Jaki McCarrick

[orig. Jacqueline] b. London; lived at Gospel Oak, nr. Hamstead until 12, with siblings; family moved to Dundalk town when her Dublin-born mother inherited a house; educated in St. Louis’s Convent School, Dundalk; member of the electronic trio called Choice [later reformed with the same friends]; offered place at TCD but opted for media journalism in London instead; accepted at Middlesex Univ. [aetat. 23] for English and Philosophy but graduated in Performing Arts [English and Dance] (BA 1st Hons.) Middlesex Univ.; also completed RNT Directors Course, 2001; TCD [Philosophy MA; Distinction in Creative Writing, MA 2004]; wrote The Mushroom Pickers, a play, winner of SCDA National Playwriting Competition, 2005;

wrote Leopoldville (2010), a play about a violent all-male gang incident; winner of the 2010 Papatango New Writing Prize; her short-story collection The Scattering (2013), was shortlisted for the 2014 Edge Hill Prize; long-listed for Irish Laureate for Fiction, Nov. 2014 [see infra]; her Belfast Girls - about a group of young women escaping post-Famine Ireland to Australia on ship-board in 1850, taking advantage of the Orphan Emigration scheme promoted by Lord Grey - was developed at National Theatre Studio, London and first performed at King’s Head Theatre, Islington, London, 1 Aug. 2011; shortlisted for Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (2012) and BBC Tony Doyle Award (2014); tours America and Australia, with its US premier in Chicago, May 2015 - with twelve international productions to May 2020; adapted for screen by author, 2016;

her story “The Visit” wins Wasafiri [Internat. Contemp. Writing ] Prize for Short Fiction, 2012; her play Bohemians was read at RADA in 2017; The Naturalists premiers in NY, 2018 - actually the first of all her plays to be written; returned to Ireland, 2013; reformed the electronic trio; suffered the death of her father; got married; appt. Writer-in-Residence at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, 2013; also Writer-in-Residence at Cill Rialaig Artists Centre, Co. Kerry; appt. Writer-in-Residence at the Irish College at Leuven [Louvain] University, Belgium, 2020; writes regularily for TLS and Irish Examiner , et al.; campaigned for purchase and preservation of birthplace of world-famous Dundalk-born engineer Peter Rice on Castle Rd., Dundalk, Oct. 2020.

Media round-up ...

[ See Jaki McCarrick blogspot - online; also a Twitter account - online; accessed 06.12.2020. ]

[ Seren Books has mounted a Stay-At-Home Question & Answer with Jaki McCarrick in YouTube - online. ]

[ Julia Proudfoot of Artemisia Feminist Podcast interviews McCarrick (7 May 2020) - online]

[ The Fracture: Jaki McCarrick gives a Zoom talk on her experience of migration and return for London Irish Centre (15 Oct. 2020 - online ]

[ See numerous other videos including interviews and drama trailers listed by Google - at search on 06.12.2020 ]

On the Irish minority in Britain: “There really was only Martin MacDonagh ...” (Talking on The Fracture - online.)

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  • The Scattering (Bridgend: Seren 2013), 220pp.
  • The Mushroom Pickers (London: Samuel French [2015]), 88pp.
  • Belfast Girls (London: Samuel French [2015]), 94pp. [First performance at the King's Head Theatre, Islington, London, 1 August 2011; incls. cast lists for orig. performance and stage-reading of alternative version at National Theatre Studio [USA]; Bibl. [p.95].
  • Leopoldville (London: Samuel French [2015]), 72pp. [incls. “The Congo”].
  • The Naturalists [Aurora Metro New Plays] (Twickenham: Aurora Metro Books 2018), 101pp.
  • ‘The Genesis of Belfast Girls’, in Writing.ie (2 Jan. 2018) [see extract].
  • “Tussy” incl. in Short Plays with Great Roles for Women, ed. Suzette Coon (London: Routledge 2019), 212pp.
  • “The Visit”, in The Best British Short Stories 2012 , ed. Nicholas Royle (Cambridge: Salt 2012), 231pp.
  • ‘Ideas of War, Riot and Murder: On two playwrights not often successfully staged’ [on Edward Bond and David Mamet], in TLS (20 Jan. 2017), - online.
  • ‘Why Irish Murdoch Matters’, review of study of Irish Murdoch of that name, in The Irish Times (2 Feb. 2019) - available online.
  • ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf: A courageous and provocative piece of writing’ [on novel of that title by Marlon James], in The Irish Times (2 March 2019) - online.
  • ‘The Emperor of Russia’ in New Short Stories 11 (Willesden Herald, 30 Nov 2019).
  • ‘The Cleverest Pen: Rediscovering One of the Major Female Writers in the Irish Canon’, [review of Hannah Lynch by F. Binckes & K. Laing] in Times Literary Supplement (6 March 2020) [see under Lynch - supra].

[All the foregoing accessed 06.12.2020.]

Interviews incl.
  • ‘Playwright Interview: Jaki McCarrick’, in Breaking Character (6 Sept. 2018) - online [accessed 06.12.2020].
  • ‘Five-minute interview with Jake McCarrick’, in Wasafari: International Contemporary Writing (2 March 2017) - online [accessed 06.12.2020].

[Both accessed 06.12.2020.]

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Interview with Aurora Metro Books:

I was born in London, and until the age of 12 lived in Gospel Oak near Hampstead. My mother inherited a house in Dundalk, on the Irish border and that’s why my family moved back to Ireland. The plan, initially, had been to sell up and either go back to London or to Dublin, where my mother was from. But eventually she and my father decided to stay in Dundalk, I think, because the schools were good. My sisters and I went to an all-girls convent, which was partly a converted 14th-century castle in which we were taught art and music, so I think my mother was enchanted by that, as was I.

When I was 15, I joined an electronic band, which became quite famous in Ireland for being the first electronic outfit in the country. We won a few awards and recently reformed! At that age I equated being in a band with being a poet - and I suppose that was my first act of “creative independence”. When I left school I got a place at Trinity College, Dublin to study English and Public Administration but didn’t take it up. Instead, I went to London and worked for a music magazine, first as receptionist then as editorial assistant and then as contributing journalist. The magazine folded after a few years. I continued to freelance as a writer and began to study dance and drama in the evenings. When I was 23 I got a place at Middlesex University on a modular English and Philosophy degree course but after my second year changed all my modules to contemporary dance and drama subjects. I graduated with a First. At the same time as studying for my degree, I studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Central London. I adored Method acting and used to be called “Pinter woman” by one of my teachers as I seemed to take to Pinter like a duck to water. By the time I graduated from Middlesex, I’d also studied at Lee Strasberg for three years. It was like studying for two degrees simultaneously. I also acted, performing with a brilliant group of actors, many of them graduates of the Lee Strasberg Institute, in plays at the Springfield Tavern in North London. I played Lady Macbeth aged 25 in a production of Macbeth which transferred to the Lyric Hammersmith.

After graduating, I continued to pursue acting and for a while also devised physical theatre projects using my own written text. It hadn’t dawned on me yet to write plays, though I was always scribbling. I was accepted onto the Directors’ Course at the National Theatre Studio and that year the Old Vic asked the graduating directors if they would like to stage a reading of a new work. I had written the bones of a play called The Mushroom Pickers, so responded to this call out for staged readings with my own play. The producer, Kate Pakenham, saw this and, suitably impressed, arranged for The Mushroom Pickers to be read on the main stage of the Old Vic, the performance of which my now agent, Charlotte Knight of the Knight Hall Agency, attended. Thus begun an intense ten-year period of writing, in which I also completed my MPhil in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin. During this time I decided I’d like to move back to Ireland and so that’s where I now live.

I’ve been fascinated by theatre since I was a child. My mother often took me to shows in the West End. I also attended summer workshops as a child at Drama Centre in North West London which was quite close to where we lived. My sister and I had puppets, and we would give shows on a table outside our house. This makes me sound very extrovert but I wasn’t at all. If there’s a word for someone who is between introvert and extrovert that’s me.

[...] In the case of The Naturalists - the first pulse was an image. That abandoned shop. In the case of Belfast Girls, I was exploring a theme - women and Famine. In the case of Leopoldville it was character. I’d written a short story called “The Congo” about a violent crime committed by a gang of young men, and because I could not get the characters out of my head - I wrote Leopoldville.


Available at Aurora Metro Books - online; accessed 06.12.2020.

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The Genesis of Belfast Girls’, in Writing.ie . (2 Jan. 2018)

At the beginning of 2010, my play Leopoldville won the Papatango New Writing Prize. Based on a true story, the play is set in an Irish border town and explores a heinous crime committed at the tail-end of the 1980s recession. It took a year to write and by the end of that year, 2008, Lehman’s Bank had collapsed as had Anglo Irish Bank, plunging Ireland into its next great recession, from which, nine years later, it has, arguably, still not fully recovered. The cast of Leopoldville is all male (five young men, one older male) –and in 2009 I began to think about writing something that would be the converse of this work: an all female play, a thought that grew especially during the London-based rehearsal period and performances of Leopoldville, when I considered I needed a serious break from the testosterone-heavy environment I’d been in for months (the youths of my play are, after all, tough and violent and I’d already spent a year with them in my imagination!). I did not have a story at this stage but knew I wanted to write something for and about women, preferably a group of feisty women - almost as a riposte or some kind of balance to Leopoldville. In this regard, this play and Belfast Girls are quite connected

Back in Ireland, after the London production of Leopoldville, I began to notice the terrible effects of Austerity. I became very angry. Everywhere, people around me were losing their jobs, their homes; their sons and daughters had to emigrate. People seemed to be leaving the country in droves - as I had done myself in the 1980s - but this time they were heading further afield, to Canada and Australia rather than to London. The now infamous “Guarantee” made by Brian Lenihan and Brian Cowen, which guaranteed the bondholders who’d invested in Anglo Irish Bank (many of whom were themselves banks, or billionaire investors from abroad), and the subsequent calling in of the IMF and ECB, and the ensuing bailout arrangements, simply drove me to distraction! I could not believe that elected leaders would so openly sabotage the lives of a populace - and be so readily prepared to drain the country of its money for a guarantee arrangement that has since been deemed by Germany as “unnecessary” (yet Ireland continues to pay it!). I began to think of the Famine - and noted that the effects of the bondholder payments and subsequent Austerity measures were being compared to the politics of the Famine period by economists such as Michael Lewis (for Vanity Fair) and Professor Morgan Kelly &c. Every day, the Liveline programme on RTÉ Radio One seemed to be full of accounts of evictions with historical comparisons to the Famine being made. I realised then that in Ireland, in 2009, the Famine, once again, held a prominent place in the public consciousness.

I began to wonder if any of my own ancestors had had to leave Ireland during the Famine. I’d often asked my now late-father (who hailed from Sligo) about this but he had little information for me despite having researched the McCarrick family tree a number of years before. So, I Googled “McCarrick” and “the Famine”, surfed the net for a while, and chanced upon a register of young females leaving for Australia in 1850. One of the names was Nora McCarrick, from Easkey, Sligo. I became excited. I read more, and discovered that over 4,000 young females had left Ireland between 1848 and 1851 as part of a scheme called the Orphan Emigration scheme, established by Earl Grey. It was a chapter of Irish history I knew nothing about. At the time there seemed to be little information on the net about such an important event (there is a lot more now etc, and more recently, documentaries have been made, novels and other plays written), so I read what books I could find on the subject, including Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, Thomas Kennelly’s History of Australia, Trevor McClaughlin’s Barefoot and Pregnant? Irish Famine Orphans in Australia, Irish Women and Irish Migration edited by Patrick O’Sullivan. Thomas Conway of Druid Theatre also mentioned to me that he’d written a thesis on the story of the orphan girls for his Masters Degree. In my reading of these books and articles, I discovered that a particular group of “orphans” were considered to have been especially feisty and colourful, known for their use of obscene language and riotous behaviour. These were known as “the Belfast girls”. Right there I sensed the makings of the story I’d been looking for. [...]


I knew instantly that I would set the entire drama on the ship (my screenplay adaptation goes outside the ship) as I considered this a good theatrical choice. [...] Looking through one of the registers I also found that one of the orphans had been born in Kingston, Jamaica - and from this detail I created the mixed-race orphan, Judith Noone, who is pretty much the leader of the pack in her corner of the ship. [...] And so, with all of these details percolating in the back of my mind, I wrote Belfast Girls in a white heat period of a few weeks.


Available at Writing.ie. - online; accessed 06.12.2020.

Five-minute interview, at Wasafari: International Contemporary Writing (2 March 2017).


What was the first book you read that made a difference?
When I was a child I was a big fan of the Narnia Chronicles by CS Lewis and I do think they helped develop my imagination - as well as giving me a love of ‘wintry’ settings. But the first book to ’blow me away’ was Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier. I read this novel when I was about fourteen and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s still one of my favourite novels. I think it was the intoxicating mood, the sense of longing in the writing that struck me. I was in the grip of that novel’s mood for months after reading it.

What one book would you take to a desert island?
I think I would take some intense and difficult reading just to keep my mind focussed on staying alive, so it would have to be Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.


Available at Wasafiri - online; accessed 06.12.2020.

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Seren Books (publisher’s notice): Jaki is a playwright and short story writer who is also working on a novel. She has won many awards for her work including: Winner of the 2005 SCDA National Playwriting Competition for The Mushroom Pickers; Shortlisted for the Sphinx Playwriting Award 2006, Bruntwood Prize 2006, Kings Cross Award 2007 for The Moth-Hour; Shortlisted for the 2009 Adrienne Benham Award for Leopoldville and the 2009 Asham Award for short fiction for “The Congo” in this collection. Most recently her short story “The Visit”, included in the Badlands collection, won the Wasafiri Prize for New Writing in October 2010 and Jaki was declared the first ever winner of the Liverpool Lennon Paper Poetry competition, which she was awarded by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Another story from the collection, Hellbores, was recently shortlisted for both the Fish Short Story award and Bridge House Publishing's World Stopping Event writing prize. Bridge House want to publish that story in a new anthology and it has also appeared in the Irish Pages journal. (At Seren Books - available online; accessed 06.12.2020.)

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Fiction laureateship: McCarrick was long-listed with 33 others for the Laureateship of Fiction awarded by the Irish Arts Council and valued at €150K (See The Irish Times , 5 Nov. 2014 - online; accessed 06.12.2020.)

Personal details - given in YouTube interviews include an account her father’s gambling, her mother’s cancer and her brother’s juvenile heart disease; also the family friendship with Dominican priest Bruce Kent, a left-wing associate for his father and a strong supporter of her early writing - with words that triggered her determination to write. Kent was requested to desist from politics and left the Church. She documents the conservatism of the society and the pre-eminence of the clergy. She documents the experience of returning to the Dundalk house which had been in her mother’s family for 100 years - a house with an outdoor toilet only. Describes the town/rural division and the atmosphere of the Trouble, with British helicopters passing overhead. ...; returned to Ireland, 2008; death of ‘adored’ and ‘flawed’ father; marries. ...; speaks of the ‘cracked relations’ caused by migration and return; speaks of writing especially about borders, and the fractured nature of Dundalk experience. (The Fracture, a Zoom talk for London Irish Centre (15 Oct. 2020 - online])

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