2 minutes with… Mark Henry

The last two years have been a challenge for most of us in so many ways, so we are extra thankful to have writers like Mark Henry shining a light on all things positive to emerge from our country. In Fact: An Optimist’s Guide to Ireland at 100 is the book we should all have to hand, to remind us that there is in fact much to be celebrated about how much Ireland has achieved in the last 100 years, so of course we had to catch up with him to find out a little more about what to expect when we pick up his book.

Looking for more of this kind of insightful, reassuring and positive discussion? Henry and Professor Luke O’Neill will be in conversation with Aoife Barry at our live audience event in Smock Alley Theatre as part of Dublin Book Festival 2021.

Full event details here.

It’s been a tough two years… what has you so optimistic?

Ireland has faced bigger and more prolonged challenges as a nation over the past century and we have overcome them every time. Think of the abject poverty of the 1920s, the mass emigration of the 1950s, the high unemployment and runaway inflation of the 1980s, and the Great Recession of the 2010s.  

Despite these, we never had so many people in employment before Covid-19, our incomes are manifestly greater than those of any previous generation, most adults have completed higher education today, and we live a whole generation longer than those alive in 1922. In fact, the United Nations says that the Irish enjoy the second highest quality of life on the planet today. 

Of course there are new problems we need to solve, but we have demonstrated a resilience and a drive for betterment that can only but make you optimistic about our future.  

What was the weirdest fact/stat you came across whilst writing the book?

The fact that we are between 11 and 12½ centimetres taller than those in 1922 is surprising. Women are 11cm taller and are now the same average height that men were one hundred year’s ago, while men are 12½cm taller. 

However, the increase is reflective of a lot of the progress we have made. Our nutrition is much better – we have more than doubled the amount of vegetables and fruit we consume, for example. And we have eliminated or massively reduced most of the diseases that killed or maimed us a century ago.

What do you hope people will take away from the book? 

I wanted to write something to inform and inspire. Our psychology prioritises the short-term and the negative which can mislead us into thinking that things are getting worse. But looking at the facts, and taking a longer-term perspective, can lead us to a very different conclusion about our progress as a nation. 

What other Dublin Book Festival event are you most excited about?  

I’m really pleased to see Pat Liddy’s Literary Walking Tour in the programme. As someone who has worked in the tourism sector telling the world what a great place Ireland is, it will be wonderful to hear Pat talking about things we should cherish and be proud of. (Did you know that Ireland has the highest number of Booker Prize winners and Nobel Prize for Literature winners per capita, for example?) But, not least of all, it will be great to gather together face-to-face again.

As this is a live audience event tickets will be limited, so make sure to book your spot now.

Further information on Pat Liddy walking tours, with limited tickets remaining, here.