Donal Ryan: On My Culture Radar
Author on being enamoured by Paris, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, and Limerick’s Italian restaurants
Irish author Donal Ryan: I love all the coffee-drinking and shrugging and fag-smoking in Paris. Photograph: Anthony Woods
Current favourite book
I’m reading Kerry Neville’s second collection, Remember to Forget Me, and it is a masterclass in short fiction. I’m delighted to say that Kerry is currently teaching on our creative writing MA at UL as a Fulbright scholar. Medbh McGuckian’s new poetry collection, Love, the Magician, is spellbinding.
We have three world-class restaurants within short walking distance of our house in Castletroy, Limerick: Tuscany Bistro and Bella Italia, two fabulous Italians, and Brew Bros, who do the best burgers in Ireland. This is fortuitous because I’m nearly always hungry, and I love Italian food and burgers.
Tommy Tiernan is a mad genius. I’m also a big fan of Colm O’Regan of Irish Mammies fame. As well as being spot-on and side-splittingly funny, his satire is full of affection and love. His description of “Mammy” and “Himself” picking up a hitchhiker, and the changing dynamic in the car between the three of them, is a piece of perfect comedy.
Try to catch Judith Ryan’s searing, visceral performance in Neil Flynn’s Microdisney. Or anything produced by Limerick’s Bottom Dog Theatre Company – their shows are consistently brilliant.
Outside of beautiful Limerick the only city I’ve spent any significant amount of time in is Paris, and I love all the coffee-drinking and shrugging and fag-smoking. I love Venice, too, even though it gets crazily crowded, and it’s sinking, and it’s covered in pigeon-poop, and everything is overpriced.
I tried to be the Big-I-Am one time and went to Harry’s Bar with Anne Marie because Hemingway used to go there and Michael Winner had said in his Sunday Times column that it was the best restaurant in the world. But the cheapest thing on the menu was more than my credit card limit and we were getting married a few months later so we had a bellini each and legged it.
I love Damien Dempsey’s To Hell or Barbados. I’ve seen him live loads of times and he’s always awesome. I love the way he talks about history and the way he reads and constantly educates himself, then unleashes his reaction to what he’s learned and experienced in this stunningly powerful, beautiful way. And his song Your Pretty Smile could have been written about Anne Marie.
I sang the chorus to her in 2007 and told her that I wrote it for her. I was betrayed by Damien a few days later when he came on the radio singing it. I felt terrible because I’d done it as a joke but she was really disappointed and not at all amused.
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is an incredible actor. As Nidge in Love/Hate I think he turned in one of the best performances in Irish TV history. I’ve argued that Love/Hate outdid The Sopranos (which I think was one of the best TV shows ever made) in several ways. My stance on this has been attacked and I have been personally poo-pooed for it, but I will never back down.
I loved Love/Hate, as mentioned. The Young Offenders is just fantastic, a scream, brilliantly written and acted. The episode where Billy Murphy hijacks the bus is one of the highlights of my long and illustrious TV-watching career.
I just watched The Lady in the Van, the true story of a woman who lived in a clapped-out van in playwright Alan Bennett’s driveway for 15 years. I’m surprised Maggie Smith didn’t get an Oscar for it.
Donal Ryan is an ambassador for the inaugural Irish Book Week, which takes place across Ireland from October 27th to November 3rd. His novel From a Low and Quiet Sea is out now.