Ferdia Mac Anna


Life
1955- ; b. 17 Aug. in Dublin, and raised in Howth; son of Tomás Mac Anna, dir. Abbey Theatre; studied for UCD MA Programme in Anglo-Irish Literature, c.1977 and briefly enrolled for an MPhil at TCD in the 1990s (‘a totally insane thing to do’); spent six years touring with rock bands “Gravediggers” and “Rhythm Kings” as singer Rocky de Valera [pseud]; played at Clare by-election for Billy Loughnane, Síle de Valera’s opponent in the late 1970s; survived brain haemorrhage and cancer, described in Bald Heads;
worked as researcher on Gay Byrne Late Late Show; issued first novel, The Last of the High Kings (1991) filmed with Gabriel Byrne, 1995; also The Ship Inspector (1994); a play, Big Mom, about a travelling rock group, appeared for a fortnight at the Project, April 1994; m. to Katherine Holmquist, American-born Irish Times journalist, and former girl-friend of Tom Mac Intyre; writer in residence at DCU from 1996; issued Cartoon City (2000), Dublin-based thriller; also The Last of the Bald Heads (2004), memoir; m. Kate Holmquist, Irish Times journalist and latterly novelist. DIL

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Works
Novels
  • The Last of the High Kings (London: Michael Joseph 1991), 175pp., Do., pb. rep. (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1997), 175pp.;
  • The Ship Inspector (London: Michael Joseph 1994), 282pp.; Cartoon City (London: Review 2000), 279pp. [see note].
Miscellaneous
  • Bald Head: A Cancer Story (Dublin: Raven Arts 1988);
  • The Last of the Bald Heads: A Memoir (Hodder Headline Ireland 2005);
  • ed., An Anthology of Irish Comic Writing (London: Michael Joseph 1995), 411pp.;
  • brief autograph notice in Sunday Independent (31 March 1996), p.6 [see extract];
  • ‘The Dublin Renaissance: An Essay on Modern Dublin and Dublin Writers’, in Irish Review, 10 (Spring 1991) [see extract].
  • ‘Coming of age in a Bubble’, review of John Butler, Tenderloin, in The Irish Times (28 May 2011), Weekend, p.13 [see extract].

[ Ferdia Mac Anna has a webpage/blog at ferdiamacanna.com - with contents as infra.]

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Criticism
Reviews, John Kenny, reviewing Ferdia MacAnna, Cartoon City, in The Irish Times (14 Feb. 2000) [see extract]; Rudie Goldsmith, review of The Last of the Baldheads, in Fortnight [Belfast] (Feb. 2005), p.26; Keith Ridgeway, ‘Rocky’s Rockin’ Record’, review of The Last of the Baldheads, in The Irish Times (18 Dec. 2004), p.11 [see extract].

See also Conor McCarthy, ‘Modernisation without Modernism: Dermot Bolger and the “Dublin Renaissance”’, in Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000), pp.135-64 [critiques his essay, here quoted by title, passim].

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Commentary
John Kenny, reviewing Ferdia MacAnna, Cartoon City, in The Irish Times (14 Feb. 2000), writes that it is ‘essentially a standard crime story, told in an even more hyperbolic mode than MacAnna’s The Last of the High Kings (1991)’, and recounts a narrative in which Myles Sheridan, tabloid journalist, immersed in underworld of smuggling and dog-fighting, is recruited by his girlfriend Mia to murder her money-laundering father but only manages to murder pigeons. Kenny notes the jive-talking sections, regular mention of pop-songs, and the emphasis on ‘filmic hyper-realism’ all ‘presumably intended as moments of self-consciousness’ but ‘not sufficienty developed on the authorial level to give any real resonance to the title’ and counts it a ‘failure of imagination’ to deal with crime problems in a changing Dublin in this fashion: ‘Given the recent popularity of this kind of caricatural treatment of Irish criminals, it may - even if only for aesthetic interes - soon be imperative, as Shaw said when rejecting the stage Irishman, to have no sense of humour.’ (q.p.)

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Conor McCarthy, ‘Modernisation without Modernism: Dermot Bolger and the “Dublin Renaissance”’ Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000, pp.137-38): ‘[...] the image of dissent that MacAnna claims for the “Dublin Renaissaince” writers is out of all proportion to their actual achievements, and its polemical stridency leads it into further contradicton. By this I mean that Mac Anna overplays the moral and intellectual courage required of these writers to mount the critique they have of their national culture and the state.’ (p.142; cites Joyce, Beckett, O’Casey, Kavanagh, et al. as unacknowledged antecedents.) ‘MacAnna is interested for polemical purposes in constructing a homogeneous group - contemporary literary (especially critical) intellectuals in the Republic - whom he can accuse of propagating a monolithic culture, which the new Dublin writing lies outside of. The new writing is therefore non-ideological, post-nationalist, post-socialist, post-modernist (it is a “deconstructionist’s nightmare”). Mac Anna is interested here to construct an identitarian politics of writing - only Dubliners (preferably of his generation) can write about Dublin with validity.’ (p.145.)

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Conor McCarthy (Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, 2000) - cont.: ‘MacAnna’s difficulty is that he wishes at once to excoriate the concept of the “literary” as he believes it stands in Ireland at present (especially in the academy), and to assert the “Dublin Renaissance” as a new literary movement. [...] This position might be an interesting one if it were held with an attitude of self-consciousness and irony. But this is not thecase with Mac Anna.’ (p.148.) ‘For Mac Anna, this authenticity is a matter of geography rather than of class [...] If Mac Anna and Bolger locate the power of the new writing in its authentic rendering of Dublin and its environs, however, they run the risk of providing only the obverse of the literary tendency they set out to criticise.’ (p.149.)

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Keith Ridgeway, ‘Rocky’s Rockin’ Record: A fresh, entertaining memoir is a valuable document of a demented time’, review of The Last of the Baldheads, in The Irish Times (18 Dec. 2004), p.11: ‘[...] Anyone who’s ever been in a band will recognise and relish it. / There are other things too, of course: a revealing account of working on The Late Late Show; the satisfyingly squalid summers spent in London; perfect recreations of the Dandelion Market, and of being intimidated by the punks in the doorway of Advance Records and cameo appearances by all sorts - from Brush Sheils to to Duchess of Argyll. And at the end, it’s back to hospital, and an abbreviated retelling of his encounter with cancer, and his recovery. / What’s most impressive is Mac Anna’s loyalty. I don’t mean his loyalty to others (though that’s hinted at, not so much in what he tells us, but in what he doesn’t), but to the previous versions of himself. There is no attempt to put an older, wiser voice into the head of the boy or the teenager or the rock-’n’-roll singer that he has been. As a result, the writing is fresh, honest, straightforward, and very entertaining.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Quotations
Insane at Trinners: MacAnna calls his Anglo-Irish MA in TCD ‘a totally insane thing to do.’ (Sunday Independent, 31 March 1996, p.6.)

The Dublin Renaissance: An Essay on Modern Dublin and Dublin Writers’, in Irish Review, 10 (Spring 1991), p.21: ‘By the late ’80s, Raven had become Ireland’s leading underground and alternative press, publishing new work by many young Irish writers [...] Bolger and O’Loughlin [...] saw Dublin not as some ancient colonial backwater full of larger-than-life “characters” boozing their heads off in stage-Irish pubs, but as a troubled modern entity, plagued by drugs [137], unemployment, high texgtes [?tech-ers; ?anxiety], disillusionment and emigration. No city of “The Rare Ould Times”.’ (Quoted in Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000, pp.137-38.)

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Ferdia Mac Anna Dot.com
I am a student again.

In 1977, I graduated from UCD with a Bachelor of Arts in English and History, unkindly referred to back then as ‘the unmarketable degree’. I learned as much from the rise of Punk Rock as I did in the classroom. Punk music was liberating and inspiring. The teaching of English Literature struck me as rigid, prescriptive and snooty. Studying Shakespeare, Chaucer and other old dead guys alongside incessant academic drilling into unquotable modern poetry almost put me off reading. I preferred to discover and read and fall in love with writers from outside the main frame – Ray Bradbury, Flann O’Brien, Spike Milligan, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Charles Bukowski, Harry Crews, Anais Nin, Flannery O’Connor and (gulp) Herman Hesse. I dropped Herman halfway through The Glass Bead Game and never returned. The others I still read and re-read.

Back then, I did my most of my reading and learning alone – either at home or in a scary dungeon flat in Rathmines or on a top floor bench beside UCD’s Music Rooms. I rarely went to the library – ether I could never find the relevant books or else they appeared to have been borrowed on a semi-permanent basis.

I avoided classrooms and most lectures. An exception was the professor who once distributed plastic beakers of red and white wine to second years at a 10am lecture in theatre L to illustrate the difference between Greek and Roman tragedy. I loved books and I loved rock and roll. It was hard to find much to feel passionate about in the Undergraduate programme.

Now I’m a post grad student at UCD’s Innovation Academy where I am studying for a Cert in Entrepreneurship. Getting in touch with one’s inner Zillionaire is not a straightforward proposition. Thus far, we have rarely discussed business methods and money has not been mentioned. Not much talk either of interest rates, shareholders, investors or banks. There are no textbooks.

Instead, the emphasis is on creativity, ideas, team-building, interaction and group projects. The structure is about learning from interaction with classmates and discovering how to teach yourself.

There are over 30 of us, of varying ages and outlooks and with vastly different skills and backgrounds. Being a student at the Innovation Academy is illuminating, inspiring, compelling, mind-bending as well as daunting – one’s assumptions are dismantled and reframed daily in an ever shifting and engrossing set of challenges. Being surrounded by sharp minds is always instructive and can be humbling too.

There are few similarities with my experience as an undergraduate at Belfield in the 70s. [...]

See further online; accessed 19.07.2016.

Notes
The Ship Inspector (1994), deals with the chaotic Buckley family, as the previous novel introduced us to the Griffin household; the narrator-central character is Daniel Buckley, backed by a horde of minor gas men and women; mockery of rabid Fianna Failers; his mother, like Mrs Griffin in the last book, an Elizabeth Taylor; other funny incidents include transvestite farmer; recommended as funny-touching. (See review in Books Ireland, Sept. 1994.)

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