John McGahern 1934-2006

Via Copernicus at The Midnight Court. The accclaimed Irish writer John McGahern has died. The Irish Times report simply relates that he died suddenly today in Dublin’s Mater Hospital. As previously noted here, his second novel The Dark fell foul of the censor in 1960s Ireland, an experience he describes in this Observer extract from his auto-biographical Memoir, published last year. Still online is the RTÉ Rattlebag interview with John McGahern[RealPlayer audio] reading from Memoir and talking about his life and work. Update Via Sinéad RTÉ has additional tributes


  • foreign correspondent

    There was a discussion not so long ago on Slugger about the merits of McGahern as a writer.
    I can only say that Amongst Women is one of the best Irish novels I have ever read.
    May he rest in peace.

  • Pete Baker

    From the Rattlebag interview, a wonderful comment by John McGahern –

    “No book is finished until it is read.”

  • There’s an interview from the Boston Globe published two weeks ago here, which refers to his treatment for cancer.

    Boston Globe article

    If you flick through each page more than once, you’ll be required to register.

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks copernicus.. I do find it strange though that RTE et al feel obliged not to mention that.

  • One who read The Dark

    Ar dheis De go raibh a h-anam dilis

  • RmcC

    I never thought much of his writing but he gave pleasure to a lot of people. Rest in peace, John

  • P Ring

    The very best of Irish writers. A human and humane man and a wise voice amidst the facile chatterers. I’ve read everything by him at least once and was lucky enough to see him read and talk about his work. It’s very sad.

  • I remember being in college many years ago, and I had subscribed to a book club for two old pounds, receiving four books in return, and subsequently ignoring their please for continued donations (guilty m’lud). One was Amongst Women, and, perhaps surprisingly, a first edition. I had read it (and indeed had to read it for my degree), and I have to say it was a little dark for my liking.

    In any case, I subsequently sold the book to the now departed Kenny’s book shop for twenty old pounds when in a state of extreme penury. Some food, cigarettes, and cheap cider later, and I was a very happy man indeed. I retain therefore a fond memory of John McGahern, if perhaps an unconventional one…

  • Tochais Siorai

    He always remained very close to his roots and was a popular and well-liked figure in his locality. He brought literature to houses it hadn’t frequented too much previously and his novels were always scanned minutely to see if anybody local had been portrayed in some way.

    A good guy who wasn’t bitter even if had reason to be.

    Tá ár laoch imithe ach beidh sé linn go deo.

  • Rory

    He was most certainly regarded as one of the finest novelists writing in the English language (and justifiably so to my mind). Ireland has not such a plentitude of great writers that she can afford to lose one of such greatness.

    May he rest in peace.

  • missfitz

    When I met John McGahern, I was struck by his great simplicity. I was in awe of him as a writer, and was delighted to be in his company.
    However, he went on to tell me he was a sheep farmer. This intrigued me and I asked how many sheep he had.

    He looked at me, sadly shook he head and said that question was the same as asking a man how much money he had in the bank and very indelicate.

    I was chastened!

    His visit to ROstrevor and his readings here will remain a great memory of a magnificent writer.

    May he rest in peace

  • RmcC

    They asked Seamus Heaney for a soundbite. He said McGahern was “a literal writer”.

    Heaney suspected that the proles would hear “a literary writer”. Those of us who know better read the code.

  • Pete Baker


    Well, RmcC, Heaney provided a quote in the Irish Times tribute today

    Seamus Heaney – Poet and Nobel laureate

    “It is a great personal loss. I have known him for more than 40 years and to think of him and Madeline in their house by the lakeshore was to be reassured that there was a place in the world where the best standards for living and writing would be maintained. McGahern not only did good work himself, he established high standards for others, standards of artistic excellence and personal integrity that worked silently and strongly within the entire literary community.

    I see him as the heir of Synge and Beckett, a writer who was on a secret errand from the beginning. He was strict in his judgment, sympathetic in his understanding , courageous in the face of personal difficulties and always capable of merriment and grace .

    As Yeats said, we shall not see that self-same excellence again.”

    Or you can listen to Seamus Heaney speak about John McGahern on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland [10 minute audio – RealPlayer file]

    This qoute, about 5minutes in, on John McGahern’s writing –

    “It’s pure and unflashy and strong as rock.. it’s as plain as stones and gravel. But at the same time the melody of the writing, I think, has to be taken into consideration, perhaps the vocabulary, perhaps the posture of voice isn’t very set up. But, I always think of cello music when I think of McGahern.. he’s tuned to grief somewhere in his writing.”