‘I live in Manchester but my imagination has never really left home’
We Irish breed characters that will act the maggot and run amok, which gives them that life of their own all good characters need
Caimh McDonnell. Photograph: Andy Hollingworth
If you’re willing to listen to them, the voices in your head will tell you a lot about yourself. For example, I’ve lived in Britain for 40.47 per cent of my life now and yet when I sit down to write, the characters that pop into existence are Irish. I have no real idea why this is. I live in Manchester, I really like it there and I have several friends who are all various degrees of Mancunian, some so Mancunian, in fact, that it appears to be physically painful, and yet my imagination has never really left the north side of Dublin.
Ironically, I think I’m more drawn to writing about Dublin now that I don’t live there. It is a way to go back home, to revel in the uniqueness of the place. My home town is by no means perfect but it does have a sense of devilment all it’s own.
The Celts learned to weaponise language because when you’re the underdog, it may be all you’ve got
For reasons I won’t go into, I once had a view from a rooftop on Grafton Street of a peculiarly Dublin civil disturbance. It was a balmy summer’s Friday night and at the top of the street a young fella, a little worse for the drink no doubt, grabbed a guard’s hat and legged it. His friends then took off after him running down Grafton Street whooping and cheering, with two members of An Garda Síochána in hot pursuit. Then, weirdly, lots of other people started running too. Not in panic, but just joining in for the craic. By the time they reached the other end of the street, this flash mob had picked up a remarkable amount of people, most of whom had no idea why they were running. Then as quickly as it started, it stopped and descended into a giggling mass. An out-of-breath guard demanded people stop acting the maggot and his hat was apologetically passed back through the crowd to him. If you tried to stage that as part of an international arts festival, you’d probably get quite a lot of funding, assuming you could get the health and safety forms signed off. Dublin in particular and Ireland in general has that sense of charming blackguardery about it.
That said, it’s not only Dublin voices that are stuck in my head. In fact, the main character in my book is Bunny McGarry, a foul-mouthed copper from Cork with a distinctly Corkonian rebellious streak. He’s a living, breathing embodiment of the flipside of the Irish psyche, that chip on the shoulder that we’ve all got but that nobody has quite like the Rebel County.
My older brother was educated by a Christian brother from Cork with a flair for creative violence and non-sweary swearing. He would regularly refer to a student as “a one-eyed son of a cock-eyed Suzie” – a wonderful piece of language all the more effective for sounding ruder than it is. He would also cast aspersions that any boy who was unlucky enough to get on his wrong side had an unhealthy interest in goats. The fact that this class of kids were from inner-city Dublin and hadn’t ever seen a goat weirdly made that more cutting rather than less. That became part of Bunny.
Another part comes from my job as the stadium announcer for London Irish RFC. For 12 years now I’ve stood between the benches on match day while percussive explosions of near incoherent swearing in a Cork accent would issue forth from the stand behind me. As I once had to explain to an overeager steward, the man was not swearing at the referee. In fact, his outbursts never coincided with the ref being within hearing distance, that would have been rude; No, they were more profanity-laden pleas to the great beyond for an improvement in the standard of officiating. Over a dozen years, the man has never finished a sentence.
Arawhatdeyethink… ferfecksakeref… oneeyedsonof… whatkindabullshit…
I’d lay good money that this gent is the soul of relaxed charm for the rest of the week. He gets all of his aggression out on Saturdays in unfinished symphonies of swearing.
I’m as biased as biased can be, but I think only us and the Scots have truly raised expressive expletive deletives to the level of art form. There’s something in the Celtic soul that lends a poetry to our invective-laden rants – possibly because we most often found ourselves heavily outnumbered by the old enemy. Giraffes grew long necks because that’s where the leaves were. The Celts learned to weaponise language because when you’re the underdog, it may be all you’ve got.
Perhaps that’s why the voices that stick in my head are so distinctly Irish; we breed characters that will act the maggot on you and run amok, which gives them that life of their own that all good characters need.
Angels in the Moonlight by Caimh McDonnell is published by McFori Ink and available now.