2 minutes with… Paul Duffy

Paul Duffy is one of Ireland’s leading field archaeologists, directing digs across the globe. He has published and lectured widely on this work, and has edited the volumes From Carrickfergus to Carcassonne—Hugh de Lacy and the Cathar Crusade (2018) and Ireland and the Crusades (2022). His debut novel was published just last week – Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound (Cennan Books) brings together the literary and historical strands of Paul’s writing to create an engaging historical narrative that immerses the reader in the nature, environment and turmoil of twelfth century Ireland.
What came first for you – archaeology or writing? And how well do they compliment each other? 
Hard to untangle that one…apart from the fact that archaeology, in essence, is storytelling, I wrote my first, published short story while at college in Galway…studying archaeology. Stepping back further, a childhood full of ruins and mounds was woven through with the books of Morgan Llywelyn and Michael Scott, to the extent that I’m not quite sure where one starts and the other ends. In both fiction and archaeology, there is a need to explore and communicate complexity in a way that can be grasped and hopefully absorbed. In that sense, archaeology and literature are layers in the same stratigraphic sequence…if you can forgive that analogy!
Your book is set in both Meath and medieval Dublin and features detailed descriptions of locations and landmarks, what parts of medieval Dublin are still identifiable today? 
The book is set in the1170s and in the strict sense of the built landscape, all that survives above ground from that time are certain parts of Christ Church Cathedral, some of the fragments of the city walls that can be seen at Lamb Alley and the Civic Offices and maybe some parts of the foundations of Dublin Castle. There have been dramatic changes across Dublin in the intervening centuries with rivers being culverted, valleys being infilled and the banks of the  Liffey reclaimed , narrowing the river considerably. Medieval levels do survive in places across the city centre at a depth of roughly 2m below the modern ground. Recently, I led an excavation on Aungier Street that uncovered the cellar of a medieval house –  now on display in a supermarket shopfloor. Built and occupied by Dubliners from around 1080 to 1120, this is currently the oldest piece of architecture visible in the city.
Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound and some of your earlier work heavily feature Norman Knights and in particular Hugh De Lacy. What is the fascination with Hugh? 
I unexpectedly met Hugh de Lacy almost 20 years ago in a library on a backstreet in Toulouse. For my part, I was researching the medieval fortifications of that city during the crusade against the Cathars, while he was leading a charge against the walls! My research into how he ended up in the pages of a medieval Occitan poem, his exile from Ireland and his years as a crusader lord unearthed a story I’ve been writing about ever since. Having published on these fascinating events in academic books, journals and conferences, I was drawn to explore the possibility of telling the story in a different, more compelling way – giving rise to the novel, which has, I suppose, ended up as a kind of ‘origin story’. 
Apart from your own walking tour, what Dublin Book Festival events are you looking forward to? 
A: There are so many fantastic events that it is hard to narrow it down. Perhaps predictably, I’m really looking forward to Donal Fallon’s walking tour which is guaranteed to conjure unexpected life and incident from the winter streets. As a writer of short fiction, I will be making for the front row for the Literary Journal Movement event with Sean Hayes, Laura Cassidy and Tara McEvoy who will be discussing and representing Ireland’s incredibly vibrant literary journal scene. I am also drawn to the Iveagh Gardens Wellness Walk with Jane Clarke and James Mahon and also the Spoken Word at Sea event with Dagogo Hart, Samuel Yakura and Emmet O’Brien, which is sure to be a sensory and evocative voyage in many varied ways.
Paul will be hosting a walking tour at Dublin Book Festival which will begin in the heart of old Dublin before walking a trail that will feature the likes of Christchurch Cathedral, St Audeon’s Church, Dublin Castle, the old city walls and more, while learning about the magnificent and historic places that inspired him to write his book.