Author Séamas O’Reilly hints at screen adaption of Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?

Séamas O'Reilly on childhood memories, the significance of the Border and the impact of Brexit

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Author Séamas O’Reilly has hinted at a screen adaption of his childhood memoir Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? as well as a second instalment of the bestselling book.

O’Reilly, one of 11 children, whose mother died when he was five, was a guest on The Irish Times’ Borderlines podcast.

“There may or may not be adapting of the book for a visual medium, but I can’t really say very much about that,” he said.

“As for book two, in a memoir-ey shape, that could be on the cards as well, because it does end when I’m about 11. So, I didn’t just go into cold storage. I did have an extra life that went on beyond that point! So who knows but watch this space, that’s what I’ll say.”


O’Reilly said writing his book was a “bittersweet” experience because in the course of his research, while questioning his siblings and others, he unearthed new memories about his mother.

“Having to actually dig in there and actually feel so sad for this little boy who was me, that was new, kind of. And also the flip side of that, now that I’m a parent myself, how much deeper my sadness and sorrow was for my dad and for my mum.

“I’d never really thought about it from my mum’s perspective. She knew she was dying. She was leaving 11 kids behind. And in all the different layers of grief and sadness and anger I’ve ever had, I’d almost never thought about what she felt like.”

O’Reilly grew up on the Border between Derry in Northern Ireland and Donegal in the Republic. “My dad’s fence was literally the Border. Anything that went over the fence we probably should have been filling out forms to grab it,” he said.

“But I’ve actually done the maths for it. My dad’s fence, which he erected to stop a horse from eating his flowers, is 0.04 per cent of the UK’s Border with the Republic of Ireland and/or the EU now.”

The family crossed the Border frequently. “It was something that was of negligible interest to anybody who knew us growing up. It wasn’t something we thought about.”

And when O’Reilly moved to London 11 years ago, he rarely considered the location of his family home important enough to mention when talking about his background, “until about five years ago when everyone in Britain realised that they had a 300-mile long Border with the institution that they’d just separated themselves from”.

After Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, O’Reilly said he was “very upset and angry about how people hadn’t talked about the Border” during the referendum debate.

“And it now seems strange because it became such a part of the process and such a part of the conversation, but up to and after the referendum it was never mentioned. Nobody visited Northern Ireland, nobody talked about it . . . and to me it was infuriating.”

He was already writing for the Guardian and other outlets about different topics, but began to write more about the Border and the impact of the Brexit vote in Northern Ireland.

“The number one response I would get was from people who literally had not realised that there was a Border. These were all English people; the Irish people all knew.

“It’s weird that only in those last five and six years have I started thinking more about what it means and what effects it’s had, both in my life beforehand and ever since, and also how much our closest neighbours don’t know anything about us.”

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times