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Luck o’ the Irish: 7 novelists for St. Patrick’s Day

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we asked some of our favorite Irish (and honorary Irish) novelists to name the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to them. No pots o’ gold or four-leaf clovers, but some delightful replies. 


Emma Donoghue, the author of "Room." (Copyright Nina Subin) Emma Donoghue, the author of “Room.” (Copyright Nina Subin)

Emma Donoghue: The biggest stroke of luck I ever had was when I got the idea for a novel called “Room.” I believe the role of pure fluke in success is generally underestimated.

Sebastian Barry: Rang a friend of mine in 1985 looking for the loan of 5 pounds, he was broke, but another friend of his was in the room whom I didn’t know, and I very cheekily asked her for the ‘fiver’, she reluctantly met me in Bewley’s cafe later that day to hand it over, and we have been together for 28 years.

Alice McDermott: A father who sang, a mother who read, a husband who cooks, three children who can always make me laugh and a handful of old friends who never let me take myself (or questions such as these) too seriously . . .

Colum McCann: The luckiest thing that ever happened to me was that I was able to travel away from my homeland without rancour, without regret. America allowed me to understand my Ireland, and my Ireland informed my America. I became a person of two countries, my hands in the the light and the dark of each. I am always grateful for luck, or perhaps the manufacture of luck.

Frank Delaney: At the age of 20, I found, in a brown paper bag, on the #16 bus in Dublin, a copy of James Joyce’s forbidden “Ulysses.” It has nourished me ever since.

Colm Toibin: In Rome at Easter in 1994, having interviewed many cardinals and bishops, I left all my notebooks on a bench in the metro near the Vatican. It was a busy Sunday. Three stops away, frantic, I realised what I had done. I got out and doubled back, presuming that the chances of them still being there were zero. I had been lucky to get some of those interviews, and also lucky to get right inside the Vatican on such a holy day. All my notes on everything I saw, most in the form of complete sentences and paragraphs, were in those notebooks too. I don’t know whether it was God smiling on me, or Irish luck, or the indifference of the Romans and the tourists and the cleaners to notebooks, but the notebooks were right where I left them. And every word in them was still true.

Tana French: “I was an actor, I’d just finished a run at the Abbey Theatre, I was deeply hungover and had a horrible cold and really didn’t feel like getting out of bed to do an audition. . . but my flatmate dragged me along. Luckiest day of my life. I got cast, and so did the man who, years later, I ended up marrying.”

May the road rise up to meet you. On Twitter @RonCharles.

And while we’re in the mood:


Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.



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