One Irishman's journey from addict to literary star
Colin Broderick has cleaned up his act and written a searing new book about his life
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.
“If you were Irish back then you held a get out of jail for free card. I remember being stopped driving a van one day -- it had no front window, no license, no insurance, no registration, no mirrors, no working lights and a policeman pulled me over.
“He put his hand though the window to shake my hand and started laughing. We did the whole, ‘Where are you from? My parents are from Kerry.’ He told me to get it off the road and let me go. There was a lot more Irish on the police force back then. You could get away with murder back then.”
Writers often leave a string of untidy love affairs behind them, and in this Broderick doesn’t disappoint. Wife number one was Mary Ann, when Broderick was 24.
“Basically we were fighting and killing each other and we decided in our wisdom that perhaps if we got married we wouldn’t fight so much. We went off to the courthouse, got married, went for pizza, and resumed fighting worse than ever. We stayed married for four or five months,” he says.
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