He is a greatly admired figure and, unusually in Ireland, I haven't met anyone who doesn't like him
History and family fuse in the work of the hot tip for this year's Booker
Friday September 12 2008
For Barry, reclaiming lost family voices and using them to explore facets of Irish history and troubled pasts is a recurring theme. His latest book, The Secret Scripture, about a 100-year-old woman who has "disappeared" into a mental hospital, is entwined with Barry's own personal family narrative.
Barry's work is filled with examples of ancestry. The play Our Lady of Sligo, based on stories about his grandmother, caused a rift between Barry and his grandfather, who refused to speak to him again. Another play, Prayers of Sherkin, is partly based on a poem written to his great-grandmother about her membership of a Protestant sect, an embarrassing family secret that Barry wasn't supposed to know.
Born in Dublin to an architect father and Joan O'Hara, a well-known Irish actor, Barry grew up in a large, 19th-century house by the sea. It was an isolated household. His mother was often away performing. Other performers in his family included his aunt, a soprano singer and harpist. While his grandfather on his mother's side was a major in the British army, his paternal grandfather was a fervent nationalist.