Hanna Greally spent the best part of the 1940s and 1950s incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital in the Irish Midlands. Her terrible suffering was recounted in Bird's Nest Soup (2008). Hanna's story continues with an account of her life in Coolamber Manor Rehabilitation Centre in Co. Longford, the place from where she hoped to gain freedom. If Hanna became part of the civil dead in St. Loman's we can now, for the first time, read alongside her restoration to citizenship and to personal autonomy.
Bird's Nest Soup, the story of psychiatric incarceration, was published three times since 1971, most recently in 2008. Here, now, we have the sequels published together: first, Coolamber Manor, the story of transition back into society and into independent adulthood; and second, Housekeeper at Large, the story of triumph, her account of her life as a woman of (modest) means and autonomy as a housekeeper and cook in England, published here for the first time. Indeed, it had been assumed that this manuscript was irretrievably lost and its discovery in 2008 was astonishing, not least given the renewed interest in the author arising from the re-publication of Bird's Nest Soup.
And what of the place of these books now? As with Bird's Nest Soup, we have here a combination of autobiographical narrative and social history. This mode of writing constitutes one important feature of the work. The books capture marginalised social worlds written from the inside, from the lives of the largely invisible and unnoticed which are part of our collective history and unconscious.
Here is a remarkable story, told with reticence and naturalness which makes it all the more moving.
Introduction by Dr. Eilis Ward, National University of Ireland Galway.