Mr Clarke (Da)

Supportive father

Mr Clarke is encouraging and loving towards Paddy, supporting him in his reading and curiosity about the world - "That’s the stuff, said my da.”

He has fun with the children, such as when he pretends to be the voice of Santa Claus and when he takes them for a spin in the car.

Sometimes he is a good role model. For example, it is through his frequent watching of the news that the boys become informed about politics and global issues.

He seems to like interacting with his children and spends time teaching Paddy about the science of fingerprints and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Today fathers are often as involved in the upbringing of their children as mothers. But this was not always the case in the 1960s, especially in a very traditional society such as Ireland.

It is when Mr Clarke lies about the autograph in Paddy’s George Best book that we see a turning point in their relationship.

Perhaps Doyle uses this incident to show the inevitable moment in a child’s life when they realise their father is just a normal man with flaws, rather than the idealised figure they believed him to be in childhood.

The problems in his parents’ relationship - and Mr Clarke’s violence towards Mrs Clarke - have Paddy so angry and frustrated that he imagines his father’s funeral.

Despite this, at the end of the novel Paddy ends up deciding "I didn’t really want him to die or anything else; he was my da”.

It is the growing up he does in the novel that makes Paddy realise the complexities of love.


Mr Clarke’s moods are often unpredictable. When we first meet him he is showing Paddy how to find fingerprints using a magnifying glass, and our initial impression of their relationship is one of closeness.

There is a sense of intimacy when Paddy gives a vivid description of his father’s hands while watching him read a book.

He observes that “His nails were clean - except for one - and the white bits at the top were longer than mine.”

While we develop a positive impression of how Mr Clarke interacts with his family, he spends a lot more time with his sons than his daughters.

He and Paddy have the most interaction in the novel. But this is perhaps because the girls are infants, and were seen as the mother’s responsibility.

As the novel progresses we discover a darker side to Mr Clarke.

He is very dismissive when Paddy comes home with his sports medal, and later on Paddy uses a violent metaphor to describe how his father “kept stabbing at her [his mother] with his face and his words”.

Paddy is never quite sure when he arrives home or meets his father what mood he will be in.

Short tempered

While we see many occasions where Mr Clarke is a kind supportive father, he can also be very short-tempered. This becomes more frequent as the novel progresses.

Perhaps Doyle is showing us that Mr Clarke increasingly resents the busy family life he has helped create.

When he takes the family out for the day in his new car, we sense his tension through profanities such as “Jesus Christ”.

Tension also comes through in the repeated use of exclamation marks in lines such as “I’ll swing you from one of the trees if you don’t sit down out of my light!”

His physical attacks on his wife finally condemn his character.

Their fights become more frequent and eventually Paddy - protective of his mother’s safety - attempts to stay awake all night.

The scene when Mr Clarke hits Mrs Clarke for the first time is shocking for the reader. This is due to Doyle’s dramatic short sentences and emphatic repetition.

He writes, “He’d hit her. Across the face; smack. I tried to imagine it. It’ didn’t make sense. I’d heard it; he’d hit her.”

Of course Paddy - as the first-person narrator - feels the shock expressed in Doyle’s language.

It is Mr Clarke’s temper which eventually ruins the family.

Paddy’s final interaction with his father is stilted and lacks the intimacy of their relationship at the beginning of the novel.