Marie Fannin, 86: ‘Women should have a choice about abortion’

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


In conversation with Rosita Boland: Marie Fannin grew up in Dublin. She lives in Baldoyle

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When I was about eight my appendix burst, and I nearly died. I was in bed for about two years afterwards. It knocked my schooling out. Someone should have been coming in to coach me, but nobody did. I spent my time doing jigsaws. When I went back to school I could hardly read. I did very badly after that.

I remember one teacher said, ‘She’s not bad looking; she’ll probably get married. She doesn’t need an education.’ I remember that so clearly, all these years later. I thought that it was a very strange and horrible thing to say.

I left school at 15, and the only thing I was good at was drawing. And singing and acting. I got a job singing at the Gaiety when I was 17.

I got married to Bob when I was 22 and he was 24. It was the usual age to get married then, which was dreadfully young. You couldn’t live with someone, so if you were in love and wanted to have sex, you got married. Nobody talked about contraception then, but you couldn’t get any anyway those days.

I think young people today, especially girls, have much better chances in life than we did. Education is much better. You can’t leave school very early, like I did. I was so naive. My sister went into a convent when she was 18. My mother was one of 13.

In my time, Ireland was a man’s world. Your husband owned the house. You needed his signature before you could buy anything big for the house. It made me very cross. There was no divorce, and you had no way out. We went into marriage without any thought, and it was a turbulent marriage. That’s all I’ll say about it.

I’m not religious or spiritual at all. Not a bit. The turning point for my lack of faith was when I had children. I had four children.

It was suggested by my mother that when I had my children that I go to be ‘churched’ after they were born. I wouldn’t do it. If you were Catholic you were already not meant to be using contraception. I thought the priests were far too inquisitive about your private life and about things that had nothing to do with them.

I think women should have a choice about abortion. I think it’s very sad if people have to have an abortion, but I think it’s a terrible thing to judge other people about something so private.

I haven’t got the gift of faith. I do think more about afterlife as I get older, though. I’d like to think there is something after we die, but the truth is, nobody knows.

My husband died 13 years ago. What I like about my day-to-day life now is that I’m living on my own, and it’s great freedom. I can do exactly what I like. I love the freedom of living on my own. I’m not a great painter, but I enjoy painting, and I can do it whenever I like. I can watch television until three in the morning if I like.

I like the soaps. I like Fair City because I used to know some of the actors in it. I like The Works and that man who presents it, John Kelly. I love the short stories of William Trevor, and Seamus Heaney’s poems.

Of course I have regrets about my life. Do you have to ask? I regret that I married at a young age. I’d like to have continued as an actor and had a big career. But I’m very happy now, and I love my children to bits. They’re all great characters.

My friends are very important to me, but they’re mostly all dead now. And some other friends have Alzheimer’s. That’s very hard. You worry about it yourself: is it just that I am beginning to forget names or is it something else?

I feel inside the same person I’ve always been, but now I’m beginning to realise I’m getting old. I have aches and pains, and sometimes I feel so tired. I don’t get lonely, though. I can paint. I think life is still about wanting to do things. I remember times with certain people. I have a head full of lovely memories. My head is like an attic.

- In conversation with Rosita Boland

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