Donal Fallon, Dublin historian, lecturer, podcaster, blogger and author, is a man of many hats, but central to all his work is the drive and ability to communicate the social history of our vibrant capital city. In his latest work, Three Castles Burning: A History of Dublin in Twelve Streets, Donal demonstrates with wit, warmth, affection and in-depth knowledge what ‘history’ really is … the stories of people and the places where they lived, worked, loved and died.
Donal has also published 14 Henietta Street: From Tenement to Suburbia, The Pillar: The Life and After Life of the Nelson Pillar and 16 Lives: John MacBride. He can be found on Twitter @fallon_donal and his podcast is: https://threecastlesburning.libsyn.com/
What is the first book you bought yourself?
Unsurprisingly, Horrible Histories. Flicking back through them sometimes as an adult, there are more than a few jokes I didn’t get in my innocence. A really great idea and well executed (in some cases, like the King of France, literally.)
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
“Never use a long word where a short one will do.” – Eric Blair.
Did publishing your first book change your writing process?
Oddly, my first book was a compilation of articles from a blog, the much-loved Come Here To Me. I was adamant Three Castles Burning would not be a compilation of the episode scripts, but something new. New Island gave me the space to do something totally different with the idea. Blogs had their moment in time. Podcasts will hopefully prove eternal.
What were you most wrong about when you imagined being a writer?
Probably the place of history in the market, and I mean that in the broadest sense beyond Ireland too. We definitely read more non-fiction than most nations, but I had no real sense of the comparative strength of fiction over non-fiction. I came late to fiction but in recent times I try and read at least one book of fiction for every three history books. Most recently, like everyone in Ireland, I loved Small Things Like These.
Which 3 books do you think everyone should read?
I’m going to stick to Dublin on this, unsurprisingly enough.
Kevin C. Kearns – Dublin Tenement Life. The best oral history this city has yet produced. We owe a lot to Kevin and I wrote about him a little in my book.
David Dickson – Dublin: The Making of a Capital City. The most ambitious history book yet penned on the city.
James Joyce – Ulysses. Anthony Burgess was right, Joyce is the writer for the everyday and the everybody. The rambling tale of one day in the Hibernian Metropolis gives me something new every time I read it. I’ve given up on Finnegan’s Wake.
Do you have a favourite book to gift and if so, what is it?
Always something by Maeve Brennan – I’m so glad to see the emergence of so much interest in her short stories and writing in recent years. I can’t understand how her Rathgar home, which was also an important centre of revolutionary politics during the War of Independence, remains without a plaque. Her writing is still so fresh.
What song always gets you on the dance floor?
We need more dancefloors in Dublin. If there is one song, it is definitely New Order and Temptation. They have so many perfect songs, but it is divine:
Up, down, turn around
Please don't let me hit the ground
Tonight I think I'll walk alone
I'll find my soul as I go home
Tea or Coffee?
The only positive legacy of the Celtic Tiger is the widespread availability of the cappuccino.
Do you Google yourself?
Behan insisted there was no such thing as bad publicity with the exception of your own obituary. Google disproves this. Never do it.
Why do you love Chapters?!
The treasure trove of second hand books alongside the new ones makes it truly unique. I love coming up Moore Street from Henry Street, wondering if I’ll find anything special. No bookshop in Dublin will take as much of your time as Chapter’s second hand section, or reward you so richly.