Mount Merrion, by Justin Quinn
A sound saga of a south Dublin suburb
Mount Merrion has always regarded itself as a somewhat special suburb of Dublin. Its leafy, low-density layout and to an extent the mindset of its citizenry reflect the languor and grandeur of Viscount Fitzwilliam’s 1711 Mount Merrion House and lands, on which the modern suburb is laid out.
That history is very much alive, and to this day the area is known to insiders as the demesne.
The avenue to the old house ran magnificently from the coast road at Blackrock right up to The Rise, where St Thérèse’s Church and the community centre now stand. That avenue is nowadays transected by the N11, which acts as a boundary dividing the original Fitzwilliam lands.
Particularly from the 1930s onwards, Mount Merrion became home to an aspiring cadre of society. The novelist Robert Cremins was part of Mount Merrion’s 1960s-born generation of creativity, and now his peer Justin Quinn, the poet and critic, has, in his debut novel, imaginatively constructed a chronicle of four generations of a local family, the Boyles.
He does so in seven chapters set from 1959 to 2002, snapshots of the Boyles as their destiny is played out.
Quinn’s plotting moves the story forward in a satisfying rhythm while allowing us ample time to imbibe the flavour of each decade.
Ambition and aspiration loom large in this book, as they do for so many families of the area and times. Hanging over such concerns is the question of what is left when ambition and aspiration are played out. The country boy made good is an early theme, as Quinn’s characters find themselves shaking the village dust from their shoes.
Awareness of one’s place in the somewhat fossilised social pecking order is made to give way a little to a more urbane, suburban meritocracy. Yet in Quinn’s tale the lure of the rural home place is not so easily escaped. Europe also holds an early and ongoing promise for the Boyles, whose mindset (like that of Quinn himself, based in Prague) is turned outwards to a wider world.
The novel centres on Declan Boyle, born in 1936 and, in not untypical Mount Merrion fashion, a civil servant (initially at least). He begins his career in 1959, motivated by a sense of patriotism and a wish to make Ireland a better place. In having Boyle forge his own destiny in defiance of parental authority, Quinn identifies an intergenerational fault line of some relevance to the times and places of which he writes.
Boyle’s wife, Sinéad Grogan, is from Foxrock, a nearby suburban village seen as of an older vintage in the south Dublin pecking order but nowadays united politically with Mount Merrion at county-council level in the more demotically entitled Stillorgan Ward.