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Irish writer Nuala O'Faolain dies at 68

Nuala O'Faolain, the Irish journalist and author of the frank memoir Are You Somebody, has died. She was 68.

Nuala O'Faolain, the Irish journalist and author of the frank memoir Are You Somebody, has died. She was 68.

O'Faolain revealed on Ireland's public broadcaster just weeks ago that she had cancer. She was initially diagnosed with lung cancer, but it spread to her brain and liver.

She died Friday morning at a hospice in Dublin, her family said.

Are You Somebody: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman earned O'Faolain "entry into an exclusive club: the official (and mostly male) chroniclers of Irish pain and rebirth, from James Joyce to Frank McCourt," The New York Times said of her memoir.

In the book, O'Faolain chronicles her upbringing, one of nine children born to an alcoholic mother and philandering father, himself a newspaper columnist.

Are You Somebody was considered both unusually frank and scandalous, because it told of her own struggles with alcohol and revealed her long lesbian affair with Northern Irish civil rights activist Nell McCafferty.

She also revealed personal doubts associated with being a middle-aged, childless woman, working in a male-dominated profession.

O'Faolain already had a following from her opinion columns in the Irish Times. An ardent feminist, she often used the column to castigate Irish attitudes on the role of women, including women activists in the peace movement.

She tackled many feminist and social themes, including domestic violence, Irish homophobia, the grip of Catholicism and the country's high birth rate.

She also had a gift for humour and captured the stories of individuals in everyday situations in a way that made them interesting.

With her memoir, O'Faolain smashed the acceptance she had received from fellow, mainly male political journalists, questioning what she called her "fake objective" approach to journalism.

She revealed numerous affairs with men as well as a 15-year relationship with McCafferty.

The book, written when she was 60, had an initial print run of 1,500 but went on to be an international best-seller.

O'Faolain wrote a follow-up memoir, Almost There, in 2003, the novel My Dream of You in 2001 and the biography The Story of Chicago May in 2005. She won France's Prix Femina in 2006.

Born March 1, 1940 in Dublin, she was educated at University College Dublin, University of Hull and Oxford University.

She taught at Morley College and worked as a producer with the BBC and Radio Telefis Eireanne.

Among her eight siblings, she was consider the one who "got away" because of her ambition and high-profile career. She was estranged from some of her siblings and lost one to alcohol but close to two of her sisters.

After Are You Somebody became a sensation, she went back to writing regularly for the Irish Times but spent more time in New York and was writing about the presidential campaign when she became ill.

She revealed her cancer in an April 13 interview with RTE journalist and friend Marian Finucane that inspired a national discussion about how Ireland cares for its terminally ill.

She described her personal desolation, saying she would like to rush her dying because she no longer gets enjoyment from life.

"Beauty means nothing to me anymore. I tried to read [Marcel] Proust again recently, but it has gone — the magic has gone. It amazed me how quickly my life turned black," she said.

The interview also shocked Irish listeners because O'Faolain admitted she does not believe in heaven or an afterlife.

O'Faolain said she was consoled only by the knowledge that so many other people died in much more horrific circumstances.

"In my time, which is mostly the 20th century, people have died horribly in Auschwitz, in Darfur, or are dying of starvation or dying multiply raped in the Congo … horribly like that. I think how comfortably I am dying: I have friends and family; I am in this wonderful country; I have money," she said.

"There is nothing much wrong with me, except I am dying."

With files from the Associated Press

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