One Irishman's journey from addict to literary star


Some people live life as though it’ll never end. They start out innocently enough, heaven knows, just a night out at the pub, then off to a club, until soon they’re out every night burning the candle at both ends and smoking the middle.

It’s an exhilarating way to live -- for a while -- but oh, the come down is excruciating. So painful, in fact, that for many Irish lads who still live like this the only option seems to be to start the cycle all over again before you notice what you’ve been up to the week before, trading one sweet oblivion for another.

Writer Colin Broderick, 41, knows all about it. A veteran of almost two decades of drink and class A drugs, he knows what it’s like to wake up after a total blackout.

He’s been to prison for DWI, and he’s even fermented his own prison hooch while banged up to keep his hand in while he was off the streets . . . and sure enough he’s started the whole self-destructive cycle over again the moment he was released.

It’s a mad way to live, he’d be the first to tell you, but for years it was the only way he knew how. And now he’s written all about it in “Orangutan,” a highly touted new book which will be released in December by Three Rivers press, a division of Random House. 

Equally impressive, Broderick is repped by one of New York’s top literary agents, Jane Dystel of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Dystel was also the agent for Barack Obama when he released his first best-selling book, “Dreams From My Father.”

“Orangutan,” this columnist’s pick for the book of the year, which can be preordered on, tells Broderick’s story in unflinching detail, sparing everyone except himself in a story that’s so vividly written that at times you feel like you’ve living it alongside him.

Asked what he remembers from the lost years (lost decades, in fact), he tells IrishCentral’s sister publication the Irish Voice, “It’s always been strange to me that we have this stigma around drug use, and meanwhile people are staggering down the streets and falling in front of traffic and somehow that’s okay. It’s bizarre that it’s accepted as a social norm when guys who are also involved with drugs are suspect, you know?”

Drugs were always easy to find. And there was no shortage of young Irish lads looking to score some.

Cocaine, for example, may be the drug of choice for Wall Street tycoons, but quite a few Irish carpenters and construction workers like to add it to their nights out too.

“I think it’s absolute escapism. The generation I came over with 20 years ago wasn’t just leaving, they were fleeing Ireland. Not just the country and the weather but also total repression.

“The chance to drink and do drugs was in a way painkillers. We consumed them in great quantities. There was also just so much money so we could afford to do anything we wanted; $400 or $500 a week back 20 years ago added up. I couldn’t drink $500 in a week. And I tried.”

An Irish night out for Broderick in the 1990s often looked like this: “On any given night of the week you’d have some Irish lad passed out on the bar floor. Out cold. They’d always prop him up to prevent him choking on his own vomit. That was how it was back then.

“And there’d be people standing around in groups socializing right next to him. It was as if they couldn’t see him or there was nothing remarkable about it. And when he woke up he’d start drinking again. And I’d do the same.”

Raised in the tiny village of Sixmilecross in County Tyrone, Broderick’s book starts when he arrives in New York City at the age of 21, omitting all the details about his childhood and background. It’s an intentional choice; Broderick only wants to talk about what happened to him after he arrived in the U.S.

“Things back home were pretty bleak, we never had any money and things were pretty rough in that area with the Troubles,” says Broderick.

“The publishers asked me if I would give details about my childhood but I didn’t give them anything at all. We grew up under such a veil of secrecy, we were taught not to speak, not to tell our own story.”

A few years before his arrival in the U.S. he’d been in London drinking and dealing drugs and being, he says, “a general f*** up.” So much so that he had to get out of town.

“At the time I was bouncing from London to Northern Ireland every few months, and the political situation had gotten so bad. It was just after the Loughgall massacre (when eight members of the IRA were gunned down) and I wound up going to three of the wakes in one day. These were young guys I knew. and that was the impetus I needed to get out of town and start afresh.”

When he stepped off the plane at JFK in New York it was the first time in his life he’d ever felt free to be himself. But like many people back then, he was undocumented for years.