His early work – especially his first three novels, all set in the working class Dublin suburb of Finglas, and his trilogy of plays that chart forty years of life in the nearby high-rise Ballymun tower blocks that have since been demolished – was often concerned with the articulation of the experiences of working-class characters who, for various reasons, feel alienated from society. While always retaining his outsider’s perspective, his later novels have been more expansive in their themes and locations, with several based on real life incidents. Two novels chronicle the fate of a real Anglo-Irish family, some of whom embrace communism in the 1930s with tragic consequences and who, although seemingly at the opposite end of the social spectrum to the factory workers in his early novels, find themselves equally alienated from the perceived notions of Irishness that prevailed for long periods in 20th Century Ireland. Another novel uses the real-life story of a wartime sea rescue, by the unarmed crew of a tiny Wexford ship, of German sailors from the navy who previously tried to sink them, to explore Irish neutrality during World War Two. In much of his work Bolger questions the relevance of traditional nationalist concepts of Irishness, arguing for a more plural and inclusive society. As an eighteen-year-old factory worker in 1977 Bolger set up Raven Arts Press, which published early books by writers like Patrick McCabe, Colm Toibin, Sara Berkeley, Fintan O'Toole, Eoin McNamee, Kathryn Holmquist, Michael O'Loughlin, Sebastian Barry and Rosita Boland as well as the first English language translations of Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, and, in 1988, Paddy Doyle’s ground-breaking and shocking memoir, The God Squad: one of the first books to break the silence about institutional child abuse in Ireland. In 1990 Raven followed this up with Song for a Raggy Boy a harrowing memoir of life in an Irish Industrial School by the poet Patrick Galvan, which was made into a successful film. Bolger ran Raven Arts Press until 1992, when he co-founded New Island Books with Edwin Higel to continue to support new Irish writers. In recent decades he has acted as associate editor of the “New Irish Writing” page, which has been edited by Ciaran Carty in a succession of Irish newspapers since 1989, continuing a tradition started by David Marcus in 1969. In May 2010 Bolger’s wife, Bernie, died.
(Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in literature" article.)
Night Shift (1985 in literature|1985)
This is Bolger's first novel (or novella?). The central protagonist is Donal, a young man from Finglas who works the night shift in a local factory. Donal's girlfriend, Elizabeth, is pregnant and they both live in a caravan at the foot of her parents' garden. Needless to say, her parents are hardly thrilled at the situation and Donal works hard to improve the life he shares with Elizabeth. This is a complex narrative, containing meditations on the prospects for young people in 1980s Ireland and the rupture between tradition (as represented by Elizabeth's family and those in authority) and the future (as represented by Donal and Elizabeth). Whilst the ending is not what one could describe as happy, it is hopeful in that Donal begins to achieve a degree of clarity about his life, including his relationship with Elizabeth, his relationship with society, and, ultimately, what it will mean to be Irish in the latter part of the 20th century. This novel introduces many of the themes that will resurface in much of Bolger's later writing.
The Journey Home (1990 in literature|1990)
The Journey Home was originally published by Penguin and was a controversial Irish bestseller. It was later re-issued by Flamingo/HarperCollins. Eighteen years after its publication, it was published in the United States by The University of Texas Press and received the lead front cover review on the New York Times Book Review section. The Irish Times said of it: "All 1990s life is there – drink, drugs, political corruption – all the words which have been repeated so often now that they have lost their power to shock. Here, they shock."
The Family on Paradise Pier (2005)
The Family on Paradise Pier starts in the tranquil idyll of a Donegal village in 1915 and follows the journeys of one Irish family through the War of Independence, the General Strike in Britain, the dangerous streets of 1930's Moscow, the Spanish Civil War and on to Soviet gulags, Irish Internment camps and London during the Blitz. The Goold-Verschoyle children are born into a respected freethinking Protestant family in a Manor House alive with laughter, debate and fascinating guests. But the world of picnics and childish infatuations is soon under threat as political changes within Ireland and the wider world encroach upon their private paradise.
The Family on Paradise Pier tries to show how quickly a family and a class can find themselves displaced and considered foreigners within their own land, with a new generation forced to invent new roles in which to belong. For Eva the dream is to be an artist, yet her fragile vision cannot cope with first love or the reality of London art school. She finds herself married into a stiff Anglo-Irish family, struggling with growing debts and with trying to keep open her soul to the new perceptions while yearning for personal freedom.
Politics is how Eva's brothers make sense of their new world. The eldest son, Art, rejects his inheritance to become a hard-line Marxist. Isolating himself from his family, he tries to belong among the poor, a party agitator working as a manual labourer in Dublin, Moscow and London. Brendan, the carefree and less fanatical younger brother, also embraces communism until confronted by its harsh realities in the Spanish Civil War with consequences that will haunt and divide his family.
Based on real-life people, this family saga grows into a kaleidoscopic portrait of the lives, dreams and tensions of a generation finding their own paths in life between the World Wars. Bolger recreates a family in flux, driven by idealism, racked by argument and united by love and the vivid memories of childhood. The character Brendan is based on Brian Goold-Verschoyle who died in a Soviet gulag and Art is based on the real-life Irish communist Neil Goold-Verschoyle. Eva is based on Sheila Fitzgerald (née Goold-Verschoyle; 1903–2000) and the novel itself has its origins in tape recordings that the author made in her caravan in 1992.
Father's Music (1997)
“Music is the pulse of Tracey Evan's life, its beat luring her through dance clubs and rave parties, a seemingly free-spirited 22-year-old London college drop out who laps up the late-night, often ecstasy-induced, pleasures of that city. Yet behind her tough street-wisdom and promiscuity, lurk layers of vulnerability and self-loathing. Her spirit is still in thrall to a past she cannot quit and to memories she cannot obliterate, even by living on a knife-edge of risk.
That risk is never greater than when she enters into an uninhibited world of sexual games and fantasies with Luke Duggan, a married Irish businessman living in London. At once loathsome and tender, the chameleon-like Luke is torn apart by the alternating currents of his infamous Dublin criminal family, from whom he has tried to distance himself.
When family responsibilities force Luke to return to Dublin, taking Tracey with him, their games of risk and chance become frighteningly real. It is her first visit to Ireland, except for a brief, traumatic childhood excursion to seek her father, a wandering traditional musician from Donegal who vanished after Tracey's birth. Now, as Tracey tries to thread a path through the dangerous criminal underbelly of a drug-ridden city, primed to explode, the answers to her questions about herself, her lost father and Luke's ultimate motives become gradually and terrifying intertwined.
In this psychological thriller, Dermot Bolger has fashioned a portrait of a young woman's search for truth in a sea of moral ambuguity, where she can be certain of nothing, least of all her own feelings.
- 1987 and 1991: The Woman’s Daughter
- 1992: Emily’s Shoes
- 1994: A Second Life
- 2000: Temptation
- 2007: The Valparaiso Voyage
- 2005: The Family on Paradise Pier (a story about Brian Goold-Verschoyle)
- 2010: New Town Soul
- 2012: The Fall of Ireland
- 2015: Tanglewood
- 2016: The Lonely Sea and Sky (a coming of age novel about the wartime rescue by the Irish ship, The MV Kerlogue)
- 2018: An Ark of Light (this standalone novel tells the story of the later half of the life of Eva Fitzgerald - née Goold-Verschoyle - the central figure in Bolger's 2005 novel, The Family on Paradise Pier.
- 2020: Secrets Never Told. Bolger’s first and only collection of short stories, one of them close to novella length. His publishers called them stories that “delve under the veneer of our lives, delve into the secrets that bind relationships together or tears them apart, and create worlds where people discover how nothing about their past is truly certain.” In far shorter original shorter versions, many were initially broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
(Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in literature" article.)
- 1989: The Lament for Arthur Cleary
- 1990: Blinded by the Light
- 1990: In High Germany
- 1990: The Holy Ground
- 1991: One Last White Horse
- 1994: A Dublin Bloom
- 1995: April Bright
- 1999: The Passion of Jerome
- 2000: Consenting Adults
- 2004: A Dublin Bloom (full production - Chicago)
- 2005: From these Green Heights
- 2006: The Townlands of Brazil
- 2007: Walking the Road
- 2008: The Consequences of Lightning
- 2010: The Parting Glass* (This stand-alone play is a follow-up, 20 years on, about the life of Eoin, the emigrant narrator of Bolger's earlier play, In High Germany.)
- 2012: Tea Chests and Dreams
- 2012: Ulysses: a stage adaptation of James Joyce's novel (Produced by the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, which toured Scotland and China)
- 2017: Ulysses: a revised and expanded stage adaption of Joyce's novel (Premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, as part of the 2017 Dublin Theatre Festival, Oct 2017)
- 2017: Bang Bang
- 2019: Last Orders at the Dockside Staged by the Abbey Theatre as part of the 2019 Dublin Theatre Festival
- 2020: A Hand of Jacks A Monologue commissioned by the Abbey Theatre as part of a national response to the coronavirus, entitled Dear Ireland where they asked fifty playwrights to each write one monologue and nominate an actor who would self-tape their performances from social isolation. Bolger’s play was performed by Dawn Bradfield
(Each year links to its corresponding "[year] in poetry" article.)
- 1980: The Habit of Flesh, Raven Arts Press
- 1981: Finglas Lilies, Raven Arts Press
- 1982: No Waiting America, Raven Arts Press
- 1986: Internal Exiles, Dublin: Dolmen
- 1989: Leinster Street Ghosts, Raven Arts Press
- 1998: Taking my Letters Back, Dublin: New Island Books
- 2004: The Chosen Moment, Dublin: New Island Books
- 2008: External Affairs, Dublin: New Island Books, 80 pages. ISBN 978-1-84840-028-3
- 2012: The Venice Suite: A Voyage Through Loss, Dublin: New Island Books.
- 2015: That Which is Suddenly Precious: New & Selected Poems, Dublin: New Island Books.
- Alain Mouchel-Vallon, "La réécriture de l'histoire dans les Romans de Roddy Doyle, Dermot Bolger et Patrick McCabe" (PhD thesis, 2005, Reims University, France).
- Damien Shortt, "The State of the Nation: Paradigms of Irishness in the Drama and Fiction of Dermot Bolger" (PhD thesis, 2006, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Ireland).
- Ryan, Ray. Ireland and Scotland: Literature and Culture, State and Nation, 1966–2000. Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Paschel, Ulrike: No Mean City?: the image of Dublin in the novels of Dermot Bolger, Roddy Doyle and Val Mulkerns. Frankfurt am Main [u.a.]: Lang, 1998. – X, 170 S. (Aachen British and American studies; 1). ISBN 3-631-33530-X
- Merriman, Vic: "Staging contemporary Ireland: heartsickness and hopes deferred". In: Shaun Richards (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004; pp. 244–257 (On The Lament for Arthur Cleary, 1989).
- Murphy, Paul: "Inside the immigrant mind : nostalgic versus nomadic subjectivities in late twentieth-century Irish drama". In: Australasian Drama Studies, 43 (October 2003), pp. 128–147 (On A Dublin Quartet).
- Tew, Philip: "The lexicon of youth in Mac Laverty, Bolger, and Doyle: Theorizing contemporary Irish fiction via Lefebvre's Tenth Prelude". In: Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies, 5:1 (1999), pp. 181–197.
- Harte, Liam: "A kind of scab: Irish identity in the writings of Dermot Bolger and Joseph O'Connor". In: Irish Studies Review, 20 (1997 autumn), pp. 17–22.
- MacCarthy, Conor: "Ideology and geography in Dermot Bolger's The Journey Home". In: Irish University Review, 27:1 (1997 Spring-Summer), pp. 98–110.
- Merriman, Vic: "Centring the wanderer: Europe as active imaginary in contemporary Irish theatre". In: Irish University Review: a journal of Irish studies, 27:1 (1997 Spring-Summer), pp. 166–181 (On The Lament for Arthur Cleary).
- Aragay, Mireia: "Reading Dermot Bolger's The Holy Ground: national identity, gender and sexuality in post-colonial Ireland". In: Links and Letters, 4 (1997), pp. 53–64.
- Turner, Tramble T.: "Staging signs of gender". In: John Deely (ed.), Semiotics 1994: Annual proceedings volumes of the Semiotic Society of America. 19. New York: Lang, 1995. pp. 335–344 (On The Lament for Arthur Cleary, 1989).
- Dantanus, Ulf.: "Antæus in Dublin?" In: Moderna språk (97:1), 2003, pp. 37–52.
- Battaglia, Alberto.: Dublino: oltre Joyce. Milan: Unicopli, 2002. pp. 130 (Città letterarie).
- Dumay, Émile-Jean.: "Dermot Bolger dramaturge". In: Études irlandaises (27:1) 2002, pp. 79–92.
- Dumay, Émile-Jean.: "La subversion de la nostalgie dans The Lament for Arthur Cleary de Dermot Bolger". In: Études irlandaises (21:2) 1996, pp. 111–23.
- Fiérobe, Claude: "Irlande et Europe 1990: The Journey Home de Dermot Bolger". In: Études irlandaises (19:2) 1994, pp. 41–49.
- Kearney, Colbert: "Dermot Bolger and the dual carriageway". In: Études irlandaises (19:2), 1994, pp. 25–39.
- Shortt, Damien: "A River Runs Through It: Irish History in Contemporary Fiction, Dermot Bolger and Roddy Doyle". In: Paddy Lyons; Alison O'Malley-Younger (eds), No Country for Old Men: Fresh Perspectives on Irish Literature. Frankfurt am Main [u.a.] Oxford u.a.: Lang, 2009. pp. 123–141 (Reimagining Ireland; 4).
- Murphy, Paula: "From Ballymun to Brazil: Bolger's Postmodern Ireland". In: Eamon Maher ... (eds), Modernity and Postmodernity in a Franco-Irish Context. Frankfurt am Main [u.a.]: Lang, 2008. pp. 161–178 (Studies in Franco-Irish Relations; 2).
- Shortt, Damien: "Dermot Bolger: Gender Performance and Society". In: Paula Murphy... (eds), New Voices in Irish literary Criticism. Lewiston, N.Y.; Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 2007. pp. 151–166.
- Brihault, Jean: "Dermot Bolger, romancier de la mondialisation?" In: Yann Bévant ... (eds), Issues of Globalisation and Secularisation in France and Ireland. Frankfurt, M. [u.a.]: Lang, 2009. pp. 101–122 (Studies in Franco-Irish Relations; 3).
- Wald, Christina: "Dermot Bolger". In: Martin Middeke (ed.), The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary Irish Playwrights, London: Methuen Drama, 2010. pp. 19–36.
- Shortt, Damien: "Who put the ball in the English net: the privatisation of Irish postnationalism in Dermot Bolger's In High Germany". In: Irene Gilsenan Nordin; Carmen Zamorano Llena (eds), Redefinitions of Irish identity: a postnationalist approach. Frankfurt, M. [u.a.]: Lang, 2010. pp. 103–124 (Cultural identity studies; 12).
- Imhof, Rüdiger: "Dermot Bolger". In: The Modern Irish Novel: Irish Novelists after 1945. Rüdiger Imhof. Dublin : Wolfhound Press, 2002. pp. 267–285.
- Murphy, Paula: "Scattering us like seed: Dermot Bolger's postnationalist Ireland". In: Irene Gilsenan Nordin; Carmen Zamorano Llena (eds), Redefinitions of Irish Identity: a postnationalist approach. Frankfurt, M. [u.a.]: Lang, 2010. pp. 181–199 (Cultural identity studies; 12).
- Schreiber, Mark: "Playing it out – football and Irishness in contemporary Irish drama". In: Sandra Mayer; Julia Novak; Margarete Rubik (eds), Ireland in Drama, Film, and Popular Culture : Festschrift for Werner Huber. Trier: WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verl. Trier, 2012. pp. 83–89.
- Murphy, Paula: " 'Marooned men in foreign cities': encounters with the Other in Dermot Bolger's The Ballymun Trilogy". In: Pilar Villar-Argáiz (ed), Literary visions of multicultural Ireland: The immigrant in contemporary Irish literature. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014. pp. 151–162.
- Salis, Loredana: "Goodnight and joy be with you all: tales of contemporary Dublin city life". In: Pilar Villar-Argáiz (ed), Literary visions of multicultural Ireland: The immigrant in contemporary Irish literature. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014. pp. 243–254.
- Schrage-Früh, Michaela: "Like a foreigner / in my native land: transculturality and Otherness in twenty-first-century Irish poetry". In: Pilar Villar-Argáiz (ed), Literary visions of multicultural Ireland: The immigrant in contemporary Irish literature. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014. pp. 163–175.
- Mikowski, Sylvie: "Dermot Bolger et la Raven Arts Press: A loose coalition for change". In: Genet, Jacqueline (ed), Le livre en Irlande: l'imprimé en contexte. Caen: Presses Univ. de Caen, 2006. pp. 137–146.
- O'Brien, Cormac: "Unblessed Amongst Women: Performing Patriarchy Without Men in Contemporary Irish Theatre". In: Christopher Collins; Mary P. Caulfield (eds), Ireland, Memory and Performing the Historical Imagination. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. pp. 190–195.
- Grene, Nicholas: "Snapshots : A year in the life of a theatre judge". In: Donald E. Morse (ed), Irish theatre in transition : from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. pp. 175–176.
- Müller, Sonja: Von der georgianischen Ära bis zum Zeitalter des keltischen Tigers: der Wandel der Stadtdarstellung im Dublinroman. Berlin: Lit, 2015. – pp. 263–285 (Erlanger Studien zur Anglistik und Amerikanistik; 16). ISBN 978-3-643-13008-2
- Kilroy, Claire: "Dermot Bolger: Tanglewood". In: Times Literary Supplement (5857) 2015, pp. 26.
- Phillips, Terry: Irish Literature and the First World War: Culture, Identity and Memory. Frankfurt am Main [u.a.] Oxford u.a.: Lang, 2015. pp. 255–260, 261 (Reimagining Ireland; 72). ISBN 978-3-0343-1969-0 (On Walking the Road).
- Hanrahan, Anna: Narrating the Ballymun Experience in Dermot Bolger's Ballymun Trilogy. Trier : Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2016. pp. 99–114 (Irish Studies in Europe; 7). ISBN 978-3-86821-652-3.
Portrait of Dermot Bolger by Olivier Favier https://www.flickr.com/photos/olivierfavier/3795820756/