Radio review: New light on the old story of being Irish in England

Writer Martina Evans and poet and presenter Vona Groarke in Writing Yourself Home
Writer Martina Evans and poet and presenter Vona Groarke in Writing Yourself Home

Writing Yourself Home: The Lyric Feature, RTÉ Lyric FM

BEING Irish in England is an old story. The route of the exile is well trodden and hundreds of thousands have gone there down the years.

Our old radiogram used to belt out the Dubliners: “Drinking buttermilk all week long; whiskey on a Sunday.” The exile’s song, From Clare to Here, touches my heart.

So to the Lyric Feature where the theme of exile is explored with five Irish writers currently living in England.

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The presenter is Vona Groarke – Irish-born but Manchester-based. If you haven’t read her poetry than go, do – it is beautiful.

The list of Irish poets who live or have lived in the UK is not a short one, she said. Her guests included fellow poets and writers like John McAuliffe who chose Manchester because it was where the work was and it was also a melting pot of cultures, not just English and Irish but Asian and Japanese.

Martina Evans is a radiographer by profession – most of her friends had left Ireland in the 1980s, so she went too. There was a lot of racism.

But, she said, she felt she had to put the distance between herself and her family to become the writer that she is.

For Sinead Morrissey, the move from Northern Ireland to England was a dramatic one. She has always had a foot in two camps, with an English grandmother and an Irish grandmother.

She felt, she said, that she had a line up the middle of her body with half the blood on one side one colour and half of her blood on the other side a different one.

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She’s a poet but has shifted to prose in stormy inner weather: “I have a sense that poetry belongs to a vanished me.”

Conor O’Callaghan put it beautifully: “When you leave Ireland and you go somewhere else you never entirely arrive at the other place and there is no way back.”

Caught in this between state, these writers echo other writers in exile down the years who left to move forward with their lives but found that in their hearts they were forever looking back.

I’m new to the Lyric Feature but it is a lovely listen and there is a wealth of a backlist waiting to be explored.