Entertainment Books

Wednesday 19 June 2019

People Like Me by Lynn Ruane: How Lynn's visit to a library saved so many lives

Memoir: People Like Me, Lynn Ruane, Gill Books, €18.99

Senator Lynn Ruane's book details the hard road that has led her to today, but it is more than a survivor memoir. Photo: Tom Burke
Senator Lynn Ruane's book details the hard road that has led her to today, but it is more than a survivor memoir. Photo: Tom Burke
People Like Me by Lynn Ruane
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

Publishing a memoir at 34 years old seems a bit early in life, especially Irish life. But then if you are a woman before your time, an alcoholic and drug addict by 13 and a mother by 15, there's loads to tell. The miracle of surviving daily drugs, joyriding, drinking in fields, being stabbed in the face, and losing all faith in family and environment, must be shared if it can save anyone else from the morbid experiences of Lynn Ruane and her teenage friends.

Every writer includes a host of names and gratifications in their acknowledgements. Lynn's acknowledgements summarise a life journey that has you in tears on page one.

Before she came into the public eye as president of the Students Union at Trinity College Dublin, Lynn had built a life helping the homeless and heroin addicts. But that revolution in her life did not come easy.

She describes herself as rough around the edges, cheeky and angry. Aged 10, she discovered that her father was married to somebody else, with a much older son and daughter. It changed her life. Not simply the facts, but the false veil under which she had been reared.

Though her father and mother were very kind and loving parents, to discover you are not your father's only daughter, and that you have siblings you've never met, is daunting. Some children who discover almighty lies like this can become withdrawn and study hard to escape from home to work, to rent. Lynn exploded with an attitude that failed to see any positive future.

The grief she experienced witnessing the death of her childhood friend, Jenny, being hit by a speeding bus, completed the trauma that transformed the avid reader, sporty tomboy, into a 'brazen, strong, fearless young girl'. Rather, that was the mask she maintained.

Her attitude towards teachers caused her to drop out of school in second year and continue her inner battles to feed her adrenaline need, with up to 10 ecstasy tablets in one night and partying at a rave in a local priest's house.

Her shoplifting skills helped purchase drugs; at 14 she bought a score bag and paused as she chose not to take the tablets, instead opting to go to the local library and read all about heroin, its history and consequences. She stored this information and tried to discourage her friends from taking the most fatal of drugs.

The following year she discovered she was pregnant and a sense of joy lifted her out of the mire, ending her own drug use. To this day, her daughter Jordanne motivates and inspires her.

She went on to have a transformative experience at An Cosan, the education facility in Jobstown founded by Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone. This led her to finding work in other community programmes to aid addicts.

When in 2007 she became a community worker in the Bluebell area of Dublin, many in the group she worked with were older women with heroin addictions. Lynn found that their major issues were having nothing to do; they suffered loneliness and boredom - perhaps not unique to that community - but the only thing that occupied their day was stealing, sourcing, dealing, buying and using drugs. And the cycle would continue. They had not worked for years or never worked.

(Lynn refers to Tallaght and Bluebell as 'working-class communities' throughout the book. An online definition of 'working class' is "a social group consisting of people who are employed for wages, especially in manual or industrial work." In that regard 'working class' would be a social group all over Ireland that studies, works, rents, and saves - to eventually afford to have a child and childcare, get married, or get a mortgage).

Lynn was surrounded by many parents who had to move from Ballymun and city centre flats in the 1970s, to the sprawling council estates of Tallaght - where despite having a house and garden, their children's lives changed dramatically. Drugs and drink became a hard habit. Education and any possibilities it offered seem to be ignored; without a school routine, developing as a teenager can be traumatic, as Lynn discovered, though it was her choice.

There is a distinct softening in Lynn's language after her holistic experience at Bluebell, where she bonded with the group, organised cookery classes with a French chef, culminating in a cookery book for healthy recovery from drugs, working with the male addicts and their vegetable garden. Sadly, the rude awakening that brought all workers to the edge, our 'Recession', ended this community centre.

Becoming pregnant with her second daughter Jaelynne, brought a strict awareness of who she wanted to be. The book includes glorious episodes of being on safari with Jordanne or travelling with her daughters in Mexico.

Having been involved in campaigns with other Irish activists, all of whom have suffered and survived in some way, and being herself, especially proud of her tattoos, Lynn's dedication to equality resulted in being elected a senator in the Irish parliament in 2016.

This is more than a survivor memoir. Lynn acknowledges that her strength, resolve, resilience stems from the multiple deaths of friends, the darkness that surrounded her, the reality of seeing children become adults with no motivation to make life work for them.

A remedy to resolve a society that turns to drugs, murder, to death in prison, is an essential need in our law and politics - Lynn Ruane proves that all aspects of education and skills are a huge element in survival and success.

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