It is Ireland in the 1960s and Paddy Clarke is a young boy that adores doing typically childlike things with his chums in Barrytown. They are rather rambunctious and pestilential, bullies to others. The gang leader, Kevin, as we learn from Paddy, is a person whose dislike you do not wish to ignite, therefore Paddy makes great efforts to stay chummy with him.
Paddy is a naturally bright boy, however, and makes great efforts to pursue his interests, especially those in history.
Paddy lives with his parents, his brother, Sinbad, real name being Francis, and two sisters. Paddy is often in arguments with Sinbad but the family is generally happy. Their parents are also warm to one another but are not unknown to quibble. On a trip to Dollymount Strand for a picnic, the weather takes a turn and this induces Paddy’s parents to argue.
We are then transported back in Paddy’s memory to his earlier childhood and the relationship between his parents, one of great love and affection, serving to contrast with the cooling feelings of the present.
The antics of the boys in Kevin’s gang get more and more concerning, with shoplifting and vandalism being a main event. Kevin takes pleasure in having the gang hurt one another but he never has them harm him. The gang is caught shoplifting by Paddy’s mother and his father beats him with a belt as punishment.
Paddy notices his parents fighting one day, more violently than usual, and feels like he can be the key to sorting out their relationship issues. He feels that, if he were to study more, he could be around his parents more often and perhaps be the calming eye of their storm. Paddy’s plans do not work and their parents persist to fight.
He tries to find consolation and perhaps advice from his brother, Sinbad, but he instead only comments on the situation as being unfixable. After this saddening news, Paddy loses his interest in his earlier gang escapades and instead stays home. All escalates when Paddy hears his father hit his mother, something that confuses him as he feels protective of his mother but cannot hate his father. He cannot comprehend how, though he may love them both, they may not love each other.
His mother falls into a depression, forcing Mr. Clarke to get the boys ready for school as she hasn’t gotten up. Some time later, after Paddy has worried so much to fall asleep in class after not sleeping, consulting Kevin for information about whether his parents fight, and attempting to build more bridges to his brother, he witnesses his father come home drunk.
One day, after school, Paddy and Kevin have a fight and Paddy then realises that he has changed, falling from the bully to the bullied. However, this does not persuade Paddy to rejoin Kevin’s gang and he carries on with his academic mission, eventually finding himself in the advanced portion of the class.
Paddy then tries to go to sleep, listening to the sounds of his parents arguing. He silently hopes that they will stop and their animosity will extinguish. His hopes are dashed, however, when he witnesses his father hitting his mother.
His father then leaves, never to return, and Paddy is forced to become the man of the house.
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
Roddy Doyle’s Booker Prize-winning novel describes the world of ten-year-old Paddy Clarke, growing up in Barrytown, north Dublin. From fun and adventure on the streets, boredom in the classroom to increasing isolation at home, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is the story of a boy who sees everything but understands less and less.