The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle: Book Review

New Delhi, Feb 9 (Calcutta Tube) Acclaimed Irish novelist and Booker prize winner Roddy Doyle is going back to the heydays of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in his new book.

‘The stake was put through the IRA heart and it ceased to exist. But then it keeps coming back though according to official records it is dead. We spend hours talking about it, when we should be consigning IRA to history,’ playwright and novelist Doyle told IANS, explaining the reason he chose the subject.


‘Actually, we should not be talking about IRA any more. But we cannot say we live in an age of peace because somebody can plant a bomb any time.’


The writer’s new book, ‘The Dead Republic’, scheduled for release in April, harks back to the IRA era.


Doyle, who won the Booker Prize in 1993 for his book ‘Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha’, was in the country recently to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival.


”The Dead Republic’ – which will be published by Jonathan Cape – is an extension of ‘Oh! Play That Thing’ which chronicles the life of the protagonist Henry Smart who leaves Ireland in 1922 for the US.


‘In the new book, Henry Smart returns to Ireland 30 years after his escape to become an unwitting hero – the old IRA veteran – who is put to several uses,’ Doyle said.


‘The Dead Republic’, which opens in the Ireland of 1951, is the third in a trilogy of Henry Smart booksl. ‘A Star Called Henry’ and ‘Oh! Play That Thing’ were the first two.


‘I started writing my first Henry Smart book in 1996 and it was published in 1999,’ Doyle said. ‘Oh! Play That Thing’ followed five years later.


The 52-year-old writer, born in Dublin, is known for his Barrytown Trilogy – ‘The Commitment’, ‘The Snapper’ and ‘The Van’ – about a group of Dublin teenagers led by Jimmy Rabbite jr, who decides to form a soul band in the tradition of James Brown, the father of American soul.


Doyle says he did not intend to write trilogies. ‘I did not set out to write trilogies. But after the first two Barrytown books, people started calling me and I ended up writing ‘The Van’ about an unemployed man in 1990. The characters get older as I get older,’ Doyle said.


Describing recent changes in his country, Doyle said: ‘Ireland went through an economic boom and then through a slump. It would be interesting to see what life would be like now.’ He had ‘a book on Ireland’s history in mind’, he added.


‘Dublin is more cosmopolitan, more cultural and more expensive now – almost as expensive as London. But the economic downturn is taking its toll though it is still too early to say how much. But people in their thirties, who grew up as the boom started and had never seen poverty before, are learning to live with unemployment. I will write about them.’


The people who interest Doyle about today’s Ireland – especially Dublin – are not born in the country.


‘They are the people, the migrants who come from eastern Europe, western Europe, Asia and Africa. Even 20 years ago, I did not imagine I would walk down the streets of Dublin, see Africans and listen to how they speak English,’ Doyle said.


Every immigrant group has its own version of English in Dublin, observes Doyle. ‘The Polish immigrants are very fond of the word grand. If you ask them how are you they reply: ‘I am grand’. If you ask them about the weather, they say, ‘it’s grand’.


‘The other day, I had ordered a sandwich at a shop and a Polish woman handed me the sandwich and wanted to know if it was grand,’ Doyle said, elaborating on how the English language was morphing in his country with changing demography.


(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *