Page Two of A Personal Memory of Nuala O'Faolain
She had been diagnosed on the 8 th February with aggressive cancer, in New York City, where she had her beloved one room, and had eventually rejected radiation treatment, finding that after a few sessions she felt it would not have given her any quality of life.
She then came back to Ireland, to the west that she loved, and then found she wanted to do more, suddenly, and decided to travel to say goodbye to places she loved. During the following weeks, Nuala went, despite appalling and worsening health, to Paris, to Madrid, to Berlin, then back to New York, and finally to Sicily.
She was almost slipping away during the last trip but continued, with a will of iron, only coming back from Sicily on Sunday May 4th, dying in Dublin just days later.
A brilliant mind, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of literature, a woman of true scholarship, Nuala O’Faolain was born in Dublin into modest circumstances, a second child of a very large family. She went on scholarship to study English at University College, Dublin and medieval English literature at the University of Hull in England before her doctorate in 19th Century English at Oxford.
She was involved in the setting up of the Open University in England and came back to Ireland to lecture at University College, Dublin. She also lectured at various colleges in the United States of America, having a particular love of New York.
She wrote an opinion column for The Irish Times, the Irish Sunday Tribune and many international newspapers including The New York Times. She worked as a television producer In Ireland and England.
While being well known for her newspaper columns Nuala jumped to worldwide fame with her international bestseller, Are You Somebody?, an honest look at life which made some people look back and admit things, made others scream with rage and which topped The New York Times best seller list.
She broadcast for Irish radio from her travels and the latest contributions had been her entertaining and enlightening radio columns on the US presidential elections. Then suddenly we noticed she wasn’t there.
It was only a matter of weeks later that Marian Finnucane made her startling announcement at the beginning of her radio programme, the interview was aired and all became sadly clear.
I listened to that compelling, inspiring interchange between those two women, both giants of Irish Journalism, on April 13th. Today, as I write this, it is May 12th, less than a month later. Nuala died before midnight on the 9th and there is no question but that a star has been extinguished.
I would have loved her to know, should have told her back then how brave we younger women found her, how her brilliantly strung together words leapt off the page and inspired us to move forward, to do more and to want more for ourselves as we seemed at last to be emerging from centuries of oppression, coming out from under the blackness that was the might of the Catholic Church, which in turn was hand in glove with the Irish State.
At least she lived to see all that change utterly, and to witness women fifteen and twenty years younger than herself having so much more say in their own destinies than past generations had.
Although of course I am much older now and feel I am living a life well and packed with incident, at least most of the time, some of her last words in that amazing interview haunt me. They are:
"I thought there would be me and the world, but the world turned its back on me,” she said. “The world said to me, ‘That’s enough of you now, and what’s more, we’re not going to give you any little treats at the end.’ ”
(Editor's Note: NPR interview, 2001 )