Friday, 18 November 2011

What on Earth made you do it.

My mother, who is no longer with us, would often run her hands through her hair and ask with emphasised exaggeration: ‘What on earth made you do it?’

It was the standard response when she confronted each one of her 6 sons on their latest bout with stupidity. Sometimes it was forgetting some vital provision from the shop; or a school assignment; or getting caught in the neighbours orchard; or taking a mitch (unauthorised absence) from school ; or the prize winner – forgetting to tell her that there was a dead eel in the pockets of the pants she was hand washing.

As the youngest I learned to borrow from my brothers responses but my mother had the type of eyes that could see all the way down to the core of your soul so lying was useless.

She would have liked my novel LAGAN LOVE but she would have sniffed with disdain at the sexuality and the cruder language. ‘What on earth made you want to go and write something like that?’ she would ask if she could.

The reasons are very clear in my mind. I wanted to capture something I believed was about to become extinct – pre Celtic-Tiger Dublin. You see I grew up there and while many of us have strong affinities with our home towns, Dublin is a city like no other. It was never really an Irish city; founded by the Vikings and home to the Norman invaders before it became the Provincial Capital of British rule. But all of that just made it more interesting. Full of larger than life characters that have elbowed their way onto the pages of some of the great literary works of the pantheon of Irish writers, Dublin was the high protein diet for anybody who wanted to write about life as it really was. Sure you can set your historical romance there but you can set those anywhere. You see Dublin is where the human soul has been sculpted by the winds and tides of fate. Misshapen and deformed to where beauty and ugliness conjoin the soul of Dublin will always be like a siren’s song for me.

I realised all of this years ago when I spent my evenings, and sometimes mornings, and afternoons, in Grogan’s of South William Street. You see it was where the remnants of Irish Literati gathered under the gentle and caring gaze of Paddy O’Brian – a publican of the finest order – and Tommy Smith who still runs the place. Conversation was the currency of the place that had no television nor live music though the on occasion a preferred customer might get a few bars out before the dish cloth came flying out from behind the bar. My good friend Emmanuel even got to play guitar there one quiet afternoon but the place was all about talking or sitting quietly – if that was what you preferred.

That was where the seeds were sown, fluttered down into my fertile mind from the lofty draughts of the banter of the brilliant. Politics, Mythology and Literary Classics were all blended with a generous dollop of good old personal gossip. It was the music of life and I was hooked.

As the Tiger approached, it seemed that all of that might be forgotten as everyone got ready to reinvent themselves in the New and Improved Ireland and I wanted to ensure that they, the voices of Grogan’s would never be forgotten. So if my mother was to ask I would have to say I was trying to capture a picture of a dying culture.

‘You could have done it without all the sex and scandal and bad language,’ she would argue with a flick of her head.

I could but that would not have done the place justice. That, you see, was why I had to write LAGAN LOVE.
This blog first appeared on: