Stalking Irish Madness
Kara Rota follows Patrick Tracey on his genealogical exploration of schizophrenia in Ireland.
Patrick Tracey's first book, "Stalking Irish Madness: Searching for the Roots of My Family's Schizophrenia," is a memoir, a research document, a medical ethnography, and certainly a page-turner. As Tracey says, "There's many, many ways to write a book about schizophrenia. But I had my story to tell and to tell it this certain way."
The story Tracey has to tell is one that begins years ago, with a woman named Mary Egan. The Egan line is the one Tracey chooses to follow in his search through Ireland, as Mary Egan serves as the historical link that brought the "Irish madness" down to Tracey's grandmother, May Sweeney, and eventually to two of his beloved sisters, Chelle and Austine.
The diagnosis first of creative, theatrical Chelle, then later of Tracey's confidante and best friend, Austine, smashes a fragile family dynamic and sends Tracey into the depths of his own drug addiction and despair. "There's stuff there just from my own life-I didn't want to do a big drunkalogue, or a drugalogue, you know. But I let you know that it was pretty severe," he says.
Out of this period came the decision to undertake the journey to Ireland that shaped and became Tracey's book. "I just sort of woke up sober in London," Tracey reflects, "and there it was, Ireland was right next door. I'd heard about this gene link and just thought, I've got to go investigate it, you know, and I sort of realized at some point that this could be a book and the book could be worth something. I didn't know what. I also knew that I had to basically go there and bring the news back home to my sisters."
Tracey is clear about the fact that "Stalking Irish Madness" was written, first and foremost, for Chelle and Austine. "My sisters wept when they read it and felt that it was a nice-you know, it was an offering. And that's what it is. I think every book is sort of an offering. Here it is; this is mine."
This emotional attachment to the subject matter shines through on every page, but the book is also a gritty and engaging travelogue that pulls the reader along with it through the gorgeous Roscommon landscape as well as the muddy campgrounds where the author sleeps.
While his own story is not the focus of this book, the writing and the experience clearly belong to Tracey. "It's definitely a memoir in the sense that it's the world through my eyes. It's not really about me, it's how I see the world, trying to get the reader in my body, or rather, in the passenger seat, and I'm just telling you the story as I'm bumping through Ireland in my '94 Nissan minivan with the bad radio. That just seems like a natural way to tell a story, especially in the oral Irish tradition."
"Stalking Irish Madness" opens with a spooky scene of Tracey exploring the caves of Roscommon on Halloween night. Tracey speaks of how Irish fairy legend was blamed for people hearing voices in older times, a mythology that still holds weight among some believers.
Tracey, however, is ready to move on to a different explanation.
"I try not to club people over the head with science, but it's important to understand that the fairies were framed. They said the Irish were away with the fairies, but it wasn't fairies, it was what I call a three-legged stool of schizophrenia. The famine-[specifically] maternal malnutrition-alcoholism-and the last one is late age of paternity. That's the three-legged stool of schizophrenia, and specific conditions were set up in the west of Ireland for that. It was all in the same DNA stew."
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