‘People tell me my anger will consume or kill me. It is the fuel that keeps me going’
Life Lessons: An insight into Rosaleen McDonagh’s life and times – the good, bad and ugly
Roseleen McDonagh’s motto for life is ’just keep going’.
The biggest challenge I have faced in my life was . . .
Believing in my own capacity. Carving out my own life, which is unconventional compared to my sisters and brothers and other Traveller friends and colleagues. Asking for help. Realising I am rarely ever right. Learning to let go. Handing the political journey of Traveller rights over to a younger generation. Not judging other women for the choices they make. Acceptance that we can’t control most of the adverse events that happen to us as humans, but we can control how we live with them.
The best advice I ever received was . . . .
Go do your writing. My family were always at me to do something creative. Over the last few years I have had 18 friends and peers die. All of them were disabled. My best friend, the actor and writer Donal Tolan, even towards the end of his life, kept saying “write and write more”.
The worst advice I ever received was . . .
A teacher in special school telling me not to identify as a Traveller. Growing up and coming of age in the late ’80s, early ’90s, Ireland had no room or no generosity towards my ethnicity. You were considered a good girl if you were quiet, controlled and allowed yourself to be put under constant surveillance of the settled lens. Somebody else told me if I went to the gym or did more physio and speech therapy that maybe my cerebral palsy would be less obvious. People often tell me that my anger will consume or kill me. It is the fuel that keeps me going.
The moment that changed my life was . . .
Going for a job interview in Pavee Point. Normally my speech impediment steals my confidence, but that day, as soon as I entered the building it felt like home, that I belonged somewhere, and that I was welcome. Access was never going to be an issue. It was very empowering and liberating in a profound way. The people with whom I worked alongside, both Traveller and settled, the learning, the laughter, the crying, the sense of disillusionment – we all shared it. My own personal achievements are meaningless if the opportunities are not widening for other Travellers. It really did change me; confidence, self-esteem, pride, a sense of being valued, being able to contribute without being compromised.
The person I admire most is . . .
Martin Collins, co-director of Pavee Point. Our friendship goes way back. His politics, his humanity and sense of humour are all part of how he has managed to pull so many of us into a Traveller human rights framework. Decency is what I think motivates Martin.
The biggest influence on my career is . . .
Working with Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre was probably the most important experience I ever had. Working with Jim Culleton of Fishamble. Getting feedback for my writing from people like Mark O’Halloran. Then there was Aosdána. It was such a shock to think people like the poets Michael O’Loughlin, Paul Meehan, Theo Dorgan, and the writer Collum McCann and artists Alice Maher and Seamus Nolan pulled me into Aosdána. They were watching without me knowing.
A practical thing I do to help my personal development is . . .
Rest, eat healthy, listen, dance to music, turn down the racism, not give too much time or energy to social media, be discerning when it comes to friendships and relationships, reflect, always ask the question: how much of this wrongdoing is my fault? Writing within a Traveller context, including my family in my creative life.
My biggest flaw is . . .
My vanity, my ego, my sense of self-righteousness, not laughing enough, my polemics in my writing.
My worst habit is . . .
Carrying a sense of shame for never being good enough or strong enough. Not being able to stop the inner monologue that is full of doubt, cynicism and suspicion.
The thing I’m most proud of is . . .
Learning how to read as an adult. Speaking up for myself. Developing and contributing to a Traveller feminist analysis. The proudest thing of all is being able to compromise, being able to forgive and being able to love deeply.
My motto for life is . . .
Keep going. Rejection, pain, hurt, isolation – put all these emotions into your writing. Make them work for you at a later junction. Breath and feel the pain.
- Contentious Spaces is Rosaleen McDonagh’s work-in-progress piece due to be performed at Where We Live Festival 2020 (as part of St Patrick’s Festival), running at Project Arts Centre (Thursday March 19th) as part of the Off Plan programme. thisispopbaby.com (Note: events may be subject to cancellation due to Covid-19 crisis)