Writer Edna O'Brien

Novelist Edna O’Brien gave her first interview in the home town of Scariff where she was banned after writing a controversial book about sex and young Irish women.

The government banned her first novel ‘The Country Girls’ in 1960 because of its explicit sexual content.
She found herself a pariah in her own village and  said she “did not know what crime she had committed after hearing the State had banned her book.”

The interview was marking  the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Country Girls trilogy, O’Brien told Profesor Declan Kiberd of UCD hat after the banning “it was as if one had committed a crime and I did not know what the crime was”.

O’Brien gave the interview in a packed Scariff public library on Saturday.

 O’Brien said  “Maybe the crime was to do with the society and the strangulation and the silencing at that time.”
She remembered she “got a few scoldings and pretty ugly anonymous letters”, but also said it could have been a lot worse  “glorious writers in Russia were all killed or sent to gulags”.

With her sister Eileen in attendance O’Brien stated  “What this shows – and this still exists in the world – is an innate tension, if not to say conflict, between politics and art.”

She added: “There is something in the potential truth of art, the potential ferocity of art that can anger people . . . I’m not singling out Ireland as the only culprit at that time – it was certainly one of them to a much lesser degree.”
O’Brien also said that “religion, to use one of the cliched words of the epoch, is dumbed down”.

Saying that she sometimes goes to Mass, O’Brien added: “But what I don’t like when I go to Mass are the sermons. Madonna had a song Papa Don’t Preach , but what I don’t like about the sermons is that they are very secular.”

Kiberd described O’Brien as “one of the great stylists and storytellers of the modern English language”.