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Series 13: Dublin, One City One Book 2015 - The Barrytown Trilogy

Series Editor's Introduction from Derek Hand

Roddy Doyle (1958-) is perhaps the single most successful novelist of this period, gaining an audience far beyond the environs of Dublin’s Northside where most of his writing is set. Along with the emergence of rock group U2, Doyle represents a brash generational shift, a confident certitude in his generation’s worth and ability. His literary focus is not exactly the urban world; rather it is the suburban world. Not however the suburbia of the middle-classes in their mock-Tudor houses with names offering imaginative vistas of lawns and downs. Doyle’s is a suburbia devoid of bourgeois fripperies and manners. The places of his writing are the numerous, anonymous satellite towns that have sprung up on the ever-expanding edges of the old city of Dublin. They are villages without a centre, or a past: there are no traditions of living other than the immediate codes of survival. These are displaced, disconnected communities: more examples of hidden Ireland.

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, 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. Certainly, Doyle’s is a diagnosis of communities operating in a vacuum: the State and the traditional moral and social strictures of the church have no leverage in these novels.

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.

The Barrytown Trilogy



Derek Hand

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

Derek Hand, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra

Kevin Power

Scholarcast 48: Everybody Speaks: Utopia and Polyphony in The Commitments

Kevin Power, St Patrick's College, Drumcondra

Louise Callinan

Scholarcast 49: Silence and Solitude: The absence of intimacy in Roddy Doyle's
The Snapper

Louise Callinan,St Patrick's College, Drumcondra

Paula Murphy

Scholarcast 50: The Van

Paula Murphy, Mater Dei Institute of Education, DCU

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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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