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#WeAreWithItaly // Catherine Dunne



#WeAreWithItaly // Catherine Dunne

This powerful piece, written by Irish writer Catherine Dunne in solidarity with Italy during the Covid-19 pandemic, was published on Il Corriere della Sera on March 14, 2020. A few days later Catherine kindly read it out loud for us and provided us with the full transcript.


«The unnamed heroine of Anna Burns’s superb novel, ‘Milkman’, walks around the streets of her native Belfast with her head in a book. She doesn’t like the times she lives in, she tells us. She much prefers the nineteenth century.

I don’t blame her. She’s living in the warlike environment of 1970’s Northern Ireland, with its paramilitaries, its violence, its toxic sectarianism. She longs to be somewhere else, not merely to escape from something, but to escape into something: to enter a more vividly-lived life, one that is not so circumscribed by fear and uncertainty.

That’s what reading has always gifted me: a way to access another life, other ways of seeing. The act of writing is an extension of that. And these days, more than ever, I find that I need the sustenance reading gives me. It exercises my imaginative empathy. It helps me name my fears. The American aphorist, Mason Cooley, observed that ‘Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.’

These words feel strangely apt during these very strange times.

Psychologists tell us that the brain’s natural, programmed reaction to uncertainty is anxiety. Reading takes me away from that anxiety: it allows me to get below the noise level, and access a place that is filled with silence.


Ireland is not in ‘lockdown’ as Italy is – perhaps ‘not yet’ is a more accurate statement. Instead, there are several restrictions in place with, I believe, many more to come. Schools, universities, creches and public institutions are closed. We are practising ‘social distancing’ – a new and challenging concept for a gregarious nation that likes to gather in pubs.

We also watch what is happening in Italy with genuine, heartfelt compassion. I experienced a great wave of personal sadness when I saw the deserted piazzas on our television screens recently. The abrupt absence of warmth, of easy human companionship, the sudden shutdown of social life: all hard but necessary measures to keep ourselves and each other safe.

And we watch also with anxiety: the Irish health service is already under strain. If there is a large ‘spike’ in Covid-19 cases, our hospitals will be stretched to breaking point. All we can do is try to ‘flatten’ out the curve. To delay the relentless march of this new enemy. To stay home as much as possible and take care of ourselves and others.

As I write this, I am more than aware of my own privilege. I have a roof over my head. People I care for. People who care for me. There is another reality here, too: the one faced by homeless people. By people who have suddenly lost their jobs.

By those whose life’s work has just fallen off a cliff.


Over and over, our media emphasise the need for us to exercise personal responsibilty. A personal responsibility that is directed towards the common good. In many ways, this crisis is a timely reminder that we are much more interdependent than we think. Or, perhaps, we’ve always known it, but the frenetic pace of modern life has made us forget it. Now the focus must be on community, rather than individualism. We need to re-learn that we live our lives in the shelter of other people, not in their shadow.

One of the things I have found startling in this new reality is this: after a lifetime of caring – first as a mother, then as a daughter to ageing parents – I now find myself in the ‘vulnerable’ category. The higest-risk grouping of all. A person who might need to be cared for.

I’m astonished.

How did that happen so quickly? I’m still thirty-five inside my head! The currrent crisis has made me face my mortality in ways that feel more urgent than ever before.


But – and the ‘but’ is very important. We still have a sense of humour. We still have books. We still have music.

I watched with great delight the video of Italian apartment-dwellers as they came out onto their balconies, singing their hearts out.

People here are walking. They’re baking. They’re playing Scrabble and Monopoly with their kids.

Yesterday, I learned of the initiative of the Irish children’s writer, Sarah Webb, who, from next Monday, will post a regular video with the support of the Museum of Literature Ireland, called #CreativeBursts. This will encourage young children to read and get creative. A terrific resource, one that will keep youngsters occupied during what will become long, school-less days...

And this morning, my neighbours announced that we will be celebrating St Patrick’s Day on our street in a new way. At midday on Tuesday 17th, we’ll stand at our front doors and sing an old Irish ballad that celebrates the return of a warlike queen, Grace O’Malley, coming back to her native shore to defeat the Old Enemy. Standard stuff in Irish history. But in this case, we’re facing a new enemy. And we’ll be singing, as lustily as we can, in order give Coronavirus a stern message that it might have met its match.

St Patrick, after all, got rid of the snakes.


When times are difficult and strange, the consolations of poetry somehow become more resonant. I came across these lines recently, and they felt apt.

The poet, Philip Larkin, is exploring what happens in the wake of the loss of a loved one. But it struck me as a powerful way to describe how we’re all feeling now. We’re attempting to come to terms with the loss of a manner of living that we had believed more certain, more secure. We’re grieving its absence. It’s a temporary loss, I feel, but nonetheless. I’ll finish with these lines from a poem entitled ‘The Mower’:

‘...the new absence

Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind

While there is still time’ ».


Catherine Dunne was born in Dublin in 1954. She studied English and Spanish at Trinity College, Dublin and went on to teach at Greendale Community School in Kilbarrack.

Her first novel, In the Beginning, was shortlisted for the Bancarella, the Italian Booksellers’ Prize, in 1998. Her second, A Name for Himself, was published that same year and was shortlisted for Novel of the Year at Listowel Writers’ Week. She has also written one work of nonfiction, a social history that explores the lives of Irish immigrants in London in the 1950s, An Unconsidered People (2003).

Between 1998 and 2012, Catherine published six further novels: The Walled Garden, Another Kind of Life, Something Like Love, At a Time Like This, Set in Stone, and Missing Julia. Her work has been translated into several languages. In 2015, she was longlisted for the first Laureate for Irish Fiction Award.

In 2013, The Things We Know Now was awarded the Giovanni Boccaccio International Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Eason Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. Her 10th novel, The Years That Followed (2016), was longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award in 2018. Her 11th novel, The Way the Light Falls, was shortlisted for the Strega Prize.


A few weeks ago we launched #WeAreWithItaly, an open call to collect messages of solidarity to be shared on the IIC social media channels, for Italy and indeed all parts of the world confronting the Covid-19 emergency. Anybody with an existing connection to Italy, or who wishes to join the tributes that have been pouring from all over as means to breach the distance in this time of separation, is welcome to follow these simple steps:

• Make a video recording with their smartphone OR write a message and choose a picture to go with it;
• Send the material to, using the platform WeTransfer if necessary.

We believe it is extremely important to foster unity in the extraordinary situation that we all have to confront right now and we would be happy to receive your contribution, which will be uploaded to our social media to endorse a powerful message of social cohesion.




Data: Da Dom 1 Mar 2020 a Mar 28 Apr 2020

Ingresso : Libero