The New York Times
The Dead Republicby Roddy Doyle
The triumphant conclusion to the trilogy that began with A Star Called Henry Roddy Doyle's irrepressible Irish rebel Henry Smart is back-and he is not mellowing with age. Saved from death in California's Monument Valley by none other than Henry Fonda, he ends up in Hollywood collaborating with legendary director John Ford on a script based on his life. Returning to… See more details below
The triumphant conclusion to the trilogy that began with A Star Called Henry Roddy Doyle's irrepressible Irish rebel Henry Smart is back-and he is not mellowing with age. Saved from death in California's Monument Valley by none other than Henry Fonda, he ends up in Hollywood collaborating with legendary director John Ford on a script based on his life. Returning to Ireland in 1951 to film The Quiet Man- which to Henry's consternation has been completely sentimentalized-he severs his relationship with Ford. His career in film over, Henry settles into a quiet life in a village north of Dublin, where he finds work as a caretaker for a boys' school and takes up with a woman named Missus O'Kelly, whom he suspects- but is not quite sure-may be his long-lost wife, the legendary Miss O'Shea. After being injured in a political bombing in Dublin in 1974, Henry is profiled in the newspaper and suddenly the secret of his rebel past is out. Henry is a national hero. Or are his troubles just beginning? Raucous, colorful, epic, and full of intrigue and incident, The Dead Republic is also a moving love story-the magnificent final act in the life of one of Roddy Doyle's most unforgettable characters.
The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
It looked the same. There was a break in the clouds, and the sea was gone. There was green land down there. A solid-looking cloud got in the way – the plane went right in. It was suddenly colder. I stopped looking for a while and when I looked again it was back down there. The green thing. Ireland.
I’d left in 1922. I was flying back in, in 1951. It was twenty-nine years since I’d left, and five since I’d made up my mind to come back.
The plane dropped a bit more. It shook and rattled. The ground was getting nearer; there were no more clouds. I looked down at my country and felt nothing.
It landed – there were the jumps on the tarmac, and the burst of clapping from passengers in front and behind me, cast at the front, crew at the back. Me, in the middle. I didn’t clap. The engine died. The propellers became visible, and stopped. I watched two big-faced lads push the steps towards the plane. I heard the door open, and the rush of real air, and gasps of excitement. There was sea in the air.
My face hit the wind. I went down the steps. Ford was surrounded by the Company and the hangers-on.
—Welcome home, Mister Ford.
—A hundred thousand welcomes.
—You brought the weather with you, Mister Ford.
The red faces on them, wet grins for the Yanks with the heavy pockets. They had him standing on the Pan American steps, with John Wayne on one side, a few steps down, and Barry Fitzgerald above, the three of them waving and smiling. Wayne’s wife and brats were beside me, cold and waiting.
I heard the voice.
I kept walking. I didn’t wait for my bag.
He wanted me standing beside him, with his hand on my shoulder. He was the man who’d brought me home. The man who’d pulled me out of the desert. The last of the rebels, with the last of the rebels.
He’d paid for my suit and for one of my legs. I was his I.R.A. consultant, my wages paid into my hand by Republic Pictures.
I got into the back of a taxi.
—Welcome to Ireland, sir.
—Don’t fuckin’ talk, I said.—Just drive.
To the nearest bed for rent in Limerick, and I fell face down on top of it. I lay there and felt the country crawl into my lungs. I felt it bubble and turn. I’d been living too long in dry air and deserts. I coughed.
—For fuck sake.
It was an Irish cough – I’d forgotten – the big hack, the rattle. The sheets, the mattress, the wall to my left – they were fat with old breath, and soaking. I coughed again, and heard a voice through several walls.
—Ah, God love you.
I lay on the bed. I felt the rejection and let it slide over me. I felt it rub and pull at my skin.
The wooden leg creaked and whispered. I pulled up my trouser leg and looked. It was fatter, expanding – I could see the wood grow as I watched. The wet air was seeping into it. The varnish was already giving up. It was peeling away, and the shin was getting pale and blotched.
I stepped out into rain. It was already adding weight to my suit. It all came back, the slant of its fall, the touch of each drop on my skin, its dance on the black stone around my feet. I fuckin’ hated it.
I held up the sagging brim of my fedora and saw the black car crawl out of the lightless rain. I couldn’t hear the engine but it was getting slowly nearer. The approaching car and its low hiss over the water brought back pictures that had never gone away. Model Ts prowling the country, men in trenchcoats moving in to kill me. But the Civil War was three decades gone, and it was just a Limerick taxi. I stayed still and waited for it.
—Good morning, sir.
—I’m not American.
—Where d’you want me to take you?
—Roscommon, I said.
—Is it not wet enough for you here?
I looked at him.
—Will you take me or won’t you?
—We’ll need a map.
—We won’t, I said.—I know the way.
He still hadn’t moved.
—The old homestead, is it?
—No, I told him.—Someone else’s. Will you take me?
—Right, he said.—I will. I’m curious.
He was young, half my age.
—But you’re the navigator, he said.
—Fair enough, I said.—Let’s go.
—Will I be bringing you back?
—You’ve no bag or nothing.
—And you’ve got the money?
He leaned forward, like he was giving the car the first push. We began to crawl into the rain.
I should have been going to Cong, in County Mayo. I should have been there already. That was why I was in Ireland. I was the I.R.A. consultant, come home to watch the filming of my life. But first I was going to Roscommon, to the house my wife had come from. I had to see the house.
It wasn’t there. The house was gone. It had been burnt out when I’d seen it last, just before I’d left Ireland for good. My wife’s mother, Old Missis O’Shea, had moved into the long barn, and I’d slept in the kitchen, under a tarpaulin roof. But the wall that had held up the tarpaulin, and the other walls – all the walls – were gone. And the barn – it was gone too. I was standing in the right place, but there was nothing. I wasn’t there to find anyone; I wasn’t that thick. But it felt like another death.
My bearings were exact. The few bits of trees, the yellow furze, even the cows had stayed more or less put, where I’d left them in 1922. But it was as if the house and the outhouses had never been there, or the well, or the low stone walls that had kept the cows out of the bog.
I walked to where the door had been. I knew exactly where I was going, where there’d once been a stone step. I could feel it in my muscles; I could feel the knowledge sing through me.
I stopped. There was no hint that there’d once been a door there, not a thing. I stamped my foot. I felt nothing under the grass. I walked around, to the wall we’d been put against, myself and my new wife, Miss O’Shea, with her cousin Ivan and the other cousin, as we were photographed on our wedding day, in September 1919. I could feel that day’s heat and shine as I turned the corner. I knew exactly where Ivan had placed his lads, to guard our normality for that one afternoon in the middle of the war. But there was no wall, no hint of dry clay where the wall had fallen, or hardness in the ground where it had stood. My trousers were wringing. It wasn’t raining but it must have been just before I’d paid the taxi driver and got out. I was in the middle of a field, in good wet grass. Not the edge of the field, where there’d once been a wall surrounding the kitchen garden. I could have coped with that, the walls knocked and covered, topsoil thrown over the map of the house. That would have made sense; it had been a long time. But this was just weird. My angles were perfect. I’d walked exactly here, trying to feel running water, with my father’s wooden leg held in front of me, and I’d heard her voice – Two and two? – and I’d seen her boots and the laces made fat by the muck. But there wasn’t even muck here.
I walked back now through the field. My own wooden leg was groaning, protesting, biting into the folded flesh. I could feel no water under me, and the well I’d found that day was gone. But I grabbed the gate and the top rung was there, exactly as cold as it should have been. I’d held that gate before, even if the path from the gate to the house was gone. The gate was real; it felt like sanity.
I walked out onto the road. I left the gate open. They weren’t my cows. They were Ivan’s cows, probably. If Ivan Reynolds was still around and living. On the drive from Limerick I’d passed dozens of abandoned farmhouses, falling in on themselves, left standing beside the newer, brighter houses. But this was different. There was no new house, and no ruin. Ivan had razed the house, then he’d buried it too deep to be remembered.
I’d paid the taxi driver and sent him back to Limerick. I was alone on the road. The heat was picking up the morning’s rainfall. The rest of the day was going to be hot.
They were all dead – my wife, Miss O’Shea, and my children, Saoirse and Rifle. All three were dead. I’d never thought that they were going to come running to find out who the man was, getting out the taxi. I never thought I’d see my wife or daughter looking out the window, over the window box, as I marched up to the door. My son wasn’t going to be mending an outhouse roof or gelding a fuckin’ greyhound in the yard. They were dead, somewhere. They’d been dead for years.
I’d come to see the wall, maybe put my hand against it, break off a piece of whitewash, put it in my mouth and taste it. But just to see it – that would have been enough. To find its foundation in the grass, to feel it in the sole of my good foot.
I had sat in front of the wall. I had held my new wife’s hand. I could have started from there and worked my way forward, to the old man standing in front of the fallen wall, or squatting in the grass, picking up pieces of clay. That was me, what I’d come to this place to be. I was the old man. I was only forty-nine, but not many would have believed it. I wasn’t sure, myself, what I believed – if I believed. The wall would have helped.
I sat down beside the gate.
I’d cycled every inch of every lane of this county. I’d lobbed bombs from most of the ditches. Bullets had slowed me down, but nothing had ever stopped me. Thirty years ago. Only thirty years. It wasn’t a lifetime. I looked at my hand, at yellow, knuckled bone. The hand had once held guns and women. I closed my fingers and felt nothing.
I used to be heard. My eyes used to kill.
There was no white wall.
I was once a man called Henry Smart. I was born in Dublin, in 1901, and I fought for the freedom of Ireland. I married a beautiful woman and we tried to save Ireland together. There was a baby, a girl called Saoirse, born when I was hiding. I went into exile when my comrades decided that they needed me dead. My wife was in jail. I went alone to England, then to the United States, with a false passport and a wedding photograph. I hid again, for years. I changed my name and cities. I found my wife again – she found me – in Chicago, when I broke into a house with Louis Armstrong. But I had to run again. My old comrades – a man who might have been called Kellet – had caught up with me. They put me against a wall. But my wife shot the men who were going to shoot me. I ran and, this time, we ran together. I had a family, and it grew. We had a boy we called Séamus Louis, and I called Rifle. We rode the boxcars through the years that became the Great Depression. We never stayed still for long. We were rebels again and we were happy. But I lost them. We were boarding a moving train. Rifle slipped. I caught him, saved him and fell. The train moved on, taking my family and my leg. I recovered. I learned to walk with a wooden leg. But I never found them. I searched for years. I heard stories about them and I followed the stories. The stories stopped, and I stopped searching. I crawled into the desert to die. I lay down and let the sun burn me to nothing. I died. I came back from the dead when Henry Fonda pissed on me. He was acting in a film called My Darling Clementine, emptying his bladder between takes. I was brought back to life, and I met John Ford, the man who was directing the film.
This had happened five years before, in 1946.
Ford knew me – I didn’t know how. He knew all about me. He knew my scars and how I’d got them. He looked across the darkness, straight at me.
—You’re the story, he’d said.
He was going to make the film of my life. That was why I was there now, in Ireland, sitting against the stone wall. I remembered it like quick pain, like the anger that was my real blood. I remembered the decision: I’d go home. I’d go home and tell my story. I was an old man – the bullets and grief had caught up with me – but I felt bright and new. We shook hands. Ford was an old man too; he understood. I looked up at the black-blue sky, at all the dead and wandering stars, and I shouted.
—My name’s Henry Smart!
I stood up now. I got up, away from the wall. I knew where I was going, and I knew what I was going to do.
I was going to kill John Ford.
From the Hardcover edition.
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