Hugo Hamilton (born Johannes Ó Húrmoltaigh; Dublin, Ireland, 1953) is an Irish journalist and writer. His first three novels were set in Central Europe. Then came Headbanger (1996), a darkly comic crime novel set in Dublin and featuring detective Pat Coyne. A sequel, Sad Bastard, followed in 1998.
Following a year spent in Berlin on a cultural scholarship, he completed his memoir of childhood, The Speckled People (2003), which went on to achieve widespread international acclaim. Telling the story through the eyes of his childhood self, it painfully evoked the struggle to make sense of a bizarre adult world. It also deals extensively with issues of identity, language and ethnicity, sparked by the fact that Hamilton’s father was a militant nationalist who insisted that his children should speak only German (their mother’s native tongue) or Irish, but not English, a prohibition the young Hugo resisted inwardly. “The prohibition against English made me see that language as a challenge. Even as a child I spoke to the walls in English and secretly rehearsed dialogue I heard outside,” he later wrote in the essay Speaking to the Walls in English, published on Powells.com. As a consequence of this, Hamilton grew up with three languages – English, Irish and German – and a sense of never really belonging to any: “There were no other children like me, no ethnic groups that I could attach myself to”.
In 1992 he was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. Sang impur, the French translation of The Speckled People, won the Prix Femina Etranger in 2004 and Il cane che abbaiava alle onde, the Italian translation of the memoir, won the Premio Giuseppe Berto in 2004.
Major Awards and Honors
Rooney Prize for Irish Literature
Prix Femina Étranger
- 2004: “The Speckled People”
- Surrogate City (1990)
- The Last Shot (1991)
- The Love Test (1995)
- Headbanger (1996)
- Sad Bastard (1998)
- Sucking Diesel (2006)
- Disguise (2008)
- Hand in the Fire (2010)
- Every Single Minute (2014)
- Dublin Palms (2019)
Short Story Collections
- Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow (1996)
- Finbar’s Hotel (1997)
- Yeats Is Dead! (2002)
- The Speckled People (2003)
– Based on Hamilton’s memoir of the same name.
- The Mariner (2014)
- The Speckled People (2003)
- The Sailor in the Wardrobe (2006)
– American title: The Harbor Boys
A Selection of Quotes
The Speckled People: A Memoir of a Half-Irish Childhood
“Maybe your country is only a place you make up in your own mind. Something you dream about and sing about. Maybe it’s not a place on the map at all, but just a story full of people you meet and places you visit, full of books and films you’ve been to. I’m not afraid of being homesick and having no language to live in. I don’t have to be like anyone else. I’m walking on the wall and nobody can stop me.”
The Sailor in the Wardrobe
“Maybe you have to live under cover for a while before you can find your true character.”
“People say you’re born innocent, but it’s not true. You inherit all kinds of things that you can do nothing about. You inherit your identity, your history, like a birthmark that you can’t wash off. … We are born with our heads turned back, but my mother says we have to face into the future now. You have to earn your own innocence, she says. You have to grow up and become innocent.”
Find more quotes by Hugo Hamilton on Goodreads.