Late in her life, my beloved grandmother was diagnosed with coeliac disease. It was the early 1980s and “gluten free” was not the woke gastronomical term it is today. There was no gluten-free bread in the supermarket and no GF alternatives on the cafe menu. If we went to a restaurant, we phoned ahead.

“Can you tell me if there’s any wheat in the gravy, my mother is a coeliac,” my mother would say.

The chef would be left scratching his head. “Your mother is a what?”

My grandmother was unwell most of her adult life and her coeliac diagnosis followed a long battle with bowel cancer. A lifetime of eating gluten – wheat, barley, oats, rye and malt – wreaked havoc on her small intestine and blocked the nutrients her body needed. It weakened her teeth and bones, and prematurely shrank her already petite frame.

This is an edited extract of a story originally published as “My grandmother was coeliac in a time when no one knew what it meant” in The Guardian on 9 January 2023. Read more here.


Photo: Erin O’Dwyer