Giving Out Yards: The Art of Complaint, Irish Style by Tara Flynn

Giving Out Yards: The Art of Complaint, Irish Style
Giving Out Yards: The Art of Complaint, Irish Style
Author: Tara Flynn
ISBN-13: 978-1473622555
Publisher: Hachette Books Ireland
Guideline Price: £9.99

There are a few things I’ve surprised myself by missing in the two years since I left Ireland, first for Australia and then for California – spiders that don’t actually kill; warm radiators on a cold morning; good radio; parties that get loud and go on late; decent bread . . . and even rain. But nothing has surprised me quite so much as the fact that I miss the giving out.

So yes, other countries have their own forms of it, but none seems to do it with quite such gusto as the Irish. We've elevated it to an art form, a national sport. We give out about the big stuff (the weather, the state of the economy, politicians, reproductive rights, traffic, the tax bills of multinationals, drink and water charges) and the bigger stuff (The Late Late Show, the Angelus, Bono).

To the bafflement of other nations – most of which, it turns out, have no clear idea what “giving out” means, and I’ve yet to settle on a satisfactory translation – we give out about the giving out. It was only a matter of time before someone wrote a book on it.

The comedian Tara Flynn’s engaging, caustic, occasionally serious and often hilarious book attempts to deconstruct the Irish art of giving out. Her hypothesis is that the reason the Irish continue to defy the odds by being perennially “grand” in the face of whatever life throws at us is that we get it all off our chests. We give out, as it were, to keep ourselves sane.


There’s a potentially interesting theory to be explored here, through the lens of history, social science, culture, psychology or all of the above – but that’s not what this book is about. Its principal aim is to make us laugh at ourselves, and Flynn certainly achieves that, as she advances her theory through a witty series of observations and anecdotes, shot through with some uncompromising views on reproductive rights, alcoholism, politics, feminism, homelessness, breastfeeding and what she dubs “aborshhh” because “Ireland is lovely, and pregnancy is always lovely and don’t ever say the A-word”.

She writes: “Only men are really allowed to have the craic, especially when it comes to sex. Women have to take it all very seriously because we are – if the establishment were honest – supposed to get pregnant every time we have intercourse . . . Yes, all three to five times.”

Flynn proves once again that some of the thorniest issues are best tackled through satire and comedy. But though she dispatches these issues with wit, compassion, insight and flashes of fury, she’s at her most amusing when she’s deconstructing some of the more idiosyncratic aspects of the Irish character. There’s the media’s fascination with crime reporting, for instance. “Has there been a shooting? They’ll have a sexy picture of it or a sexy interview with someone who saw the whole sexy thing.” Then there’s our insistent romanticisation of alcoholism (“we’re a nation of addictive personalities and we congratulate each other on it”) and our obsession with death or, as we like to say, “trouble”, because “we downgrade bereavement – like the conflict in Northern Ireland to ‘trouble’, a word you might use when you get a flat tyre on your way to the airport”.

The alphabetised list of complaints comes full circle, beginning with “aborshhh” and finishing, in a moment of brilliant, barely constrained rage, with “zygote”. Flynn, who spoke openly about her own abortion recently, writes: “From the second of conception in Ireland, BAM!, what’s in the womb is a child. Even if the sperm and egg have barely been on a date yet . . . ‘A child’, in the womb there, installing a swing-set and applying for schools.”

I've been a fan of Flynn for a while, but this book, her second, heralds her official arrival as one of our freshest, funniest and most furious voices. Jennifer O'Connell is a former Irish Times columnist who works in communications at eBay in Silicon Valley

Jennifer O'Connell

Jennifer O'Connell

Jennifer O’Connell is Opinion Editor with The Irish Times