TIME TO BE ME by MÁIRE Rós O’Rahilly –
A summary by Manchán Magan
Máire Rós O’Rahilly’s memoir, Time to Be Me, offers a forensic sociological study of an Irish Catholic family through the prism of an emotionally empathic free spirit born into 1950s Ireland to a family of secrets and shame. It’s a courageous and vivid account of a vibrant, visionary human being unsuited to the docile submissiveness expected of her. O’Rahilly tracks her early years as she struggles to untangle herself from the hypocrisy and denial of Irish society, and to discover her independence and sense of self-worth.
It’s an intensely personal story, but one that has resonance for generations of Irish baby boomers who struggled with the stifling conventions of old Ireland between the 1950s and 1980s and who have valiantly tried to address the psychological trauma it caused.
At various points in the book the personal narrative is widened to encompass the feelings and struggles of a whole generation, deftly reflecting the psychological issues surrounding our emotional immaturity, confused national psyche and the pervasive denial of the unresolved issues of trauma that we refuse to engage with.
With uncompromising honesty O’Rahilly details her first encounters with sexuality and its inevitable humiliating consequences. She also describes her rebellion against the dark controlling agenda of religious doctrine, and offers astute and profound analysis of the inherited psychological scars that her teachers and role models bore, that caused them to behave in such an unenlightened manner.
The book casts valuable light on themes of love, creativity, body awareness, mental health, family trauma and spiritual searching, but it is not a heavy read. Rather, it is suffused with compassion and peppered with occasional moments of surreal, farcical humour redolent of a David Lynch movie, such as scenes in which she is paraded on a convent table cat-walk in a ridiculously ornate Holy Communion dress for the delectation of her aunts who are Catholic nuns, or the farce of being sent to her uncle, a priest, after a announcing her intention to stop going to mass.
Time to Be Me offers a valuable anecdotal analysis of Ireland’s psychological trauma in the mid-20th century. As a raw and readable cry from the heart it deserves a place on the book shelf beside Nuala Ó Faolaoin and Nell McCafferty, sharing some of the same perception and humour as Frank McCourt, but without the misery and sentimentality.