Carmel McMahon.

Posted by Sue Leonard on Monday 20th March 2023

The second in a family of nine, brought up in poverty, Carmel was always close to her mother.

            “As a teenager I had a good group of girlfriends. I liked to hitchhike to Dublin and go to museums. I longed to go to college, but the process of applying was overwhelming.”

Instead, she worked in the boutique in Grafton Street where her mother was employed.

            “I felt stifled,” she says. “It was the most unhappy period of my life.

In 1993, acquiring a Visa, Carmel travelled to New York hoping to work a model.

            “I worked in bars, and in admin, in the Whitney Museum for almost a year.”

This was when Carmel was struggling with alcoholism, and she quit before she got fired.

            “After that I worked for an art collector as her assistant. I got sober shortly afterwards.”

Carmel returned to Ireland in 2021, with her partner, Emmanuel. They bought a house in North County Mayo.

She structured the essays during her MA.

“Each chapter tells of a traumatic event.”

Who is Carmel McMahon?

Date of birth: 1973 in Ashbourne County Meath. “It was a tiny village of 400 but has grown to a town of 14,000.”

Education: Dominican College, Griffith Avenue, Dublin. CUNY Graduate Centre, MA in Liberal Arts with focus on biography and memoir.

Home: Doonfeeny, County Mayo.

Family: Partner, Emmanuel, an artist, and former violin maker, and dogs, Francis and Basil.

The Day Job: Fulltime writer.

In Another Life:  “I would have studied Jungian Analysis, and I still might.”

Favourite Writers: Mary Costello; Claire Keegan; Jamaica Kincaid; Annie Ernaux; Theresa Hak Kyung Cha; Eavan Boland. 

Second Book: Another book of essays with a personal and universal thread. “An artist will illustrate each one.”

Top Tip: “When you get an inspiration, run towards it. If you don’t embrace it, it will go to someone else.

Twitter: @carmel-mc-mahon

The Debut: In Ordinary Time. €18.99. Kindle: €10.17.

These wonderful essays are beautifully realised. They combine the various traumas experienced by  Carmel’s family – including the death and disintegration of some of her siblings – with the historical  disasters for Irish women. Cataloguing Carmel’s years in America, it shows her struggles with Alcohol, and success in overcoming it.

The Verdict: Brilliant! Beautifully written. Heartfelt, engrossing and hugely insightful.

Published in the Irish Examiner on 18th February.

© Sue J Leonard

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