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Irish writing

The Irish Read: How Holy Show tells 'interesting and unexpected stories of Irish life'

Enjoy new work by Roisin Kiberd, excerpted from the Holy Show journal, this Sunday morning.

THE IRISH LITERARY scene has long been a source of national pride, but it’s in particularly rude health at the moment. Yet with so many books to catch up on, it can be easy to lose track of what’s out there.

Enter The Irish Read, where we feature an extract from a piece of work by an Irish or Ireland-based author.

The taster from a novel, poem, essay or short story should spur you on to find out more about the writer and their work.

This week, we have an extract from an essay by Roisin Kiberd, from the latest Holy Show journal. Read on to find out more Holy Show and its work. 

The publication

“Holy Show tells the most interesting and unexpected stories of Irish life, through the eyes of Ireland’s best writers and artists. Issue 03 launches this September featuring Nicole Flattery, Anne Enright, Martin Parr, Salvatore of Lucan, Roisin Kiberd, Kerri Guinan, Acid Granny, Gary Coyle, and Sara Baume, among others.

“The issue centres on a theme of public space. We look at pubs and the snug as a shared hub. We question city planning and tenets of architecture. We chat about the fading enclave of Dartmouth Square, and escape from a foreign metropolis to live through a screen. All before we wrap up with a word from the flaneur-troubadours who are taking back our streets.

“Holy Show is also Ireland’s only literature production company. Sara Baume’s The Alphabet of Birds begins touring this month. Live readings from Baume’s new essay are interspersed with four short documentaries from Jamie Goldrick that feature artists Gary Coyle, Laura Fitzgerald, Sara Baume and Natalia Beylis, all live-scored by Howlbux. We are set to partner with Druid Theatre, Cuirt festival and Sean Hewitt on our third production in 2021, based around Hewitt’s experience as the first poet in residence at the Irish Queer Archive. Find out more or subscribe at

The writing

HS3-Martin Parr Cover Martin Parr Martin Parr

In a year many of us would rather forget, acclaimed essayist Roisin Kiberd wanted to record and remember. Getting antibody tested in a sex club. Crossing borders before they shut. Finding solace in video games, killer ants, toothless sharks. And launching The Disconnect, her debut collection of essays about the internet, on a screen, in her pyjamas. With unmistakable wit and grace, Kiberd captures what might otherwise have been lost, the texture of strange days unstuck in time, the ability to endure.

I begin this year with a swab in my nose at the site of a former sex club. This time last year, Rob and I would queue around the corner with friends, tipsy from cans of gin, dressed like exhibitionist replicants, waiting to pass the bouncers and begin what was, by all accounts, the greatest night out available on this particular plane of existence.

Now that same queue is socially distanced, anxious, watching each other for symptoms instead of checking out each other’s clothes. I get to the gate and a man in a hazmat suit and a Russian hat hands me a form to fill out. A few minutes later the swab is deep in my nostril, scraping, the way they used straws to remove the brains when making mummies in ancient Egypt. This is my third time getting tested – there’s almost certainly a microchip in there now.

There’s something almost cruel about having to return to KitKatClub, dressed in a heavy winter coat, to be tested for the virus that has caused it and every other legendary venue in Berlin to go into hibernation. It’s likely that many of the clubs won’t survive lockdown – KitKat itself was about to lose its lease, shortly before the pandemic started.

It’s uncertain whether they’ll find a new one, and whether somewhere this great, and this weird, could ever be replicated in another location. Words don’t do justice to KitKat; I had some odd times here, but mostly unforgettable times.

The man doing the swabbing is genial. He seems familiar; I think he might have worked at the club when it was open. He asks me if I’ve done drugs or consumed any alcohol recently. It was New Year’s Eve last night, but I don’t talk about that.

The swab is comically long; one side is for the throat (I intone ‘arrgghhhhhhhh’ as it mauls my larynx), and one side is for battering the nasal cavity. Afterwards I’m guided to the holding pen, a little yard off to the side that was once the club’s dressing area.

I remember standing in this same spot a year earlier, watching a woman change wigs while her husband, on a lead, waited beside her. Now it’s just concrete, and people waiting for schnell test results.

A woman to my left receives hers before me; ‘Inconclusive’. I didn’t realise that result was possible.

Get issue 03 of Holy Show for €10 at (Subscribers get a free tote bag.)

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