This is the third book in the Henry Smart (Last Roundup) trilogy. It seems fitting as we approach the centenary of the Easter Rising (1916) to be reading a book related to the history of the Irish Republic.
The first book in the trilogy was “A Star Called Henry” A novel in four parts. In the first we meet Henry Smart, a street kid on the streets of Dublin, at the beginning of the 20th Century. His story is similar to that of Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, the lanes of Limerick swapped for the streets of the Dublin slums. His father is a one legged bouncer for Dolly Oblong’s brothel, where all the girls (“hoors”) are called Maria. Like Frankie McCourt, Henry Smart has a younger brother die in the night, victim of the grinding Irish poverty.
In the second part, the scene is more like Gunther Grass’s “Tin Drum” with the Volunteers and Citizen’s Army under the leadership of Connolly taking and then defending the GPO against the forces of the British Empire, a young teenage Henry Smart is in the thick of the action.
In the third part, Henry Smart, is Michael Collins’ man, riding about Ireland on his Arseless bicycle, fermenting the seeds of revolution. Training the rebels, frustrating and killing the rozzers and later the Black and Tans.
In the final part, we find Henry Smart disillusioned with the emerging republic, and the bloodshed, but first he has a score to settle.
A great novel covering the historic events surrounding the Easter Rising and the early years of Irish independence.
The second book: “Oh Play that Thing” is about Henry’s American years from 1924 making the acquaintance of Louis Armstrong and losing his leg in a box car accident.
In this the third book “The Dead Republic“, we again have a novel in four parts. In the first Henry is advising the Irish-American director, John Ford, on The Quiet Man which to Henry’s disappointment turns out to be a sentimental film not an account of the Irish Republican struggle. Henry returns to his native Ireland and has an interesting encounter with Maureen O Hara, the female lead and an Irish girl herself. Doyle’s work has a lot of grand dialogue, which feels authentic and brings the characters to life.
In the second part another ten years have past and Henry is working as a caretaker. He walks into a bomb in Dublin and loses his leg a second time.
In the third part, the story is taken up to the eighties, Henry is now getting on in years and is wanted by the IRA in the six counties (Northern Ireland) as a mascot from the earlier struggles. He meets another old “hero”:
He knew me, alright. And suddenly I knew – now, under the yellow light, it clicked: he was as big a chancer as I was. I knew why he hadn’t exposed me as a fake M.P. and insisted on his own status as the only surviving real one. Because if he got me, then I’d get him. The republican legends would bring each other down.
Henry again is feeling disillusioned as he sees the dreams of the Irish Republicans fading. Unemployment, heroin, the hunger strikers, the IRA splintering and Margaret Thatcher all combine to make the eighties a rather miserable time.
The fourth part is really just a short epilogue, and looks to this year; 2016, with the hope of a finally united Ireland of all 32 counties.
Living in Georgia, I feel an affinity for Ireland. The Republic of Ireland (70,273 km2) is almost the exact same size as Georgia (69,420 km2 ). Both countries have a population of just over 4 million. Both had independence movements at the time of the first World War wanting to break free from a powerful neighbour (Britain for Ireland and Russia for Georgia). Today part of the Irish Republic is not controlled from Dublin and two parts of the Georgian Republic are not controlled from Tbilisi.
I have read quite a few books about Ireland and the Irish, Roddy Doyle is one of the best living Irish writers. He has a strong ear for dialogue. Did I like “The Dead Republic“? Aye, it was grand.
My Rating : 4 out of 5 (I would rate the first book in the trilogy:A Star Called Henry as 5 out of 5, I haven’t read the second book)