Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Irish Eyes

“ . . .the Hill”
It was 1965. I hid a book in the cow-house, in Kylebeg, between readings. Why am I telling you this? The book was Lee Dunne’s, Goodbye to the Hill a publication which would be deemed to corrupt the teenagers of Ireland.  A year earlier Dunne, former resident of Mount Pleasant Buildings in Dublin, and now London cabbie had sat down , “ . . . with the idea of writing a short story about a fourteen-year-old-kid who rides his bicycle down this hill six days a week for three years, vowing in his own way ; ‘ Someday real soon, I’m going to say goodbye to this place’ .”
Goodbye to the Hill was a bestseller in England and the USA selling more than a million copies worldwide but banned in Ireland.  It was made into a Hollywood film Paddy in 1970 which was also banned in Ireland. (It was granted a 12A certification in 2006.)
Lee Dunne didn’t rest on his laurels. He adapted Goodbye to the Hill as a stage play and it went on to break all records and became Ireland’s longest running play.    Like John B. Keane before him Dunne was rejected by the Abbey. The national Theatre turned down Goodbye to the Hill   because they “didn’t think it stageable.”
During the plays epic run in the Regency, in Dublin, (from September 1989 to December 1992) one journalist wrote, “Many of the audience have never been to a play before or, if they have been, it was this one. During the interval, we all talk to each other. It’s not like the Peacock or the Gate where people at the bar are commentating on the interpretation or the interaction. At the Regency, we’re here to enjoy ourselves. Which is why you hear the occasional bottle being knocked over as someone makes his or her way out in the middle of the show for a natural break.”
One unkind critic who criticised Goodbye to the Hill for its “scatological pursuit of laughter”  showed his agreement about the certain continued  success of the play by  grudgingly writing, “ . . . certainly it seemed at times that the only way to end its run might be to get a heavy stick and beat it to death.” George Moore hit the nail on the head when he said, “The lot of critics is to be remembered by what they failed to understand.”
Lee Dunne could see the reason for his sidelining by the established intelligentsia, “Of course they didn’t like me, I never joined clubs; I never played the games. If you look at the artistic structure in this country, it is people who went to university together who are on the same boards, people that don’t even rock the boat with a statement that’s one degree starboard of port.”
However Dunne’s genius was noted by many commentators. In his, meticulously researched, Writing Ireland’s Working Class, Dublin after O’ Casey, Michael Pierse compares the messenger- boy from Mount-Pleasant Buildings with great writers of Ireland and beyond.   Pierce puts the man who brought “working- class Dublin into the nation’s living rooms” up there with Brendan Behan, James Plunkett, and John Osborne and gives a nod to Lee’s similarity to Daniel Defoe and to Dickens in his insight into slum life where poverty and frustration had people “screaming at each other like wild animals.”
Dunne’s, insight into socio-economic deprivation, the effects of TB and slum-dwelling on  those exposed to it, is laconically summed up by Pierce when he refers to, “echoes of another Dubliner, Robert Tressell” author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
Goodbye to the Hill is of course largely autobiographical. We learn in Lee’s autobiographical work No Time for Innocence (which he later did as a one-man show)  that  the character Paddy Maguire’s relationship with Clare Kearney, a woman in her forties,  was based on the author’s experience which he describes as, “ A metaphor  for exploitation and the taboo of child abuse.”

Keats said, of poetry, that unless it comes “as naturally as leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.” Lee Dunne would agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. Writing always came easy to him.  In all of his twenty novels, screenplays, radio-dramas, one-man shows and articles the words just flowed. The characters took on a life of their own. As a child going to the pictures in the Stella in Rathmines he copped on pretty quickly that what was happening on the screen had been written by somebody. He wasn’t slow to tell the family and anyone else who would listen that he was going to be a writer. The result?  He was branded a “nutcase.”
Mount Pleasant Buildings, where it all started, are no more; demolished and replaced with Swan Grove. Perhaps the old buildings had, if not charm, character (whatever that is.)
Lee Dunne has described it as, “a scab, a sort of dry sore on the face of Dublin, and to this day I believe that it was just that, a custom-built slum -- of cold-water flats, situated on Dublin's south side.It was a concrete and iron-bars place, like a prison unit that, to my young mind, was barely fit for people to exist in, but deemed more than good enough by the powers that were in a position to dump the poor anywhere they liked, without one among us being able to do a thing about it.” 
I lived in Ranelagh in the 70s in the dying days of “the Buildings” and it would be hard to disagree but as that other great Irish writer Maurice Walsh said,“A place acquires an entity of its own, an entity that is the essence of all the life and thoughts and griefs and joys that have gone before.”   
Despite the hardship and defeatism is the much traveled, cosmopolitan, Lee Dunne’s heart still there, at 162 where he was born on Friday 21st December i934(?) As the Greek poet Cadaly wrote: “No matter where you wander all over the world, in the fields and streets where you grow up, there you will live and there you will die.”
George Bernard Shaw who was born less than a mile from Lee Dunne’s birthplace said, “The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and about all time.”   
And Goodbye to the Hill is not fenced in by time or geographical boundaries. Just as John B. Keane’s rustic characters served as a universal blackboard to illustrate the foibles of human nature to an off-Broadway audience, so a rural Irish audience would have no difficulty recognising “Harry Redmonds” and “Paddy Maguires” in their own community.  Any drama group, amateur or professional, in any part of the world, wouldn’t go far wrong by staging Goodbye to the Hill.
The author (who is still pounding the keyboard at 78 years of age) can be contacted at leeleedunne@eircom.net
His website is; www.leedunne.com
Lee Dunne.jpgLee Dunne.jpg

Click on Mattie Lennon for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

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