- 12 Apr 21
A memoir of Dunne's experience of growing up in Dublin, 'Goodbye to the Hill', was an instant bestseller and scandalised the country with its brutally honest portrayal of sex and alcohol.
Renowned Irish author and playwright Lee Dunne has died following a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 86.
Christopher Lee Dunne was born in 1934, the fourth of seven children born to Mick and Katy Dunne of Mount Pleasant Buildings, a tenement slum in the area known in Ranelagh as “The Hill".
His most widely-known novel, 1965's Goodbye to the Hill, sold more than a million copies and was subsequently adapted into a long-running play in Dublin.
The bestseller held frank depictions of sex and alcohol at a time when such subject matter was still taboo.
When Goodbye to the Hill was published, divorce, homosexuality and contraception were illegal in Ireland, an unmarried woman was likely not able to keep her baby and no woman had the right to choose.
Dunne later wrote radio scripts and plays for RTÉ, including Harbour Hotel - set in the fishing village of Kilmahon - and Convenience Corner. He wrote around 2,000 radio scripts and plays for RTE during the course of his prolific career.
His second novel, 1968's semi-autobiographical A Bed in the Sticks, documented his time as a touring entertainer. His 1972 novel Paddy Maguire Is Dead was banned for alleged obscenity by the Irish government that year.
Dunne is survived by his wife Maura and his children from his first marriage: Sarah, Peter and Jonathan.
Speaking of his father’s early childhood, his son Peter said: “Born in to what was at that time a place of appalling poverty and squalor, Dunne quickly learned to live on his wits. He began working on a milk round at the age of five, devotedly offering up his meagre earnings to his mother for the housekeeping jar.
“Later he would also get a paper round as well as a job as a delivery boy for a local butcher.
“Yet in spite of these tough circumstances, Dunne always remembered his upbringing fondly, as a time when people looked out for one another. His particular joy was the cinema where Roy Rogers soon became his personal hero. His father worked for the ESB at Poolbeg Station while his beloved mother, Katy, did her best to keep the family fed and clothed.”
A 2022 revival of Goodbye to the Hill will feature a script penned by the best-selling Irish author and playwright Eoin Colfer.
Dunne was also well-acquainted with of the greatest Irish writers of our time, such as Behan and Flann O’Brien. Dunne was a talented singer and he worked with Luke Kelly on numerous occasions.
Speaking to Hot Press' Jackie Hayden back in 2006, Dunne remarked that his most prized possession was a first edition of Goodbye To The Hill.
“It’s a copy I gave to my mother in 1965. She wasn’t totally enamoured with my writing, actually. So she loaned it to the man who used to collect her insurance money every week to put away a few bob for the funeral. But about a year ago, 40 years later, I got it back and it’s in pristine condition too. No matter where I go I’ll always want this book with me. It’s very precious to me.”
Read the full interview, celebrating the re-publication of Paddy Maguire is Dead, here.
Tributes poured in from Irish literary and cultural figures today following the news.
"A few years ago there was a minor crash outside my home," musician Fiachna Ó Braonáin tweeted.
"I ran out to a silver haired man emerging from his car, swept up the broken glass & made sure he was ok. A home baked apple tart arrived next day from Lee & Maura, a kindness I’ll never forget.. RIP."
Irish Times bestselling author Sheila Forsey also paid her respects, along with Martin Doyle, Irish Times book editor.
I read- Goodbye To The Hill- recently as research for a new book. Beautiful, poignant, heartbreaking but told with a dash of unique humour. So sad to hear of the authors passing. RIP Lee Dunne. Thank you for the beautiful words. #amwriting #writerslife pic.twitter.com/ZZIpOfFEYr
— Sheila Forsey (@SheilaForsey) April 12, 2021
Lee Dunne RIP. A lovely man who I got to know a bit as he lived locally. Proudly described himself as the most banned author in Ireland. Glad to see a revival of Goodbye to the Hill is planned for 2022 with a script by Eoin Colfer. https://t.co/WBqwi8RwS2
— Martin Doyle (@MartinDoyleIT) April 12, 2021
Goodbye to Lee Dunne. I'd almost forgotten about this book. I got to share a cover byline once with my old friend Lee Dunne, who has just sadly passed away. It was a great kick back then in the mid-noughties, and it’s an even bigger one tonight. RIP #LeeDunne . pic.twitter.com/PnFPqXaBdR
— 𝕁𝕒𝕤𝕠𝕟 𝕆’𝕋𝕠𝕠𝕝𝕖 (@jasonotoolereal) April 11, 2021
Very sad to hear of the passing of #LeeDunne
His work provided a lot of work for actors, myself included @IrishEquity
Plus he kept me well fed in rehearsals with his deluxe bread pudding!
Deepest condolences to his beloved Maura & childrenhttps://t.co/saY7EAjbg6
— Patricia Kennedy (@Patricia_K_irl) April 11, 2021