The Ballroom Café has featured on radio, television and newspapers.

Here you will find links to and the articles which have appeared in all the National, International and local press. 


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Irish Times  Book Review

Irish Times Books online.

Irish Examiner

 Irish Independent

Daily Mail magazine

Clare Champion

 One of the oldest US newspapers, the Irish Echo featured   The Ballroom Café in the St Patrick's  edition March 11-18, 2015.




August 1, 2015.

You cannot bury the past. It always returns, demands to speak. Irish Examiner reporter Ann O’Loughlin has spent her career writing about justice. Here she fictionalises the forced adoptions of Ireland’s unmarried mothers. Ella and Roberta O’Callaghan live alone in a crumbling Big House with their secrets, memories and mutual hatred. When they are threatened with bankruptcy, Ella opens a café in the old ballroom. The sisters are forced to confront their past when Debbie, a terminally ill young American woman, arrives searching for her birth mother. It’s about a past where pregnancy was a well-kept secret, the baby only a shadow on the hospital wall as it was whisked away for adoption. Imprudent trysts, pregnancy, birth, rejection and anguish reverberate through the generations, but the novel is not without lots of human warmth and very intimate characterisation. Secrets emerge, there’s a whopper of a twist and this unabashed tear-jerker ends with a well-earthed, well-calculated emotional finale.

Irish Examiner Newspaper Weekend Magazine  June 6, 2015

Book review: The Ballroom Cafe

High court reporter Ann O’Loughlin sees us at our most distressed moments and is particularly passionate about the plight of children put up for forced adoption, a thread in her first novel. She explains all to Sue Leonard.

Ann O’Loughlin
Black and White Publishing, €11.28; ebook, €0.69
‘Journalism informs my fiction writing’
HIGH court reporter Ann O’Loughlin is passionate about justice and she’s particularly exercised about the knotty issue of the forced adoptions of the past.
“About 2,000 Irish children were sent to America; that’s a conservative estimate,” she says, her distress evident.
“A lot went to unsuitable families, some who had been turned down for adoption within America. One girl went to a family in Ohio, where there was already a child. When she was 18 her parents said, ‘we’re finished with you now. We only wanted you so our daughter could have a playmate.’ They threw her out!”
It bothers Ann that whilst the Magdalene women have now received an apology and compensation, those whose babies were taken away have been largely ignored.
“These were young women who needed help and they were thrown out by their families. Their children were kept in orphanages and they were allowed to care for them until they were two or maybe three.
“It’s only now that these elderly women are prepared to say, ‘this happened to me.’ Some didn’t consent to adoption, let alone their children going to America. I remember hearing one woman on Joe Duffy who had never told her story before. When she told of how her child had been taken from her, her pain was raw.”
A court reporter for most of her journalistic career, Ann adores her job. But there have been times when she’s felt frustrated at not being able to delve into a story.
“I’ve interviewed women who have lost their children, but I’m always working to deadline. All the time they are talking I’m thinking of my first paragraph, my second and my third.
“This happens in the whole area of news,” she says.
“You might be sitting with someone who has just lost a loved one. You want to stay with them, but you have to apologise and leave, to get the story out. You don’t get the opportunity to delve into the background.”
And when, in 2008, Ann left the Irish Independent after 12 years to spend more time with her two, then young, children, she decided to try her hand at fiction writing.
“I sat down and tried all different kinds of writing,” she says. “I started a crime novel, but that didn’t work. I kept writing until I had found my voice.”
Four years later, she had completed The Ballroom Cafe, a sumptuous novel set in a crumbling mansion in County Wicklow, which has two sisters at its heart. Ella and Roberta haven’t spoken for decades, communicating, instead, through terse notes.
But when their bank manager threatens to turn them out, Ella decides to open a cafe in the ballroom. And that’s when Debbie, a young American searching for her birth mother comes into their lives.
It’s a great read, with feisty characters, and a realistic look at a rural community. And the author weaves nostalgia with the painful issues of the past quite beautifully. Secrets gradually emerge, and the book ends with a sense of redemption.
In 2012, when, the novel finished, and an agent secured, Anne joined the Irish Examiner, she decided to keep on with the fiction writing. She’s now 20,000 words short of her second novel. But as a mother of an 18-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, how does she find the time?
“I get up at 5am, and write until seven when I call the kids for school,” she says.
“I get 1,000 words done. I take the main line train in from Kilcoole, and go through the writing and edit it. I get to the courts at around 10am.
“The job is very busy,” she says.
“And very interesting. I work on a lot of medical negligence cases. They can be very hard, with children horrifically injured at birth. I’m not sure if people find justice; they find a form of justice, but it’s very hard for families to sit there wait for their cases to come up, then to be heard, and maybe not understand if the case is thrown out.
“I cover commercial cases as well. There are 23 High Courts, and it’s the one area where newspapers cooperate. The four of us — the others journalists are from the Irish
Times, the Irish Independent, and an Agency, share out the courts and exchange stories. You could write up 10 stories on a busy day. I rarely get home before 7pm or 8pm.” The skill of shorthand, Ann says, is vital for her job.
She’s grateful for her training at Rathmines School of Journalism, back when it was the only such course in the country.
“It was a big leap at the time,” says Ann. “My sisters went into nursing and teaching.” From college, it was off to the Irish Press as a freelancer.
“You would go in every morning and sit in front of the news desk waiting to be sent off somewhere. If you made a mistake, they would never use you again. It was a terrific grounding in journalism — the best ever.
"It’s a terrible pity that the Irish Press has gone!” Ann had joined the Irish Independent well before the demise of the Irish Press, working as the crime correspondent. She covered the O’Grady kidnap in 1987, working night and day.
Afterwards, she decided to take some leave and travel by rail from London to Hong Kong, passing through a lot of Eastern Europe. And that’s when she met her husband, John.
“He was on the same trip,” she says.
“We met in Moscow and by the time we reached Siberia we had decided to get married. We decided in four days, literally, and we’re coming up to our 25th wedding anniversary.” With a shared love of travel, the couple spent a year in India, back in 1993, first in Delhi, then in Bangalore.
“I worked for the Indian Express; it was strange and fascinating. Their technology was better than ours, but their news sense was like ours was back in the 1950s. In Bangalore, we went to the police commissioner’s office to be briefed.”
Then it was back to the Independent working as senior news reporter, then, after a stint with the Moriarty Tribunal, 12 years as a High Court Reporter.
Ann adores fiction writing. She’s finding the whole process new and utterly exciting. She loves the way her characters talk in her head, and become so real.
“I saw a woman in Greystones who looks exactly like Roberta,” she says. “She had the same handbag even — then I realised, with a jolt, that Roberta isn’t real.” For all that, she’s not ready to jack in the day job.
“I would miss my journalism,” she says. “And I think it informs my fiction writing.
You hear people as you go through your day, and often they’re talking about their pain or suffering. It teaches you empathy and if I lost that immediacy, I think my writing would suffer.
“My fiction will always include an important issue. I don’t sit down and say, ‘I will write about issues,’ but they seem to grab hold of me. I was never a fluffy journalist.
I have to write about something that I’m passionate about. And I am passionate about those children, and the mothers who have been carrying this huge burden.
“The Government Department for Foreign Affairs supplied passports to the children; the least they could say is, ‘sorry’. But they won’t. It’s like the nuns to the Magdalene women. They’ll sit in a convent with them and use the word transparency.
“Everyone wants to be transparent; they’ll do anything except say that they are sorry.”

Irish Times Books Online

Ireland’s shameful secret of forced adoptions was a story I had to write

Ann O’Loughlin’s The Ballroom Cafe was inspired by the ‘small voices’ of unmarried mothers she interviewed who were forced by the church to surrender their children

Ann O’Loughlin: One woman in her 80s wanted to see the son she had lost before she died; the pain of this mother, whose child had been taken from her, as raw as the day she lost him. “I just want a chance to tell him I am sorry, but I had no say in it. It was all wrong, but mine was and is a small voice,” she said Ann O’Loughlin: One woman in her 80s wanted to see the son she had lost before she died; the pain of this mother, whose child had been taken from her, as raw as the day she lost him. “I just want a chance to tell him I am sorry, but I had no say in it. It was all wrong, but mine was and is a small voice,” she said

Wed, Jun 17, 2015, 01:56

They are the forgotten women; the women who were pregnant and unmarried, turned out by their families and who lost their children to forced illegal adoptions to the US.
Treated harshly and despicably, they hid under a burden of shame for decades. Now in their senior years, they dared to highlight their cases, to speak of a shameful time in Irish history, when young unmarried mothers were treated so badly; in many cases their children taken from them and sent to wealthy couples in the US. Some of those children were taken without consent. Some went to already dysfunctional homes.

Ann O'Loughlin on writing The Ballroom Cafe

I first came across the mothers left behind many years ago as a working journalist; their dignity and the raw pain and shame they carried almost unbearable to witness. One woman in her 80s wanted to see the son she had lost before she died; the pain of this mother, whose child had been taken from her, as raw as the day she lost him.
“I just want a chance to tell him I am sorry, but I had no say in it. It was all wrong, but mine was and is a small voice,” she said.
She was right; her voice was a small one, but unforgettable.
There were many other “small voices” over the years brave enough to tell their stories publicly; they cast aside the shame heaped upon them by a Catholic country for bearing an illegitimate child and shone a spotlight on the harsh practices of the past, which saw them treated as outcasts and their children taken, often without their consent, and sent to the US for adoption.
It was these “small voices” that I drew upon to write The Ballroom Cafe.
All fiction reflects life and The Ballroom Cafe is a novel concentrating on the “forced adoption story” from both sides, moving between 1960s America and Ireland in 2008. It is a solid fact that ordinary life trundles on no matter what tragedy is heaped on our shoulders, so the challenge for me as a writer was to examine this issue, reflect the pain and suffering caused to so many women, while at the same time making sure the story rather than the issue drove the book.
It seemed fitting then to set The Ballroom Cafe in a crumbling old mansion, Roscarbury Hall, Rathsorney, Co Wicklow in Ireland, where two sisters, Ella and Roberta O’Callaghan, lived among the misty parkland and the overgrown gardens running down to the sea. A deep silence lasting decades dominated their lives; they only communicated through notes, short sharp notes slapped down on the hall table.
When Ella, to keep the bank from repossessing the house, opens a cafe in the old ballroom upstairs, her sister is furious. An American, Debbie Kading, here in Ireland tracing her roots, befriends Ella and starts to work in the cafe. Debbie is looking for answers, but meets a wall of silence at the local convention. An adoption scandal is uncovered that reaches far beyond the convent and the tiny village of Rathsorney.
The Ballroom Cafe may be a story filtered through life in Rathsorney village and the cafe, where people gossip and sip tea from china cups, but it reflects the tragedies of those ordinary lives lived under the shadow of a shameful secret.
There are strong women in The Ballroom Cafe, women who have been dreadfully wronged and suffered pain at the hands of society. But these women also love to take tea, chat, eat glorious cakes and indulge in a bit of romance and a lot of gossip. The humour in the novel provides the lighter moments.
The research for The Ballroom Cafe involved listening to the stories of women who were forced to give birth without painkillers; who looked after their children for two or three years until the nuns deemed them ready for adoption. Some saw their children dressed up for a nice photograph which was then sent to prospective parents. Many of the children were simply taken from their beds; a lot of mothers did not get to say goodbye. Even those who wanted their children put up for adoption did not know that a home as far away as America had been found.
The religious organisations who arranged these adoptions to the US were given a generous donation for each child. There was no follow-up on these children and only in recent years, as mothers here have cried in public looking for their children, have men and women in the US come forward with stories of far from idyllic childhoods with their adoptive US parents.
The practice was not confined to Ireland, but Australia has been the first to apologise. A national apology was issued to thousands of unmarried mothers who were forced by government policies to give up their children for adoption over several decades.
In The Ballroom Cafe Ella O’Callaghan finds solace in the beautiful Weiss brooches she keeps in silver boxes on her dressing table. In truth my research among the bright colours of these American-made vintage brooches was also a break for me to delight in some of the good things from times past.
The Ballroom Cafe was the book I had to write; the story I had to tell. It is essentially a tale of family and second chances. We can only hope that the mothers left behind and the children taken away can get a second chance to meet and look in each other’s eyes once again or feel a sense of justice that a State apology could bring.