Róisín Ingle: There was something deeply operatic about the positive antigen test

I am not proud of my ‘agin’ for opera. But recently I reassessed this lifelong dislike

It was author Marian Keyes who first alerted most of us to the concept of “agins.” A passionate fan of Strictly Come Dancing, over the years there were contestants she would take strongly against, or agin, without much provocation – it could be something irritating they said or a just a particularly boasty look in their eye. Keyes allows herself a certain amount of agins during each Strictly season, reasoning correctly that it is simply impossible to root for everyone on the dance show and knowing that sometimes people annoy you for no good reason. In life too, we have to allow ourselves a number of agins. Ideally, we’d be saint-like and love everybody, but most of us are not saints. We agin therefore we are. (Sorry, Mr Descartes.)

For months now I've had an agin regarding the people posting their Wordle results on social media

There are more obvious agins, agins that make excellent sense. Practically the whole word has an agin when it comes to Putin, for example, and you can’t argue with that. Although, thinking about it, agin is too mild a world for Putinphobia. The true agin is probably best reserved for more innocuous, irrational aversions. They come in many forms. There are the agins that we feel bad about, because we can’t quite put our finger on why we harbour the agin. Think of the celebrity you can’t stand, although they’ve done nothing to you personally. Or the politician who grinds your gears every time he or she appears on the news. You can take agin an individual or you can take agin institutions like a certain bank, or your agin might be to a whole group. For months now I’ve had an agin regarding the people posting their Wordle results on social media. I’ve been working hard to squash this agin because of the joy the game brings to so many. I’m nearly there. (I S.W.E.A.R.)

I was on Tommy Tiernan’s show recently with my mother. We had the most generous feedback from our appearance, with most people telling me “no offence, but your mother stole the show”. No offence taken, I thought to myself. My mother is more naturally suited to the spotlight than I am, it turns out, which has been an interesting thing for her to discover in her 80s.

During the conversation my mother confessed to Tommy Tiernan that for a long time as a poor person, raising eight children alone, she had an agin against rich people. This agin wasn’t helped by the fact that we lived on Sandymount Green, in the heart of Dublin 4, where even in the 1970s and 1980s when working class people could afford to live there we were surrounded by rich people. Of all the things she confessed to Tommy Tiernan, including a choice anecdote about her eventful sex life after my father died, this was the bit she felt most worried about. She hardly slept that night, thinking about how she had revealed her agin against the wealthy. I should clarify, that over the years she managed to shed her rich people agin. “It’s not their fault,” she reasoned, relieved to finally get that inverse snobbery chip off her shoulder.


Anyway, my mother’s vanquished rich people agin is similar to the agin I’ve had for a long time against opera. I am not proud of this agin. I know, in theory, opera is a fine art. I understand that it is not in fact elitist, being the entertainment of the masses for centuries. And yet it has always left me cold as an artform.

Recently, a couple of things happened that led to my reassessing this opera agin. The first was that my partner has experienced an entirely unexpected late onset love of opera, which has been fascinating to watch. Up until recently, his cultural obsessions mostly included Liverpool Football Club, The Beautiful South and REM. Now he’s as likely to be playing La Bohème or Madame Butterfly while doing the ironing as he is Carry On Up The Charts.

The other thing that happened is our daughters became involved in opera. It started when they joined the chorus of a production of Bluebeard’s Castle by Béla Bartók, and continued with The First Child by Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh. The First Child, unlike any other opera I’ve ever seen, was in the English language and featured scenes set in a shop selling baby supplies and in the queue for the carvery at a suburban Dublin pub. I think it was this accessibility of setting and subject matter that drew me in. I found my opera agin melting away as I watched a dress rehearsal and – full disclosure – it had nothing to do with the involvement of my daughters. The First Child was simply the first opera I have ever enjoyed. And just like that, my agin was gone.

There are far worse things going on in the world. We'll keep reminding ourselves of that. Agin and agin

Myself and the opera buff were due to attend Carmen by Bizet which is running this week in the Bord Gáis Energy theatre. I was looking forward to discovering if the recent lifting of my lifelong opera agin would transfer to one of opera's best loved works featuring Paula Murrihy and Celine Byrne. And I had another reason to be invested: after it had been postponed twice because of the pandemic, one daughter had been rehearsing hard for weeks with dozens of other children who are part of the chorus. It has been her dream for a few years to perform on that stage. Even as a recent convert I understand that there was something deeply operatic about the grief and trauma that was felt in our house over the weekend following the appearance of the two lines on my daughter's antigen test.

This is the singular aria that plays over every unfortunate incident in our lives at the moment: “There are far worse things going on in the world.” My daughter knows that. We know that. And yes, Covid, like Putin, is far too pernicious for a mere agin. So we isolate and home school and count all our blessings, too many to number. There are far worse things going on in the world. We’ll keep reminding ourselves of that. Agin and agin.