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Future Popes of Ireland by Darragh Martin

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Humour

By Swirl and Thread

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‘In 1979 Bridget Doyle has one goal left in life; for her family to produce the very first Irish pope…’ 

Future Popes of Ireland was published by 4th Estate ( Harper Collins) in 2018 and was written by Darragh Martin. Darragh Martin would have been best known for writing several plays and for his children’s novel, The Keeper, which was shortlisted in 2013 at the Irish Book Awards. For six years Darragh Martin had this idea germinating for a book he wanted to write and with the encouragement of his family, friends and the writing community his idea became a reality.

In the acknowledgements, Darragh Martin expresses his thanks to many people but he also thanks the ‘campaigners advocating for a fairer Ireland’ He states that ‘In the six years since I started this novel, I’ve been heartened to see major shifts in Ireland for some of the movements that the characters in this novel engage with………I wouldn’t be able to write a story about fictional characters getting involved with campaigns for justice without real people doing the work to make change happen.’

Future Popes of Ireland takes the reader on a journey from 1979 to 2011, during years that saw seismic changes take place in Ireland. I am Catholic and I am Irish and I was also born in the (very) early 1970s, so reading this novel brought back so many memories, it was like reliving parts of my teenage years all over again. The book is set primarily in Dublin and opens against the backdrop of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland. I remember it well as I went with my family to witness this event in Limerick and can clearly recall the sheer volume of people and the feeling of immense awe as the Popemobile passed us by. Times were very different back then and Ireland was such a different country.

The book is centred around the Doyle family, in particular, the matriarch of the family, Granny ‘Bridget’ Doyle. A woman with a zealous religious passion, she understood the secret message Pope John Paul II wished to pass on.

‘The lad who would rise from the ranks of priests and bishops to assume the ultimate position in the Vatican would have to come from a new generation; the Popemobile had scarcely shut it’s doors before the race was on to conceive the first Irish Pope. First in line was Granny Doyle, armed with a tiny bottle of papal blessed holy water. The distance between Granny Doyle’s upheld bottle and the drops flying from the Pope’s aspergillum was no obstacle; this was not a day for doubt….’

Granny Doyle WILL have her Pope and he WILL be a Doyle. Nine months after the Pope’s visit, triplets are born to her son and his wife – Damien, Rosie and John Paul – but tragedy strikes when their mother dies giving birth. Their father is unable to cope with his grief, leaving the three babies in the care of Granny Doyle, a woman with her eye on the prize, a woman on a mission. There is also a small matter of five year old Peg, but as she is quite the independent young lady, Granny Doyle doesn’t show her much interest. Peg cannot be Pope so therefore Peg is left to fend for herself and also to assist with the babies when required. Granny Doyle was something of a tyrant with extremely strong views and with a very strong sense of what she felt was the right thing to do. John Paul became her favourite. He was the one who would take her to the Vatican, so growing up, he was allowed to take full advantage of this, making him a right scoundrel, a chancer, up for anything.

Future Popes of Ireland tracks the many paths that the siblings journey on. Their relationships with each other become quite dysfunctional over the years, as each follows a very different dream. With Peg moving to New York as soon as she was able, it is very easy to read between the lines and see what damage was caused to Peg’s mental health growing up in the Doyle household. For Rosie, Damien and John Paul life became a challenging adventure, negotiating the hardened beliefs held by their Granny while trying to find their own place in the world.

Darragh Martin writes with great humour about the social history of Ireland, cataloging the multiple changes that took place, both the positives and the negatives. There are way too many to comment on here but I have to mention the reference to Italia 90 – what Irish person over a certain age does not remember that? The excitement, the support of a nation, our heroes, our champions… I was in college at the time and I vividly recall the frenetic reaction these matches received. Ireland needed the boost and boy did we celebrate. It was completely nuts!!

‘The ball sailed through the air, finding it’s way to Niall Quinn’s head. Velocity took over as Quinn lunged his lanky body forwards, the ball whizzing past the outstretched hand of the Dutch goalie and bouncing into the back of the net…..the Irish saved from elimination’

Future Popes of Ireland is littered with moments that swept up the nation over these changing years. The Doyle family provide the backdrop for Darragh Martin, but it is the amount of research that was undertaken that really adds to the authenticity of their story. The chapters are choppy, switching back and forth over the years and the lives of the siblings, but this wasn’t an issue for me, due to the writing style of the author. Many topical issues are raised throughout such as abortion, contraception, gay rights, all documented against a society that carried extremely strong religious beliefs. Unbelievably though, at no point, as a reader, do you feel that Darragh Martin is imposing his own personal views or preaching to the masses. This is a ultimately a fictional story, the characters are not real. The author’s take on our history provides some very entertaining moments and most definitely brought a smile to my face, as old memories resurfaced.

Future Popes of Ireland is a very unique novel, with, as mentioned, incredible detail given of a nation’s social history. Quite a powerful book in many ways with some very poignant moments written with great humour and insight. This is a family saga, an Irish Family Saga, told with the wit and the black humour of one of it’s own.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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