Rosaleen always had a curiosity about books, but growing up a Traveller in Sligo, Donegal and Dublin, attending a special school, she never had the chance.
“All through my life people just said I was thick, so learning to read as an adult was the best gift I gave to myself. The first book I ever read fully on my own was The Colour Purple by Alice Walker. I kept reading and reading the same passages over and over again making sure I understood it.”
Rosaleen’s plays include The Baby Doll Project, She’s Not Mine, Rings, The Prettiest Proud and Walls and Windows, which is currently playing at the Abbey Theatre. A columnist with The Irish Times, she is a board member of Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre. She is a member of Aosdána.
Who is Rosaleen McDonagh?
Place of Birth: Sligo.
Education: Trinity College Dublin, BA and 2 MPhil’s. two MA’s. “Trinity were good to me, I was way out of my depth culturally, academically and emotionally, but we got there in the end.” University of Northumbria, PhD in Disability Studies, a branch of women’s studies. “I loved it.”
Family: “There were 20 kids in our family.11 boys, and 9 girls. My sisters and brothers are my backbone”.
The Day Job: Writer. Human rights Commissioner. “And general nuisance!”
In Another Life: “I’m doing what I love. Nothing was expected of me. My life is a gift, my work is a gift.”
Favourite Writers: James Baldwin, Alice Monroe, Eimear McBride, Marilyn Robinson, Louise Erdrich, Tommy Orange, Kevin Barry
Second Book: “It’s a secret.”
Top Tip: “Mind yourself, stay in your own lane but expand that lane. Be committed, be generous. Use love as the cornerstone of everything you write.”
The Debut: Unsettled. Skein Press: €12.95
What was it like to be born into the Traveller Community as a disabled woman? In these illuminating essays Rosaleen writes from a feminist perspective about the hurts she experienced, and of the efforts it took to overcome the events of her growing up to achieve all that she has today. She covers racism, ableism, and abuse, but also the bonds of community, and the support from her family and friends.
The Verdict: Powerful, fearless, affecting and shocking.
Published in the Irish Examiner on 4th September.
© Sue J Leonard. 2021.