Arts, On Campus

Louise Kennedy Shares a Narrative from The Troubles in Northern Ireland

According to author Louise Kennedy, the experiences she had as a child living through the Troubles inspired her most recent novel, fostering the creation of a narrative that touches on family and a divided country.

“I drew very heavily on my family’s story, or my own childhood,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy read excerpts from her novel, Trespasses, at the Connolly House on Friday. Trespasses has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and has received rave reviews from The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others. 

This event, which was organized by Guy Beiner, the Sullivan Professor in Irish Studies at Boston College, featured notable attendees such as Charles Seelig Professor of Philosophy Richard Kearney, who had given readings of his own novel Salvage a month earlier, and Susan McKay, an Irish author and journalist who was recently appointed Ireland’s press ombudsman.

Marjorie Howes, associate professor of English and Irish studies at BC; Andrew Elliott, director of the Northern Ireland Bureau; Katherine Reardon, a master’s student in BC’s English department; and McKay each contributed to a brief introduction about Kennedy and her novel, each of them praising her work.

After this, Kennedy read from her novel. Trespasses is told from the perspective of Cushla Lavery, a 24-year-old Catholic woman in Ireland at the time of the Troubles, and it is largely about her affair with Michael Agnew, a married Protestant more than twice her age. In the excerpt she read, Kennedy emphasized the effect of religious and political divisions in Troubles-era Ireland while retaining a light, sometimes humorous outlook.

“Most of the men who drank in the pub did not get ashes on Ash Wednesday, or do the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, or go to Mass on Sunday,” Kennedy said. “It was one thing to drink in a Catholic-owned bar; quite another to have your pint pulled by a woman smeared in papish warpaint.”

After her reading, Kennedy spoke about the influences her own childhood had on the world of Trespasses. She grew up as a Catholic child in a town that was 90 percent Protestant and worked in her family’s bar, which was frequented by both Catholics and Protestants.

“I was kind of aware that we didn’t really fit where we were,” Kennedy said. 

All of these experiences were passed on to her protagonist Cushla, Kennedy said.

Kennedy also described the difficulties of writing and publishing a novel. For a novel like Trespasses, which focuses on a specific time and place, she was especially concerned about authenticity.

“Because I left when I was 12, I thought everybody in the North [of Ireland] was just going to … say ‘It wasn’t like that,’ or ‘You didn’t elaborate properly,’ and I was really, really worried about that,” Kennedy said.

A question and answer session followed, during which Kennedy responded to audience questions about the story of Trespasses and her writing process.

May 1, 2023