“I’m controversial, but only because of what other people say,” says Tara Flynn, ahead of her show Not A Funny Word in Cork’s Everyman Theatre.
Tara Flynn is a writer, an actor and a comedian. She’s a regular contributor to RTÉ, and has been an integral part of the sublime Irish Pictorial Weekly. She’s from Kinsale and she is – as the author Louise O’Neill memorably described her – “made up of kindness”. Her recent books You’re Grand and Giving Out Yards are thoughtful, hilarious and deeply clever. Tara told her own abortion story, at considerable cost to herself – both to her career and to her own personal wellbeing – in 2015.
In 2006, Tara found herself – at the age of 37 – unexpectedly pregnant. Having taken a morning-after pill, Tara’s pregnancy came as a terrible shock. Unwilling, and unable, to be a parent, she made the lonely journey to the Netherlands for a termination at nine weeks’ gestation. She made the round-trip alone, in one day. She couldn’t afford to stay overnight.
“The injustice of not being able to get that care here is still with me,” she says. “Once home, all I had to do was to lie to everyone forever, then everything would be alright, everything would be normal.”
But, she says, what’s considered normal in Ireland is not remotely near to international human rights law or medical best practice. She makes the point repeatedly that everyone in Ireland – whether they realise it or not – knows someone who has had an abortion. It was in 2015 that, “fed up with the hypocrisy that allows us to travel for this procedure but leaves us to continue a pregnancy we can’t cope with if we can’t”, she decided to go public with her story.
She feels that it is only since women like Janet Ní Shúilleabháin, Roisin Ingle – and Tara herself – put their names to their experiences that the conversation started to shift.
As Tara puts it, once she had told her story, she was called variously brave, a hero, and an unrepentant murderer. And that – she says – is the fate of every Irish woman who raises her head above Ireland’s toxic abortion parapet.
Next week, at 8pm on Thursday, April 26, Tara stages in Cork’s Everyman Theatre her one-woman show Not A Funny Word, in which she relates her own story. She accepts that the show’s timing is – of course – relevant, but she says it is a performance which is deeply personal to her.
“Not A Funny Word is related to the Repeal campaign in content only, it’s just my story. Something I always like to make clear is that when I’m campaigning, I’m a complete volunteer. I give my time for free.”
She says that when she is campaigning, she can maintain a certain distance, but for her the stage show is deeply personal. “The show is my work, my job, but it’s also my story, told in a theatrical way.”
Tara says it is often assumed that – as a prominent spokesperson for repeal – she must be on a payroll. She says her campaigning is completely voluntary, and says it is her passion – “It’s something we have to get right this time, we have to get it right” – but in fact her taking such a public stand has cost her work.
“I know of a couple of things I’ve been dropped from, whether it be interviews or appearances. I’m sure there are certain roles that I just wouldn’t be suitable for, with the kind of profile I have right now for something so visible as Repeal. But, by the same token, I know that that will fade and things will come right again once this is all over. We can go back to being private citizens again. But right now, I guess like with any kind of political campaigning, you become a Controversial Person in a way, even though all I’ve done, and all my contribution to the campaign has been to tell my story.
“I’m described as a Controversial Person, but that’s only because of what other people say.”
I interviewed Tara Flynn last Tuesday evening, on the day Together For Yes launched its online fundraiser to pay for posters. As the campaign launched, one prominent anti-choice Twitter notice-box was crowing that the Yes side was hopelessly out-classed, out-postered and out-spent. Together For Yes initially had a crowd-funding target of €50,000. That target was reached within hours, and was increased to the ridiculously ambitious seven-day target of €250,000. By 9pm that evening – as Tara and I talked – that target had been surpassed. By last Friday, Together For Yes had raised €500,000. That’s an astonishing half a million Euro in four days, from a standing start. (As we go to press, Together For Yes has in a week raised almost €600,000.)
For Tara, the Together For Yes movement feels like a welcoming home for all of the Irish women who have been forced to travel abroad for abortions since the Eighth Amendment was passed in 1983. Conservatively, that’s in excess of 170,000 women, somewhere in the region of 12 women a day making a lonely and frightening journey. And that’s not taking into account the approximately three women a day now taking illegal, internet-sourced abortion pills without medical supervision.
Tara says Together For Yes has given an immense feeling of solidarity and community to so many Irish women. This feeling of positivity chimes with her show Not A Funny Word, which she says is a very hopeful work. It’s also, in the words of those who have seen it, scathing, searingly honest, and very, very funny.
“How can something that’s not even funny to me be funny?” she asks. “Well, that’s what I wanted to see. The public conversation has been dominated by conservative thinkers, with those of us directly affected always having to apologise, or be told that our experience – our real lives – might be unsavoury to some. Well, I’m taking my own back. I hope it demystifies some moments, but mostly, I hope it shows people that each story is unique.”
With five weeks to the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, Tara Flynn’s story is worth telling, and well worth hearing.
Tara Flynn’s one-woman show “Not A Funny Word” is in Cork’s Everyman Theatre at 8pm, Thursday, April 26.