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What makes Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy so enduring?

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Author Roddy Doyle unveils a plaque at the Rotunda Hospital (the birth place of The Snapper) for the launch of the One City One Book 2015 programme

Author Roddy Doyle unveils a plaque at the Rotunda Hospital (the birth place of The Snapper) for the launch of the One City One Book 2015 programme

Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes

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Author Roddy Doyle unveils a plaque at the Rotunda Hospital (the birth place of The Snapper) for the launch of the One City One Book 2015 programme

"Doyle's books are credited with giving Dubliners a confidence about the way they spoke and how they saw themselves. And his influence was far-reaching."

As Dublin prepares to celebrate Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy, we ask some of our best-known writers what makes the Rabbitte family saga so enduring?

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 Roddy Doyle playing the trumpet at the launch of his play 'The Commitments'

Roddy Doyle playing the trumpet at the launch of his play 'The Commitments'

Roddy Doyle playing the trumpet at the launch of his play 'The Commitments'

Growing up in the Dublin suburbs in the '90s, a new Roddy Doyle film wasn't just a film, it was an event.

So when The Snapper aired on RTE in 1993, my teenage friends and I treated it as such. Having loved Alan Parker's 1991 film adaptation of Roddy Doyle's The Commitments, we were dying to catch up with the further exploits of the hilarious - and hapless - Rabbitte family.

So a gang of us gathered in a friend's house, shouting at the TV every five minutes whenever we recognised a part of Dublin that we knew. We even knew some of the actors who appeared as extras. And then we spent basically the rest of our schooldays quoting large chunks of the film's dialogue at one another.

"Ah, howrya, Sharon?" we'd say, adopting a ridiculously husky voice. "Suppose a ride's out the question?"

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The Commitments

The Commitments

The Commitments

Although we were growing up in a different part of the city, Barrytown seemed totally real to us. Italia 90, pop music, the Dart, the cursing, teenage pregnancies, the biting wit - all of it was ordinary life, rendered funnier and more poignant by Doyle's deft writing.

But if it was through the films that my generation first fell in love with Roddy Doyle, now is as good a time as any to read the books. The Barrytown trilogy, made up of Doyle's first three novels, The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van, is this year's 'Dublin: One City One Book' choice and throughout the month of April, the city council has organised a series of Barrytown-themed events.

Among the highlights are a Vicar Street concert featuring Glen Hansard, Colm Meaney and Imelda May celebrating the music that inspired Doyle's writing, and an evening of Italia 90 nostalgia at the Aviva Stadium.

Doyle's books are credited with giving Dubliners a confidence about the way they spoke and how they saw themselves. And his influence was far-reaching.

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Sharon Curley (Tina Kellegher) pictured with baby in The Snapper

Sharon Curley (Tina Kellegher) pictured with baby in The Snapper

Sharon Curley (Tina Kellegher) pictured with baby in The Snapper

"I first heard about the books when I was living in London," says bestselling novelist Marian Keyes.

"Someone told me that a book had been written about Ireland and written in Irish dialogue, in Irish speech, and with swearing in it. And even though Ireland is famous for its writers, it felt like there were very few writers that gave ordinary people a voice.

"There was that fabulous sense of recognition, hearing your own dialogue put into the mouths of writers. Roddy has an amazing gift for dialogue, and he writes with great warmth about families without being sentmental. The books are very 'feelgood' but not in that dreadful, American, 'this book has a message' kind of way.

"The fact that someone was writing in an Irish dialect, and was published, gave permission to me and a whole generation of writers to do the same. And it broke boundaries. I felt like I could use the word 'feck' and that other 'F' word. It gave us great freedom."

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 Back in Barrytown: Robert Arkins, who plays Jimmy Rabbitte Jr, and Andrea Corr in the film of 'The Commitments'

Back in Barrytown: Robert Arkins, who plays Jimmy Rabbitte Jr, and Andrea Corr in the film of 'The Commitments'

Back in Barrytown: Robert Arkins, who plays Jimmy Rabbitte Jr, and Andrea Corr in the film of 'The Commitments'

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Dublin writer Peter Sheridan is a huge fan of the trilogy and agrees with Keyes that much of its popularity is down to the directness of its language.

"It broke new ground when it came out. Here you had a book that didn't have loads of big words in it. They were small words, that people actually use. It was written in the vernacular - it was almost like a comic.

"And it's highly filmic. Roddy paints a picture really well. So it's very easy to engage with for the general reader. Some people thought, this is not literature, but it begs the question, well then, what is literature?"

While there's great nostalgia for the city depicted in the books and films, Doyle himself is keen to point out that not that much has changed since the '80s when he first started writing about the Rabbitte family.

"People still get pregnant, people are still unemployed, people still form bands, and they still talk much the same way that they used to," he said yesterday, as the programme events were launched on the steps of Dublin's Rotunda Hospital - the birthplace of The Snapper.

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Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

"The city has changed, but it's still the same place," he said. "I find it extraordinary when people say that things aren't the same any more... The basic themes in the book and the characters are intact as far as my eyes and ears can work out."

The books are set during the 1980s recession, a time when unemployment was rife. But no one knew any different, Doyle said.

"The books came out of a recession. I didn't know it was one - we didn't use that word back then, it seemed like normal life in Dublin.

"It was only in the '90s that we realised 'oh, that was a recession'. I think hard times seem to give birth to good humour."

That Dublin humour is a big part of the Barrytown appeal, agrees Keyes.

"I lived in Galway and Cork until I was 11 and both my parents are from the country, and Dubliners really do have a different language and a different sentence structure."

She adds: "Dublin people are quite gritty and quite caustic. My husband and I still quote from lines from the films to one another, in the same way as quotes from Fr Ted inveigled their way into our subconscious."

That unique humour inspired Sheridan to write his own work, Are You Havin' a Laugh, which he'll perform himsef as part of the One City One Book programme.

"Dublin humour is tongue-in-cheek, irreverent, and a lot of the time people say stuff that comes out arseways. In the show I explain how comfortable we are with being arseways."

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Roddy Doyle at the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron

Roddy Doyle at the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron

Roddy Doyle at the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron

In the end, though, the universal themes that Doyle wrote about are probably what makes the work so enduring.

"Ezra Pound defined poetry as news that stays news, and while the Barrytown trilogy may be 25-years-old, they are books that remain fresh, vivid, funny, astute and relevant today," says writer Dermot Bolger.

"My stage adaptation of Joyce's Ulysses is touring China and while I am not comparing Joyce to any living writer, what I found remarkable about Joyce's Dublin in 1904 when adapting it, was how contemporary so much of it felt in terms of the mind-set and traits of many characters.

"I suspect that Dubliners will may something similar about the characters in Barrytown, whether they read the books 20 years or 100 years after they were written. It's a pleasure to see it so acclaimed."

For the full programme of events, log on to dublinonecityonebook.ie or pick one up in any Dublin bookshop or public library.

Best of Barrytown

The Commitments

“What do you play?”

I used to play football in school.

“I mean, what instrument?”

I don’t.

“What you doing here, then?

Well, I saw everyone else lining up, so, uh - I thought you were selling drugs

“Sure there’s a lot of different music you can get off on but soul is more than that. It takes you somewhere else. It grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite.”

“And you George Michael... you ever call me a fuckin’ eejit again, you’ll go home with the drumsticks stuck up your hole... the one you don’t sing out of”

The snapper

“7 lbs 12 oz”

“Is that a baby or a turkey?”

“A baby!”

“That’s a good sized baby… small turkey though.”

“I suppose a ride’s out of the question?”

The van

“I love yeh, son,” said Jimmy Sr. He could say it and no one could hear him, except young Jimmy, because of the singing and roaring and breaking glasses.

“I think you’re fuckin’ great,” said Jimmy Sr.

“Ah fuck off, will yeh,” said Jimmy Jr. “Packie saved the fuckin’ penalty, not me.”

But he liked what he’d heard, Jimmy Sr could tell that. He gave Jimmy Sr a dig in the stomach.

“You’re not a bad oul’ c**t yourself,” he said.


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