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Scholarcast 47: The Barrytown Trilogy: An Introduction to Roddy Doyle's Dublin

Derek Hand


What has become known as the Barrytown trilogy: The Commitments (1988), The Snapper (1990) and The Van (1991), have become iconic in Irish culture. Centred on one family, the Rabbittes, Roddy Doyle makes reference to current events like the 1990 Soccer World Cup, and in dealing with the issues of teenage pregnancy and unemployment captures the mood of a nation requiring something light and entertaining amid the economic and cultural gloom of the late 1980s. Technically direct, with the emphasis on dialogue rather than description, there is little time for self-conscious reflection or a rendering of an interior life working through neuroses. In this some might suggest that Doyle is merely offering another version of the stereotype of the Irish person as public jester. Undermining such a reading, though, is the basic decency of the characters depicted and their biting wit which acts both as means of deflecting away any serious analysis of their lot and as a powerful weapon to put down those who might patronisingly position themselves in a zone of superiority. What is remarkable from the vantage point of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland is how rapid was the dating of Doyle’s Dublin which was vanishing into a world of work, jobs, success and money even as it was being written about. What is celebrated in these novels is the ability of the individual to adapt and change with the times and do so, mostly, on their own terms. What is remarkable about Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy: the way in which it captures a moving target, a society in rapid transition. It is the main reason why it is so appropriate that the novels have been chosen for the 2015 One City One Book festival.  The three novels certainly tell us about we lived then, but they also, in their own inimitable ways, tell us how we got to where we are today.

Derek Hand

Dr Derek Hand is a Senior Lecturer and Head of the English Department in the English Department in St. Patrick’s College, Dublin City University. He is interested in Irish writing in general and has published articles on W.B. Yeats, Elizabeth Bowen, Colum McCann, Molly Keane, Benedict Kiely, Mary Lavin, and William Trevor and on contemporary Irish fiction. He has lectured on Irish writing in the USA, Portugal, Sweden, Singapore, Brazil, Italy, Sweden and France. The Liffey Press published his book John Banville: Exploring Fictions in 2002. He edited a special edition of the Irish University Review on John Banville in 2006 and co-edited a special edition of the Irish University Review on Benedict Kiely in 2008. He was awarded an IRCHSS Government of Ireland Research Fellowship for 2008-2009. His A History of the Irish Novel: 1665 to the present was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011 and has recently come out in paperback. He is now working on a critical study of recent Irish fiction for Syracuse University Press tentatively entitled The Celtic Tiger Irish Novel 1994-2010: modernity and mediocrity.


Series edited by: Derek Hand
General Editor: P.J. Mathews
Scholarcast original theme music by: Padhraic Egan, Michael Hussey and Sharon Hussey.
Recording, audio editing, photography, video and development by: John Matthews, Vincent Hoban, Brian Kelly & Ken Doyle at UCD Media Services.

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