Unsettled by Rosaleen McDonagh: Snapshots of a life lived between identities

Book review: Collection of essays dense with themes takes us to places books rarely do

 Rosaleen McDonagh is a playwright, a Traveller, a disability activist with cerebral palsy, a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, a doctor of disability studies and member of Aosdána. Photograph: Tom Honan

Rosaleen McDonagh is a playwright, a Traveller, a disability activist with cerebral palsy, a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, a doctor of disability studies and member of Aosdána. Photograph: Tom Honan

“My intention was to write a book of fiction. Short stories to echo my favourite writers, Alice Munro and Elizabeth Strout.” So Rosaleen McDonagh tells us in the introduction to this slender yet powerful volume. Instead, Unsettled is a series of essays about her life and experiences, a life lived in the cracks between identities. McDonagh invites us into her world with traces of hilarity, pride and abjection in equal measure. She shows, coolly and dispassionately, the excruciating cruelties wrought on her by an indifferent and hateful society. She takes us dancing.

McDonagh wears many hats: she is a playwright, a Traveller, a disability activist with cerebral palsy, a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, a doctor of disability studies, and member of Aosdána. For the most part, she wears her expertise lightly.

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