Boston native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. His new novel is “Designing Dev.” Deigning Dev was the last book I read in 2013 which means I ended the year with a very good laugh so I am thrilled that Steve is here today.
Steve arrived in Ireland in 92 and I left in 95, so we had an overlap. He has an experience I never had. I never knew a really prosperous Ireland in my lifetime. Did he like the Celtic Tiger Ireland? Or did people change to such a degree that his own desire for the old Ireland brought on this book? Well to help us understand the reasons behind his move to Ireland, Steve has consented to a handy Q & A session. Thank you so much for being here today, Steve.
Steve, what motivated you to chronicle your experiences as an ex-pat American in Ireland?
When I was in high school, I wrote a satirical column for the school paper. My favorite writers back then were syndicated columnists like Art Buchwald and Russell Baker and humorists such as S.J. Perelman and James Thurber. Like a lot of high school kids, I wasn’t really interested in the big name writers we were studying in English class.
So when I moved to Dublin many years later and it became apparent that the Ireland was going through a unique transformation, I thought: what better way to document the change than in a column in my hometown paper. Fortunately, the editor agreed, and the column ended up providing a lot of the material in my first book, This Thought’s On Me – A Boston Guy Reflects on Leaving the Hub, Becoming a Dub & Other Topics.
How would you describe your time in Ireland thus far?
I’m very happy over here – though the first few years were difficult. That would be the early 1990’s. It was hard to find a job when I first got here, and if I had been working from the start, I’m sure the transition would have been smoother. But this was pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland, when unemployment was at 17% and mortgage rates hit 14%.
I think writing about what I was seeing – in letters home (remember this was pre-email as well), newspaper articles and the comic novel that would become “Designing Dev” – definitely helped. Today things are grand – as my Cork-born grandmother used to say – though the country is to some extent broke and broken again.
Why did you make the move across the pond?
When my wife and I became engaged, it was kind of obvious which of us would be making the move. I’d been to Ireland many times over the previous decade, staying with my own relations in Cork when I wasn’t roaming around the country, and I thought I knew the place pretty well.
Also, my life at the time was much more mobile than my wife’s. She was nursing in Dublin and had just bought a house. I was managing a bookstore on Cape Cod and cutting grass part-time. I was also shuttling between cheap winter rentals and spare bedrooms offered by sympathetic friends. So it was kind of a no-brainer. I put my car, a few sticks of furniture and several boxes of books into a 20-foot freight container and headed over to Dublin.
What are some of the surprises you encountered in Ireland?
I suppose – and there’s an article about this in my first book – the Irish driving experience was the first thing to surprise me. Before our son arrived on the scene, my wife and I travelled regularly from Dublin to Cork to visit our respective families there. Back then, a journey of 200 miles could take seven to eight hours because you had to pass through every little town and village along the way. To make up time, I found that Irish drivers could become a bit, well, impatient with less experienced drivers like myself. Like so much else, though, the roads have improved, and I’m now well able to keep pace with the natives!
Generally speaking, what continues to surprise me is that so many Irish people take for granted the amazing changes – from the economy and infrastructure to attitudes toward the Catholic Church – that have occurred during my time here. It was like the country was on steroids but nobody bothered to notice.
Are you ever going to move back to Boston?
When I moved to Dublin, one of my aunts was convinced that I’d be back in Boston –still married, let me add – in two or three years’ time. That was almost 22 years ago. We’re all very happy here – my wife, my son and myself. In fact, my son has become an eager Irish-language speaker as well as an accomplished hurling and Gaelic football player for his local club. Also, I’d love to take a two-week train journey with him up and down the boot of Italy and across to Sicily – which is where my father’s parents came from. So, in a nutshell, I’d say we’re going to stay put in Dublin for a while yet.
What are your future plans?
Well, later this year I plan to publish another collection of my columns and essays, “More Thoughts On Me.” I also have several ideas to flesh out in the realm of fiction. So watch this space…
Now three things I ask everybody…
- What is your favorite food? Anything that is prepared with patience and care.
- What is your favorite TV show? At the moment, “Mad Men” – though for several years it was “The Sopranos,” owing in large part to the Mafia training ground that was my junior high school.
- What is your favorite music? Again, a fluctuating category, but my early preferences have endured: Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman, the Allman Bros. and The Band, Planxty and Moving Hearts.
Thank you for being here, Steve, it has been a pleasure. Since mysteries are our thing here on the blog, I think Mike should have a cozy series – what a laugh having Dev show up to solve crimes. LOL I’ve already told Steve that so let’s see what happens but in the mean time you will love this book, mystery or not.
Carl Hiaasen meets “The Quiet Man” in “Designing Dev,” a madcap tale about love, politics, and cultural belonging.
The Celtic Tiger is roaring across Ireland and the country is going to hell in a hand basket. Office blocks and apartment buildings are springing up like weeds on every corner. Mercedes, Jaguars and Beemers crowd each new kilometer of EU-subsidized motorway. And bank executives and politicians are reveling in it all, indulging themselves like Saudi royalty. There’s only one solution: Bring back Eamon de Valera – the Abe Lincoln and George Washington of Irish historical lore – to restore the nation. So when an Irish-American look-alike by the name of Mike Doyle pops up in a Boston suburb, that’s precisely what ex-pat Brendan Quigney and his Friends For A Contented Eire set out to do, putting forward the reluctant Yank for president of Ireland.
Along the way, Mike and Friends attract the attention of the governing True Eire Party, whose officials decide that he’s one candidate too many and soon devise various plans to flatten his unorthodox campaign.
In the U.S., Mick and Josie Doyle are drawn into the fray when a TV tabloid show – “Truth Patrol” – runs a feature on their son’s political ambitions in Ireland. Though they met innocently enough – long-haul trucker Mick Doyle picked up a hitch-hiking Josie Giarrizzo while driving cross-country – they’re portrayed as “a couple of crazy throwbacks to the swinging Sixties, with their very own Love Shack on wheels!”
The Doyle story proves to be a mixed blessing for maverick editor and journalist Aengus White. His current affairs journal, Quintessence magazine, is suffering from poor circulation and needs a fresh injection of cash and controversy to quicken its pulse. White strikes a bargain with True Eire that he soon comes to regret. The Party will bail out his financially-troubled magazine, but in exchange White must publish any and all stories – including the fraudulent “Truth Patrol” revelations – that will lead to True Eire’s man Seanie Curtin getting elected.
When Mike and his campaign team get wind of these developments, the gloves come off. The climax comes at an open-air debate in the center of Dublin, which descends into comic chaos as Mike Doyle, Seanie Curtin, and Combined Forces of Good candidate Mary Ellen Corbett each state their case and face down respective charges of inexperience, incompetence, and previous nude modeling.
So strap yourself in and come along on a tour of Ireland that you won’t find in any travel brochure…
You don’t have to know Irish politics or the history of the presidency in Ireland to enjoy this book. But it makes it funnier if you do. Elections are elections everywhere and certain elements will be funny to you just because they bring to mind some tomfoolery in your local election. But a knowledge of the history of the Irish presidency does make the book that bit funnier. The position of President of Ireland is largely ceremonial. (Then again, looking at Washington today and how the two houses have blocked Obama, one has to think even the American president is merely ceremonial.) We’ve had nine presidents. Two of them women. In 1997 a beloved puppet, Dustin ran. (We also sent him to Euro-Vision in 2008.) Urban legend has it that he carried one area in Dublin. I voted for him. Sometimes the election is hotly contested and sometimes it is a walk in sort of as a reward for a beloved politician who has served long and well. Michael D. Higgins is the current president. That was a hotly contested election, won by a much loved politician who had served long and well.
Could a blow in from Massachusetts become President of Ireland? Yes indeed. You need not have been born there. Éamon de Valera (Dev) was born in NYC of an Irish mother and Spanish father and he went on to become our first Taoiseach (well sort of, second President of the Executive Council and first Taoiseach) as well as serving again from 51-54 and 57-59 and sixth president. And that is the whole premise of this book. Mike Doyle is the image of Dev so who better to bring Ireland back to the kinder, gentler, pre Celtic Tiger Ireland? There are multiple groups of chancers either determined to get Mike to Áras an Uachtaráin or stop him in his tracks. And therein lies all the fun.
I won’t tell you how it works out (so that is a mystery), but you will have great fun reading this book and I am pleased to be able to give it ♥♥♥♥♥
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