A True(ish) Historian

The Truish History of Ireland

March this year saw the release of The Trueish History of Ireland, a satirical tour of the nation’s history, published by Mercier. Written in a light, conversational voice, The Trueish History moves breezily across great swathes of time, stopping, as comes naturally, to consider an episode from Ireland’s past with a teasing absurdity.

The book is written by journalist and satirist Garvan Grant, with illustrations provided by cartoonist Gerard Crowley.

NewsFour sat down with Garvan over coffee in a café by Sandymount Green, near his home, to learn a little about the book and the state of satire in Ireland as he sees it. If his name sounds familiar to you, then that may be because Garvan wrote for The Sunday Business Post, and the now-defunct In Dublin magazine before that, under the pseudonym Luther Profane. Those columns ran for nearly 15 years and established his reputation as a satirist with a knack for the absurd.

“When you’re a satirist,” Grant explains, “it’s easy to take one step sideways from yourself, and find a slightly different voice from your own, one with more range. That’s the Luther Profane character.”

The Trueish History is a little different. “We wanted to do the book because 2016 is coming, the centenary of the Easter Rising and there are going to be a lot of tomes coming out about Irish History.

So we decided to provide an antidote to these serious books that are coming – and will continue to come – over the next number of years, something more light-hearted.”

The underlying idea of the book is that it is told through the eyes of the Irish people themselves, “with the warmth and wit that Irish people have.”

“The Post Mortem columns, as Luther, were straight satire. With the book, it’s more fun, without the viciousness or edge. Irish humour isn’t necessarily nasty,” says Grant. “When I was growing up, I was always puzzled, if there was a funeral for instance, how ready people would be with laughing and joking. I see it as how we deal with grief.”

When asked about the state of Irish satire at the moment, Garvan has complimentary things to say about television. “At the moment, there’s [David McSavage’s] Irish Pictorial Weekly, and of course there’s Republic of Telly. Very sharp and witty commentary. It’s a good sign that they’re allowed to take the p*** out of RTE by RTE themselves.”

He is less impressed with the state of satire in print, pointing out what he feels we are lacking: “The obvious voices from the past, someone like Flann O’Brien. He was a civil servant by profession and as a writer he was able to be very, very funny and also make very important points in the same space.”

The Trueish History of Ireland was launched in March in the Little Museum of Dublin, by David McWilliams, Garvan’s former colleague at the Sunday Business Post. They worked together during the boom years of the Celtic Tiger. “He pointed out that he was doing the serious stuff while I was doing the satire. There was an awareness at the time that the Boom couldn’t last but no one wanted to hear it, and now here we all are. The launch was great fun, though.”

In a nutshell, Garvan, who lives in Sandymount with his wife and two children, sees the message of his book as being not to take life too seriously. “That’s the lesson I’ve learned just from being Irish. We’re always having a good life, despite austerity or Irish Water or whatever.”

The Trueish History of Ireland is available now in bookshops.

By Rúairí Conneely