I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Between Two Rooms

London Irish Fictions: Narrative, Diaspora and Identity, by Tony Murray, Liverpool University Press, 222 pp, £19.99, ISBN: 978-1781380154 A Struggle for Fame, by Charlotte Riddell, Tramp Press, 407 pp, €16, ISBN: 978-0992817046 A promotional video for the Irish sitcom Moone Boy features English actor Steve Coogan doing an impression of a rural Irishman. Shy, shifty, eyes downcast. The character explains that one day he discovered he could do a good impression of an upper-class Englishman – and then launches into it. An Englishman playing an Irishman playing an Englishman. Coogan (creator of the fictional broadcaster Alan Partridge) was born in Lancashire to a mother from Mayo and an English-born father of Irish descent (an Irish-Englishman playing an Englishman playing an Irishman playing an Englishman?) Tony Murray’s London Irish Fictions, a study of Irish writing and writers in London since World War II, is full of accounts of playful identity-shifting on the part of both Irish migrants and their descendants. Murray describes Brendan Behan, the Irishman who was more Irish than the Irish themselves, in London alternating between an exaggerated Irish brogue and a Cockney accent. According to the recollection of JP Donleavy, Murray explains, the latter accent was adopted “in order to ‘fool them into thinking he wasn’t the Irishman they thought he was’ but ‘only imitating one’. As an Irishman playing a Cockney playing an Irishman.” The experience of Irish emigrants has been copiously expressed in folk song: the Irishman reflects nostalgically on his homeland, laments the hardship and opposition he has encountered abroad, and regrets that he cannot go back. Murray warns us against accepting this as the definitive literary account. For one thing, the voice of the song is typically male, but it has always been the case that the majority of Irish emigrants are female. And for many – particularly the better educated – moving abroad has offered freedom and opportunity which was lacking at home. We often describe the emigrant’s situation as one of exile; Murray suggests a different word: escape. Escape from what? Unemployment and lack of opportunity, certainly, as well as the confining influences of family, community and the church. But another factor has always motivated people to leave home: the desire to remake one’s identity in a place where one is unknown. However, once abroad, one finds that one has a national identity to deal with. In the case of writers seeking creative freedom, the…

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