Roddy Doyle

A Star Called Henry

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A Star Called Henry Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 38-page guide for “A Star Called Henry” by Roddy Doyle includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 12 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Hierarchy and Servitude in Colonial and Post-Colonial Ireland and Changing Times, Changing Women.

Irish novelist and screenwriter Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin in 1958. His work is renowned both for its treatment of Irish working-class life and its deployment of Dublin dialect. His 1993 masterpiece, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, won the Booker Prize.

A Star Called Henry (1999) is the first in The Last Round Up trilogy, which follows the life of Henry, a working-class Dublin boy born at the turn of the 20th century. Henry’s life spans the major Irish events of the 20th century. A Star Called Henry explores the Easter Rising and the struggle for Irish independence. Oh, Play That Thing (2004), follows Henry’s experience as an Irish immigrant in 1920s America. The final installment, The Dead Republic (2010), shows Henry’s return to Ireland after decades of absence.

Although A Star Called Henry is fictitious, it features real-life events and historical characters like James Connolly and Michael Collins. Yet Doyle’s portrayal of the Irish Republican effort is far from hagiographic; he lays bare the greed for power and control amongst its leaders, and the marginalization of the working class men and women who were instrumental to its success. Written in 1999, Doyle’s novel set a precedent for exploring and reimagining the complicated origins of Irish independence.

Plot Summary

The novel opens in the Dublin slums, where Henry lives with his mother, Melody; his father, Henry Smart; and a brood of surviving siblings including his little brother, Victor. While Melody looks at the stars and mourns the deaths of her children—most notably, her original little Henry, whom the narrator Henry is “a shocking substitute for” (1)—her one-legged husband works both as a bouncer at Dolly Oblong’s brothel and as the mysterious Alfie Gandon’s hitman. When their father disappears and their mother wastes away, Henry and Victor make their way through the Dublin streets, stealing as needed to get by. They score two days of education at a national school, where Miss O’Shea makes a lasting impression on Henry. When Victor dies, Henry, who cannot identify any other family member, is left to fend for himself on the streets.

At 14, Henry becomes an Irish Citizen Army soldier in the 1916 Easter Rising. He finds the Republican cause an outlet for his excess energy, anger, and testosterone and loses his virginity to Miss O’Shea, who is part of the women’s Republican support group, Cumman na mBan. When the British force the rebels to surrender, Henry takes refuge with the alleged World War I widow, Annie. He lives with Annie and works as a docker until her husband returns from his supposed death.

A man named Jack Dalton recognizes Henry and recruits him back to the cause of Irish independence. Through Dalton, Henry meets Michael Collins, who recruits him into the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Collins sends Henry on a bicycle all around Ireland to train up country boys to become Republican fighters. At Collins’s command, Henry also deals deathly blows to those deemed spies and enemies of the cause. When Henry comes to  Dublin, he visits his grandmother, Granny Nash, who gives him books and tells him to beware a man called Alfie Gandon, the source of his family’s troubles.

When Henry and Miss O’Shea are reunited, they marry, and she continues to fight the Republican cause, although misogynist Republicans like her cousin Ivan vehemently oppose her. Henry and Miss O’Shea soon make enemies on both the British and Irish sides. When Henry resolves to fight no more, he is imprisoned and tortured by the British. When he escapes from prison and encounters Miss O’Shea, she has had her hair shorn by Ivan for meddling in his affairs and risking his control of the region. Miss O’Shea nurses Henry back to health, but he’d forced to flee from the Republicans who consider him a “‘troublemaker”’ and a threat to their position. Miss O’Shea, pregnant, leaves their daughter with her mother to pursue her dream of an Irish Republic free from rigid gender and class hierarchies. Henry sees his daughter once and names her Saoirse, a name that means “freedom” in Irish.

In Dublin, Henry learns that Alfie Gandon is styling himself as a virtuous Republican following the British defeat. Henry finds him at Dolly Oblong’s brothel and kills him before visiting his Miss O’Shea in jail. After the visit, he resolves to leave Ireland and begin anew elsewhere, although he does not yet have a concrete plan.

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