Órfhlaith follows the call of fiction

Órfhlaith Foyle had an unusual childhood, mostly spent in remote areas of Africa where her parents were teachers. The regimes in some of the countries where they lived were so strict that she realised early that it was best to stay quiet and observe. That’s her nature anyway, she tells JUDY MURPHY, and it has stood her in good stead as a writer. This can be seen in her latest collection of stories, Three Houses in Rome.

As a child, Órfhlaith Foyle was so fond of tuning in to adult conversations that her parents nicknamed her ‘Big Ears’. She laughs at the memory.

Born in Nigeria, most of her youth was spent in sub-Saharan Africa, where her parents, Anne and Louis, worked as teachers.

Among the countries they lived in was Malawi when it was ruled by Scots Presbyterian dictator, Hasting Banda, whose secret police were everywhere. It was an environment that fostered discretion and mistrust.

Órfhlaith was a quiet child, and although aware of these external tensions, she was always happy to observe and listen. As an adult she has put those skills to good use in her fiction.

Living in Galway since the 1990s she has published one novel, Belios, one collection of poetry and several short story collections.

Her latest, Three Houses in Rome, is published by Indreabhán company Doire Press and its 15 stories are set in places as varied as Ireland, Malawi, Berlin and Rome, with characters who frequently are not what they initially seem to be.

In one, Órfhlaith imagines life for a couple in Malawi, living under Hasting Banda’s regime. In another, she explores the final hours of Eva Braun in a Berlin bunker following Braun’s wedding to Adolf Hitler and shortly before their suicide as Russian troops captured the city.

Her vivid imagination was forged in childhood by the countries where she and her siblings were reared – and by parents who encouraged their creativity.

Her mother, Anne, is originally from outside Athlone and her father, Louis, is from Thurles. He taught English and Maths while her mother, a social worker by training, also ended up teaching English.

“There’s always a need for English teachers in Africa,” says Órfhlaith. Having spent several years in Nigeria, the family returned to Ireland. Then there was a spell in Kenya, followed by another stint in Ireland, a period in Malawi and then back to Ireland before they eventually moved to Australia.

There were occasional plans to move home permanently but these came to nought.

“My father couldn’t settle,” she explains. “I’d say he was an explorer, although that could be a bit romantic. But he loved going places.”

Her parents and most of her siblings are now back in Ireland: “We were all drawn to Galway.”

Although Órfhlaith’s parents weren’t from here, Louis’s brother, Pól Ó Foighil, had settled in Conamara, becoming involved in community development and later entering politics.

Pictured: Author Órfhlaith Foyle at Silver Strand. Born and reared in Africa, she now lives in Galway City. PHOTO JOE O’SHAUGHNESSY.

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