An excerpt from her upcoming fourth novel, The Affection of a Hag.


There were five beds very close together facing each other and patients lay in some of them with the covers pulled over their heads. There were rooms to the side that the nurse said were nicknamed igloos.

‘They’re for the free thinkers,’ she quipped. ‘They’re padded and we can strap you up in a jacket so you’ll not harm yourself. But I reckon you won’t need that. You’re not at the end of the line yet.’

But how did I get here if I wasn’t at the end of the line? This felt like the end of the line to me. The end of the world. What had happened? There were women pacing up and down, and women rocking on beds back and forth, and women picking their noses. I felt I was among a bunch of apes at the zoo except I’d never been to the zoo. I’d never been anywhere. From leaving Bolus Head in a horse and trap, to a farm in Ráth Cairn, to a shop in Trim, to a Mother and Baby home, to the Big House in Mullingar. My life was slipping away month by month, year by year, and I couldn’t seem to get a hold of it or see any end to it.

The walls were whitewashed and it felt like we were all down in a hidden cave. I said the prayer my sister Mary had taught us: ‘May Bridget save us, and may we live under her cloak, and the Holy Spirit protect us from fear, from caves of white death, guard us and keep us company.’

I had never known what they meant by caves of white death but now I did. I was relieved when I saw they weren’t going to give me the shocks again. Was this going to be like the sickly insulin treatment they had me on when I first was committed? She came at me and began to pour, what I later found out was paraldehyde, down my throat. I jolted and gagged but they were firm. My mind shook. My grey brain rattled off the yellow bone of my shivering skull.

The nurse said I had a fit for twenty minutes which was a normal part of the treatment and when I was finished they took the tongue depressor out.

‘Lie there, pet, and let it do its job,’ she said.

What was its job?

And after that I don’t remember anything for a few days, or was it weeks, and I swear I saw into the future and I crawled through the past, neither of which exist when you think of it.

I was going underground. Under my life. Under the country. Under the barley. Under the potatoes. Under the churches. Under the lunatic asylums. Under the cow shit. Under the wild primroses on the hedges. Under the schools. Under Bridget’s cloak. Under the bed where I gave birth to my twins. Under the courts that stole my children. Under the chieftains and druids who sliced our son’s nipples and stuck them face down in the Iron Age bog. Under Patrick’s staff that pinned me to the bed where the doctors held me down and attached electrodes to my head. Under my womb madness. Under the connivance of monks that took our stories and twisted them into their own. Under the Vikings who plundered our treasures. Under the betrayers, the snitches, the deal makers that welcomed our enemies to the shore. Under the Normans pouring tar at us from their freezing green zone castles. Under the flight of the Earls who left us to ourselves—what a joke, as if we stood on the edge of the cliffs with hankies waving them off, poor miserable peasants that we were. Come back, oh nobility, and fuck us again. Under Cromwell who scoured the land of us and banished us to stony windy wet mountains where even the sheep lost their footing and plunged into the sea. Under the Brits who beat our language out of us. Under the landlords who put us out on the soft side of the road…

Under the world where the fairies are. Where the limbo babies’ tiny skeletons still cage their earthstuck souls—because heaven wouldn’t open to them. Under the tangled roots of imported trees. Under the huge machines that stripped the bogs empty. Under the world where the fairies are. Under the music that squeaked out of the boxes, the air that rushes from flutes, the bang of the drum. Under the low lying ever thickening clouds. Under the blight. Under the boats that shipped corn to England. Under the deck of the coffin ships. Under the people of 1916 who were what? But children of the starved who crawled out of the West. Under Paidrig Pearse’s gammy eye and bad poetry. Under the stone yard in Kilmainham Gaol, where they tied the wounded James Connolly to a chair and shot him. Under the Black and Tans. Under the constant grey sky…

Under failed negotiations of poor leadership. Under each other now. Under the Blue Shirts. Under Béal na mBláth. Under Archbishop McQuaid rasping in De Valera’s ear as they made plans for us. Under the poets who ordered us to open the door without giving us the key. Under the picture of the Sacred Heart offering us his inedible organ pressed with thorns. Under the singers who made us shiver but would not warm us. Under the endless decades of the rosary. Under the museums that hid the Sheela-na-gigs from us. Under the pricks of self-loathing men who stuck it into us and condemned us as dirty with their juice. Under the Virgin Mary who will one day show no mercy to the child in Granard. She is the one and only, the Holy and Immaculate Virgin that renders all us mothers whores. Under the cassocks of the bishops and cardinals and the popes with their useless cocks like ticking metronomes marking out time until the chickens come home to roost. Under Ben Bulben. Under the endless verses of rebel songs. Under the drink. The poteen that could turn you raw blind, the Guinness that blackens your shite, the uisce beatha that bursts your liver…

Under the fierce watch of the bad nuns who ate their sandwiches and drank their lemonade as the starved children in their care collected turf for their parlours. Under the solicitors, the guards, the school principals, the doctors, the bank managers, the decent people of Ireland who you need to sign for your passport. Under the thud and hum of the laundries. Under the heaps of banned books from exiled scribblers. Under the shoeless bloody feet of slave children in the obscene care of the church and state—uncounted lives, melted like snow off a ditch…

Under the fairy forts in Meath, the hag stones in Beara, the disappeared Georgian buildings. Under the UVF, the IRA, the RUC, the INLA, the SAS. Under the bombs, the assassinations, the murders, the kneecapping, the man who was shot dead outside his house last night. Under the toll roads that they built to slice through the Neolithic they refused to understand. Under the tribunals, the confessions, the recessions, the depressions. The brown bags of money under tables. Under the triple chins of the dazed fat creatures who sold us to the IMF and went creeping off with huge pensions…

Under the heroin, the flats, the dirty canals, the coke come-downs, the cathedral-like shopping centres, the developers, the bankers, the crap ugly buildings standing empty, the unlandscaped blank green spaces in the sprawling housing estates built on floodplains, The Great ONGAR, the unsignposted roundabouts. Which way now? Which way now? Under your shrivelled breast, oh hag, that I sucked and sucked, but it was too late to come to you for nourishment so dried out were you with our neglect. And when you cried out in pain it was only black crows that squeezed out of your tear ducts and flew at me as I lay in your embrace and all of these hag crows plucked chunks out of me, until dismembered, I was taken off inside the black noise of the flock in small separate pieces and squawkingly digested and shat out onto the forest floor, and eaten by insects, and inside these creepy crawlies, under the canopy of trees, when the insects died and dried up, the soil of this land took me for what it could suck out of me which of course wasn’t much by then, was it, oh Ireland?