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Nuala's bleak courage

NUALA O'Faolain was one of a generation of Irish women journalists who were as notable for their campaigns for women's rights as for their remarkable writing skills. Even among that colourful company, she stood out for her sharp intelligence and unique style.

When she described in her writings the particularities of Irish society, she could be whimsical, even sentimental. But there was always a hard edge. It showed itself best in her masterwork, the memoir 'Are You Somebody?'

In that book, she laid her life bare with extraordinary honesty and courage. Seldom in the annals of Irish literature can a work so short and so stark have moved its readers so deeply. It must have been written with great pain. It can hardly be read without tears.

She made a similar but much greater impact when she disclosed, in a radio interview with her friend Marian Finucane, that she was dying of cancer.

Again, she laid her life and her personality bare. She spoke of her coming death, not in hushed tones or euphemisms, but in terms of hurt, fear, darkness. In return her listeners poured out not sympathy, but gratitude that such things could be said in public.

Nuala O'Faolain has died with more prayers and good wishes than she could ever know, but without leaving words of comfort for those left behind. Her memorial will be her writings, and the bleak courage with which she confronted life and death.

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