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STORY BEHIND THE BOOK

Remembering an Irish childhood in ‘Walking With Ghosts’

DAVID WILSON FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Sometimes, a memoir comes when you least expect it. It happened that way for the actor Gabriel Byrne. “To be absolutely honest I didn’t intend to write it. I know that sounds crazy,” he said. He was preparing for a film role, and began writing thoughts about his life and childhood. “It began as just scraps of memories,” he said. “It was a surprise to me that I remembered so much in such vivid detail.”

The result is “Walking With Ghosts,” a lyrical and moving memoir about both his life as an actor and his Irish childhood. Although Byrne doesn’t subscribe much to the idea of an Irish sensibility — “a lot of the things we tend to think of as national characteristics are actually universal traits,” he said — he does allow that “there is something about coming from a small island that induces a certain way of thinking about the world.” Others who grew up in Ireland in his generation, he added, will no doubt find points of similarity.

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Byrne said it won’t be his last book. “I’m working on a novel at the moment. I learned a lot from writing the memoir,” he said. Acting and writing are “two very, very different disciplines,” he added. “Acting is a collaborative experience, whereas with writing it’s a solitary kind of occupation: nobody can write that thing for you. You’re part of a team in a film or a play, whereas the writing part drives on a very different part of the artistic process.”

Still, both rely on a willingness to confront one’s vulnerabilities. “I think that’s part of the process,” Byrne said. “If I go on stage or on a film I always feel tremendously vulnerable as well. You have to trust that vulnerability as being a signpost to something. If you didn’t feel any vulnerability I don’t know what the point of it would be.”

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Byrne will be in conversation with the writer Colum McCann at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store.


Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.