On being Irish by Sheila Bugler

I am an Irish crime writer, living in the UK.

This is how I describe myself when people ask who I am and what I do. Being Irish is an essential aspect of my identity. I define myself by ‘being Irish’ not ‘English’. The truth, in fact, is more complicated than that.

I was actually born in England to Irish parents. I lived in England until I was six, when my parents moved back to Ireland. After that, I grew up in the west of Ireland and spent three glorious years studying Psychology in Galway – a beautiful, cultural, dynamic city on Ireland’s dramatic west coast. I loved Galway then and I love it now. I would move back there tomorrow if I could. Or so I tell myself.

Across the world, there are Irish people just like me. Reluctant emigrants who left their home country in search of work and new experiences, but who always believe that – one day – they would return ‘home’. Many do exactly that. But lots of us do not.

In my case, I met my husband in my twenties and we settled in London. He is from Ireland but, unlike me, he never wanted to live there. For the first few years, I didn’t mind too much. I believed he would change his mind in time (and with a bit of gentle persuasion!).

And I was right. My husband did change his mind and we decided – after our first child was born – that we would leave England and start a new life in Ireland. At exactly the same time, the Celtic Tiger collapsed and Ireland sunk back into a recession every bit as bad as the one it had so successfully clawed its way out of in the early nineties.

We had another child and we stayed in England. We are very happy here. We love where we live; our children are happy. In every way that counts, England feels like ‘home’.

Despite this, I still long for Ireland. I miss the people, the landscape and the colours. I miss the ‘craic’. I don’t miss the weather but somehow have fooled myself into forgetting that most of the time. I can’t help it – I am hopelessly romantic about the country I left behind.

This love of Ireland seeps into my writing again and again. The first three novels in my crime series feature Ellen Kelly, a second-generation Irish detective. Ellen’s parents are Irish and, like me, they always planned to return to Ireland one day. Like me, that never happened.

Although Ellen has lived her entire life in the UK, being Irish is central to her identity. Like many second-generation Irish people, she grew up in an Irish community and married an Irishman.

The thing is, when I started my debut, Hunting Shadows I didn’t set out to write about a character with Irish roots. It just happened, and keeps happening. The influences of my Irish culture are as strong today as they were when I left Ireland over twenty-five years ago. More often than not, my characters speak with Irish voices, their lives are rich with references to Ireland – its music, its people, its literature, its landscape.

One of the characters in my latest novel, All Things Nice, is a businessman called Nick Gleeson. When I first started to think about Nick’s character, he was an English-born business man with a different name. But as soon as I started writing, he wouldn’t shut up about his Irish father and the influence of Yeats and other Irish poets on his early life. He ‘became’ Irish despite my efforts not to have yet another Irish character at the heart of one of my plots.

When we write, we are tapping into the deepest part of who we really are. I’ve never been able to write a novel set in Ireland – it’s something I want to do but, so far, I just haven’t been able to nail it. I suspect this is because I have been living outside Ireland for such a long time. So maybe filling my books with Irish characters is my own way of keeping alive a connection that is fundamentally important to who I am and how I see my place in the world.

When I’m inside the head of an Irish character, when I’m remembering their childhood and thinking about the TV programmes they watched, the food they ate and the world in which they grew up – that’s my own childhood I’m remembering.

And here’s the thing. When I fantasise about going to live in Ireland, what I’m really doing is wishing I could travel back in time to the carefree days of childhood and young adulthood. I may not be able to do that in real life, but the great thing about being a writer is that I can do it time and again in the fictional worlds I write about.

Sheila Bugler is an Irish crime writer living in the UK. Her latest novel, All Things Nice, is the third in her series featuring second-generation Irish detective Ellen Kelly. To find out more about Sheila please visit her website www.sheilabugler.co.uk or follow her on Twitter (@sheilab10)

Click here to purchase Sheila Bugler’s new novel, All Things Nice..

Click here to read Sheila’s spot on Fresh Blood with her debut, Hunting Shadows..


Other events: