef? In predominantly meat-eating Ireland, giving parity of esteem to the slaughter of a surplus heifer and the death of children with fatal fetal abnormalities will be a juxtaposition too far. But maybe that's okay - a book that doesn't change the way we think is not worth reading.

There are other chapters - which all deserve a book on their own - 

  • about the terrible association been drink, invincibility and driving that runs through young Irish men
  • about the sad, brutal, high-life and mean death of drug-dealers in our inner city ghettos
  • ditto young republican foot-soldiers during the troubles
  • the brutal degradation, abuse and death-by-who-gives-a-fuck-here of kids by [members of] the Catholic Church . . . and the Church's institutional insolence and entitlement in response to whistle-blowers

The book still contains some examples of authorial entitlement and affect-blindness. The opening chapter and the penultimate chapter are about the passing of "Bernie" who seems to have come over the Hourihane horizon because a) she was dying b) it wouldn't be too long c) the family were willing to accept a crow on the wall to witness their comings and Bernie's going. A whole blanket of unconsidered conflict of interest permeates those bookend chapters. Likewise Hourihane manages to arrive late to country singer Big Tom's funeral in Monaghan but still manages to blag her way to a seat in the church - depriving that access to someone who actually knew or was related to the star of the media show. And pronoun-sensitive me winced when dead babies were by default referred to as 'it'; that's tone deaf.

If you're Irish, or live there, and you're going to die then there's much to be gleaned from reading this book.

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