One of Ireland’s most successful and popular writers, Maeve Binchy sold more than 40 million copies in 37 languages. Since her death in 2012, her global popularity has continued unabated — in 2019, all her novels were published in Korean for the first time. Yet it’s not solely her reach that continues to expand; her influence and legacy are also flourishing.
This month alone, RTÉ Drama on One is broadcasting a season of her classic plays and an extended edit of her legendary 2002 interview with Myles Dungan. The presenter later described their conversation as “the easiest five bob I ever earned”.
Every October, the annual Echoes Festival in Dalkey celebrates her and Irish writers. On social media the hashtag #bemoremaeve appears regularly, often in conjunction with her famous advice that opens: “Learn to type. Learn to drive. Have fun,” and concludes, “Don’t wait for permission to do anything. Make your own life.”
A new generation of readers has found her via the author and journalist Caroline O’Donoghue’s Sentimental Garbage podcast. She is celebrated in the Maeve Binchy garden at Dalkey Library, in the Museum of Literature Ireland and by the annual UCD Maeve Binchy Travel Award, which funds a travel opportunity for an arts and humanities student.
At Echoes in 2017, Margaret Kelleher, UCD professor of Anglo-Irish literature and drama, said that close study of Binchy’s writing suggests she will be regarded as a “key witness and chronicler of Irish life in the last decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the next”. The writer Frank McGuinness has said that her legacy “is the knowledge that we can do anything, go anywhere and if you choose it, you can be successful as you care to be. She opened gates. She opened doors.”
How she got her start has been well-documented: in 1963 grateful parents of her pupils at the Zion school in Rathgar gave her a trip to Israel. She went on to spend three summers there, and her father was so taken with her letters home he submitted them to this newspaper. She went on to have huge success as a reporter. In her obituary, the journalist Conor O’Clery said her “highly descriptive take on Irish life transformed the nature of colour writing in newspapers”.
Aside from as a reader, my connection with her began in 2014, when I won the inaugural UCD Maeve Binchy Travel Award. In the interview, I described my proposal to explore the sea areas of the Shipping Forecast with what I hoped was an appropriately Maeve-ish attitude, explaining that I wanted to talk to people as I travelled; to eavesdrop and chat and hear the human-sized stories I would never encounter otherwise.
As the popularity of Echoes shows, Maeve’s fans still love to read and discuss her, and the relevance of her reflection of Irish social attitudes and mores is increasingly being lauded.
But that’s only part of the story. When I was getting ready for my trip around the sea areas, I packed Maeve’s Times so I’d always have something joyful and interesting to read while travelling alone. And for me that is at the heart of Maeve Binchy’s legacy: as always, she remains extraordinarily good company.
Echoes runs at Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre, Dublin, from October 1-3, echoes.ie