Subscriber OnlyPeople2022 Review of the Year

My father bought two bunches of flowers the day I was born, one for my mother, the other for his girlfriend

Hilary Fannin’s Year: For Halloween I dress up as a 60-year-old with peroxide blonde hair, a chain-store jumper and too much eye make-up, and lie on the couch with the cat, eating fun-size Mars bars. It’s wonderful

George Salmon, a former provost who was vehemently opposed to the admittance of women to TCD. I wonder what his stony old face would make of the knots of young students gliding across the cobblestones now


We’re slowly slipping out of the Covid snake’s skin. I go to meet a pal for dinner in Dublin city centre. She’s delayed. I don’t mind. It feels giddily unfamiliar to sit alone in a restaurant and watch human beings talk and eat and touch each other.

Across the room a woman reaches for her dining companion’s hand. She is crying. I pick up the menu, pretend to study it. The woman is smiling now. I wonder if her tears were of relief.

My friend arrives in a blast of cold air. We order quickly. We’re halfway through our chicken chasseur when all the lights are turned up and the door is opened; it’s the 10pm curfew. Disappointed Cinderellas in clodhoppers, we walk to my university accommodation in the rain. I say goodbye, gird myself for my first night in my narrow college bed.


I can’t remember the last time I lived alone. I’ve been given a small flat for three months as part of a teaching fellowship: a kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom with an attenuated bunk and a small desk. I breathe quietly, afraid of disturbing my equally compressed equilibrium.


I meet my husband for dinner. It’s February 24th, his birthday. The Russians are invading Ukraine. At the end of the night we drink sambucas and I tell him about class that morning and how a student had said, head leaning against the window pane, that he couldn’t think. What value have fiction and poetry, he asked, in the face of war?

Days later I meet a Russian friend I’m doing some work with. She’s devastated, distracted, can’t eat, barely touches her coffee. We walk along St Stephen’s Green in the dark. She tells me about a network in Turkey that’s arranging flights out of Moscow for writers and artists under threat from the regime. “Words have power,” she says, and turns for home.

I’m followed down Grafton Street by a middle-aged man. When I slow, he slows. There’s hardly anyone on the street. He calls out. I walk quickly, enter Trinity by a side gate. Pounding along by the empty playing fields, I phone my younger son. “What are you doing there on your own?” he asks.


I hear on the radio that there have been more than 45,000 domestic-violence calls made to the Garda so far this year.

From my window I look down on students in the courtyard, unfurling in the pale sun. From this vantage point they seem extravagantly, touchingly, affectionate to one another. I think back to my own teenage-hood, to the way desire was pinched between fear and guilt.

In the writing workshops I’m careful not to make assumptions. I’m gifted with the students’ compelling stories and with a commensurate loosening of my own thinking.

A newly-widowed pal visits and gifts me two blue bowls. I put them on my empty shelf. I listen to reports on the radio of Ukrainians fleeing the war with their cats in their backpacks.


I bring my sister to the specialist; she is soon to be admitted for surgery. A call from Spain says my other sister has also been hospitalised, with complications after Covid-delayed back surgery. They’ve both been ill before. I’m familiar with this dance, waiting for news, waiting for test results.

Throughout the length and breadth of this country there are legions of distracted women standing at checkout queues in raincoats, waiting, worrying. I become one of them.


I turn 60. I drink in London with my older son and his pals. At 4am the next day, feeling my age, I board the Eurostar to Paris, then take the connection to southwest France. This environmentally conscious method of travel is costing an arm and a leg. I could’ve flown here for the price of my Gare du Nord baguette.

On the beach at the pretty town of Collioure, young soldiers in combat gear are on manoeuvres. Soaking and exhausted, they run along the shoreline. Elegant older women, looking like delicate sketches, exhale blue cigarette smoke into the air.


In Kerry, at a small family gathering, my brilliantly funny cousin, who had a life in politics, tells fantastic and unrepeatable stories about Irish politicians in the 1970s. (Cowgirl boots and Stetsons may have been mentioned.) Later we drive through Jurassic foliage. Glimpsed through elephant-eared gunnera, the sea glitters like a night sky. I wonder what it would be like to leave the city permanently. On the radio stories of refugee families living in hotel rooms continue.


A woman who I know I know says hello to me on the street. I struggle to recall her name. There’s something odd about her. I realise that she has de-aged by about a decade. Her forehead is smooth, the skin around her mouth seamless.

She smiles at me (I think). Her eyes look like faded buttons. There are opening offers in the new aesthetic clinic, she confides. I nod. By now one of my sisters has had a pacemaker fitted, the other has had a mini-stroke. On the family WhatsApp there’s a mordantly humorous discussion about inheriting fat knees.


In Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy opens the door to legalising same-sex civil partnerships in that war-ravaged nation.

In Spain my extended family gathers in my sister’s tiny adopted village. The younger members sit around in sunlit bars, graciously indifferent to our stories of old Ireland, the rage and repression, the rain and sin. They deal with so much in their lives, not least elemental fears about climate, but at least there’s some crap they can largely consign to history.


I have been asked back to the university to teach for another semester. Most days I walk past the statue of George Salmon, a late-19th-century mathematician, theologian and provost of the institution who was vehemently opposed to the admittance of women to Trinity. I wonder what his stony old face would make of the knots of young students gliding across the cobblestones now, arms linked, whispering and laughing, gloriously exaggerating stories of their brilliant and perilous lives.


It’s Halloween. Somewhere in the Hollywood Hills, Kim Kardashian dresses up in a wig and a bright-blue latex body suit that nicely complements her bubblicious bottom and goes to her pal’s birthday bash as an X-Man, only to realise it isn’t a costume party.

I dress up as a 60-year-old with peroxide blonde hair, a chain-store jumper and too much eye make-up, and lie on the couch with the cat, eating fun-size Mars bars and watching Bake Off. It’s wonderful.


I’m madly grateful to be doing the work I’m doing, for the students’ work and enthusiasm. From my temporary attic-room office overlooking Westland Row I can see the stern church where I was baptised.

I was born in a clinic on Pembroke Street. It’s probably a sandwich bar now. According to family folklore, my father bought two bunches of flowers on Baggot Street that day, one for my mother, the other for his girlfriend who was having her teeth straightened nearby. From my window I look for his brazen ghost. I miss the dead.

In Spain my sister is readmitted to hospital with meningitis.


The Guardian website says this is day 289 of the invasion of Ukraine – there is a picture of Putin smiling at a drinks reception as he vows to continue strikes.

My sisters are home and in recovery.

The morning light is breathtaking today, Dublin Bay is navy-blue, the rushes yellow. Overhead Brent geese fly in squadrons. I stand in the street with my neighbours waiting for an ambulance to pick up one of our number who has fallen heavily on the ice. Underfoot the grass crackles and breaks with frost. I watch the ambulance depart. Walk carefully to my own front door.