“At its heart, I think the book is a story about love and about hope and how immersing yourself in the natural world can heal your heart and make you fall in love with your own life,” says Kathy Donaghy.
Her memoir about returning to Inishowen with her family – Finding My Wild: How A Move To The Edge Brought Me Home – has just been published by The O’Brien Press.
“It’s essentially my own story of the last ten years spent back home in Inishowen with my family. It’s a lot to do with identity and with starting your life over again in a new place, albeit a familiar one.”
“It’s also about loss and how life doesn’t always go to plan.”
The book has been widely praised.
According the The Irish Times: “She shares her stories with a clarity of self-reflection that is painful to read, and her observations on love, compulsion and forgiveness are powerful within a book that is rooted in the natural life of rural Ireland…. Its poignant parts are those moments by the sea, which move from childhood adventures in rock pools to the adult plunge into cold water off Culdaff, which brings the memoir to a flowing close.”
A reporter for The Irish Independent, Kathy is constantly writing the stories of others – but recently turned the spotlight on her own life.
“I didn’t think the book I’d end up writing would be this one but this was the story – my own – that kept bubbling up. It wouldn’t let me go even when I batted it away.”
A bout of coronavirus gave her the time and space to begin the project.
“I went on a retreat in October 2021 and when I returned home I became ill with covid. During my ten days in isolation I put together the proposal for what became Finding My Wild. I submitted a proposal to O’Brien Press and they loved it.”
“I didn’t want to wake up some day and think of the road not taken, that we hadn’t been brave enough to at least try.”
“I started writing the book last January at my friend’s house in Malin Head. She kindly let me stay there to write, as I needed the space to get away from the day-to-day and just write all day long, which isn’t easy when you have school pick-ups and drop- offs, dinners to make and other work deadlines.”
In her late forties and living happily in Redcastle, with husband Richard and sons Dallan (14) and Oirghiall (11), Kathy says the book “is coming at a point in my life where I’m a bit more confident in myself.”
She recalls the big move from Dublin almost eleven years ago.
“Richard and I left Dublin – we lived on the city’s Northside – in January 2012. Our children were then aged five months and three years. I talk at length in the book about the reasons for our move. There were a lot of conflicting feelings at the time.”
“The truth is Richard and I wanted a different life for ourselves and our children. We wanted the natural world to be a big part of that. We hoped we could make a living although as both of us were journalists for national media outlets that wasn’t guaranteed.”
“But I didn’t want to wake up some day and think of the road not taken, that we hadn’t been brave enough to at least try. I think you only have one life and you may as well try to be happy.”
Kathy says she particularly wanted to be home when her boys were small – and the family hasn’t looked back since.
“Working from home has allowed me a freedom to be home which I wouldn’t have had had we stayed in Dublin.”
“Life only goes forward not back, so while there are some things I’d change about the way we did things, I don’t regret anything.”
“I feel rooted here and seeing our children grow up here in a small community in Redcastle makes me happy. I am grateful every day for the gifts of family and friends, for the ocean on my doorstep and to be able to write for a living from a place I love.”
“So I guess you could say I think it was worth it,” she says.
Kathy’s life has changed in “every way” since she swapped Dublin for Drung.
“I feel rooted here and seeing our children grow up in a small community in Redcastle makes me happy”
“The biggest part is being close to family – my parents and my sister and her family are up the road. But I feel it’s my connection with the natural world which has been the biggest revolution in my life.”
“I lived in Dublin City for many years, which I loved, but the pull of home was strong. It became stronger when our children came along. I love living near the sea and the minute I walk out my back door I’m in the most beautiful woodland which is full of wildlife and native Irish trees.”
“Our sons are proud to be from Donegal but will always honour their Dublin heritage too. They have a deep love and respect for the natural world; that is one of the things about them of which we are most proud.”
“In terms of infrastructure, I do wish transport links to Dublin were better though. The road is long past an upgrade,” she adds.
Swimming in the sea has become “one of the great passions” of Kathy’s life and she says that has been a crucial aspect of the success of her move back.
“I have been swimming all year round for the last decade. I have made great new friendships and picked up the threads of old friendships too.”
“I write a lot about swimming in my book and how being in the sea offered me a sense of calm when I was at a very low point in my life. I definitely have felt the pull of the sea my whole life.”
“I have always been influenced by the stories of my family who were the first people to hold salmon fishing licences on Lough Foyle. I spent a lot of time on the shore as a child.”
“I knew when we moved back to Donegal that I wanted the ocean to become a big part in my life. Richard has been swimming all year round since I met him over 25 years ago. It’s become such a part of my life now that I always have togs and a towel in the boot.”
She says sea swimming is a “sacred space for me”.
“I feel like my true self there – for those moments in the ocean nothing else matters except the breath and the movement and the sheer feeling of water.”
Kathy’s book Finding My Wild is published by The O’Brien Press and is available in paperback and as an e-book. It can be bought at all good Irish bookshops, online, and from the publisher’s website.