Roddy Doyle's Man Of Ireland At The End Of The Road The Dead Republic is the final installment in Roddy Doyle's trilogy about the life of Henry Smart, a former IRA assassin making his way through the first half of the 20th century. Lynn Neary talks with Doyle about the novel, which finds Henry turning his life story into a movie with film director John Ford.
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Roddy Doyle's Man Of Ireland At The End Of The Road

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Roddy Doyle's Man Of Ireland At The End Of The Road

Roddy Doyle's Man Of Ireland At The End Of The Road

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Roddy Doyle writes about Ireland, but not an Ireland of green fields and picturesque country pubs. His first book, "The Commitments," was about young people from a gritty part of Dublin who form a soul band. It became a hugely popular film.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Commitments")

(Soundbite of song, "Mr. Pitiful")

Mr. ANDREW STRONG (Actor, Singer): (as Declan Deco Cuffe) (Singing) They call Mr. Pitiful. Baby, that's my name. They call me...

NEARY: Doyle's new novel, "The Dead Republic," is the final book in a trilogy about the fictional Henry Smart, a foot soldier in the Irish War for Independence. We catch up with Smart years later, when he's working for the famous American movie director John Ford. Ford's best known for his Westerns, but he wants to make a movie about Ireland, "The Quiet Man," with John Wayne.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Quiet Man")

Mr. JOHN WAYNE (Actor): (as Sean Thornton) That humble cottage, who owns it now?

Mr. BARRY FITZGERALD (Actor): (as Michaleen Oge Flynn) The widow Tillane. Not that she lives there.

Mr. WAYNE: (as Sean Thornton) Think she'd sell it?

Mr. FITZGERALD: (as Michaleen Oge Flynn) I doubt it.

Mr. WAYNE: (as Sean Thornton) Don't bet on it, 'cause I'm buying it.

Mr. FITZGERALD: (as Michaleen Oge Flynn) Now, why would a Yankee from Pittsburgh want to buy it?

Mr. WAYNE: (as Sean Thornton) I'll tell you why, Michaleen Oge Flynn, young small Michael Flynn, who used to wipe my runny nose when I was kid, because I'm Sean Thornton, and I was born in that little cottage over there. And I've come home, and home I'm going to stay.

NEARY: In Roddy Doyle's novel, Ford promises Henry Smart that "The Quiet Man" will tell the story of his life with the IRA. But much to Smart's disgust, the "The Quiet Man" becomes a love letter to rural Ireland.

Mr. RODDY DOYLE (Author, "The Dead Republic"): John Ford created one of the great myths of American history and American culture, and he did the same with "The Quiet Man" for Ireland, a place that he loved and a place that he didn't know all that well, really, but like a lot of Irish-Americans, absolutely adored the place.

NEARY: Yeah.

Mr. DOYLE: It struck me as being Irish America's involvement with Ireland is a key point of Irish culture, as well, and Irish history. Kind of in the '50s, '60s, '70s, when Ireland was a bit of an economic backwater, we had to kowtow to a notion of what Ireland was in the hopes that tourists would arrive.

NEARY: Henry calls "The Quiet Man," this movie in particular, the immigrant's dream.

Mr. DOYLE: Hmm.

NEARY: And I was wondering, is there a lot of anger in Ireland about the way it has been mythologized by those who left it?

Mr. DOYLE: I don't think there's anger. I've been to the, you know, the location where the film was made. The beauty of the landscape is there. There's no denying it. And actually, it's very easy to slip into conversation that wouldn't be altogether different from some of the conversations in "The Quiet Man." I don't think people would feel anger. It'd be more, I'd say at this stage, amusement, as much as anything else.

NEARY: When Henry read the final script of "The Quiet Man" - the script that was actually made into the movie - he gets so angry that he actually wants to kill John Ford. Now, why so much anger about a movie?

Mr. DOYLE: Henry feels, I suppose, that he has wasted his life somehow. It's a life full of drama and escape, but really, he's been running away from things most of his life. And I suppose he sees the film as stopping and turning around and assessing his life. The ugliness of a lot of the things that he did, he thinks, is going to be an important part of the story.

But what happens is that, basically, in the compromises, his life - the reason why he was involved in this thing - kept slipping off the page, and the whole tone of thing changed from being a story which exposes the ultimate stupidity of the Irish War of Independence, from his point of view - and the grimness of the violence and the reality of shooting somebody in the head - actually becomes a celebration of rural Irish life and a wonderful comedy that had nothing in common.

NEARY: Well, eventually, Henry decides that he himself wants is to lead a quiet life. But in many ways, the past catches up with him, and he becomes involved again in the IRA, in the modern IRA.

Mr. DOYLE: Yeah.

NEARY: Give us an idea of what those years were like in Ireland, especially the '80s with the bombings, the hunger strikes.

Mr. DOYLE: Things start getting ugly. At first, he doesn't notice, but he's actually literally walking down a street in Dublin called Talbot Street, and a bomb goes off. And throughout the troubles, very few bombs went off in Dublin.

But I've vivid memories of this particular day, because I actually heard the bomb. I was at home in a place where my parents still live, called Kilbarrack. And myself and my mother were in the kitchen. I think I was literally just pouring myself a glass of water, and we heard this explosion. It was distant, but we knew immediately it was an explosion.

But the bombing, the reprisals, the counter-reprisals, the kneecappings, all the ugliness, the horribleness was a daily part of the news, really. You could get on with your life. You could fall in love. You could, you know, get a job. You could do all the things that everybody does everywhere, but if you were Irish you had to live with either trying to ignore the violence and feel guilty about it, or to confront it and feel guilty about it.

NEARY: Henry begins to get drawn into the troubles, and he...

Mr. DOYLE: Yeah.

NEARY: ...starts to think that may be little has changed. And there's a section I'd like you to read. It's on page 203.

Mr. DOYLE: Grand.

(Reading) Once I started paying real attention to Ireland beyond the parish, I realized it was 1920 again. Every stupid decision, every shooting, every rubber bullet, internment, Bloody Sunday, every strong rumor, British collusion and the planting of my bomb on Talbot Street and to the other bombs that afternoon, all these sent young men and women cuing up to join. Approval was in the air, everywhere.

The British were back on the telly every night, taking over the streets 80 miles up the road. There were dead bodies. There were refugees, reprisal and counter-reprisal, terror and retaliation. It had gone on for three years in my day. It went on for decades this time, and it was still my day.

NEARY: So much of this book is about clashing visions of Ireland.

Mr. DOYLE: Yeah.

NEARY: And in the end, an IRA man tells Henry that the war had always about what it means to be Irish. He says it's about the copyright, the brand, as he calls it.

Mr. DOYLE: Yeah.

NEARY: Is that true?

Mr. DOYLE: I think so. In many ways, Ireland is a very self-conscious place because of, say, the Irish-American links, because we speak English. We seem to punch beyond our weight, so to speak, that who controls what it is to be Irish, and what it is that we can be comfortable with seems to me vitally important. And it's happening again now in many ways, 'cause the economy, as you're probably aware, has hit, if not rock bottom, pretty close. And I suppose where the bankers and the politicians have let us down, culture really hasn't. And suddenly, the power of books and literature - and to a lesser extent, I suppose, film - has come to the fore again.

My concern about that is: Who is going to define that culture? Will it be us, the citizens of Ireland who actually live there? Or will it be some sort of marketing department of the Civil Service who will try to define what Irish culture is, in the hopes of enticing people to arrive and spend their money?

So, you know, definitely, when I was a kid, if you didn't speak Irish, you really wanted to. And you played Gaelic games and you didn't pay any attention to what was happening in the outside world, because really, the - Ireland was the center of the universe. And I don't think that's the case anymore, although, admittedly, it is the center of the universe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Roddy Doyle. His new book is "The Dead Republic."

Thanks so much. It was great talking with you.

Mr. DOYLE: Thank you.

NEARY: And you can read an excerpt from Roddy Doyle's new novel, "The Dead Republic," on our website:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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