The Leitrim Fancy

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McGahernPop Zeus found himself in lovely Leitrim last weekend for the opening of the John McGahern Summer School, run by Dr John Kenny of NUI, Galway. The occasion also saw the launch of the fourth John McGahern Yearbook, a publication that is increasingly being regarded by bibliophiles at home and abroad as one of the most beautiful publications produced in this country. Certainly acquiring a copy seems, if nothing else, like a good investment as the print-run is limited and the series will be finite. Rarely has such care been taken in ensuring that the scholarly quality of the contributing essays is matched by the aesthetic quality of the design and typography. Congratulations to all involved.

There is a Dublin theme to the 2011 edition of the Yearbook. As Dr. Kenny informed an audience in Carrick-on-Shannon, McGahern's ten years in Dublin were critical in forming him as a practicing writer. McGahern never hid his affection for the capital and this was reciprocated in a small but significant way when McGahern was cited in the official submission by the City of Dublin to UNESCO: 'the work of Dublin resident John McGahern [contributed] to a school of short-story writing of world-class excellence'.

In a hundred years time, when people gather to discuss the great Irish writers of the second half of the twentieth century, it is likely that John McGahern (1934-2006) will be one of the first names mentioned. McGahern documented both rural and urban life (especially in his novels The Leavetaking and The Pornographer) in exact and deceptively simple prose. Many of our most notable writers including Colm Toibin, William Trevor, and Seamus Heaney regard McGahern as one of Ireland's greatest stylists.

Wandering the lanes of Leitrim and supping pints in roadside taverns with locals who knew him emphasised to me how McGahern transformed life in this small part of the world into great art. As John Kenny writes: 'He is the keeper, in fiction, of a receding twentieth-century rural experience in Ireland, a world that is losing, a world that we are losing'.

Start discovering McGahern Country today through the exceptional body of work he left behind. You will not be disappointed. See you in Carrick next year!


Bookcover: The Barracks by John McGahernThe Barracks (1963) McGahern's first published novel depicts life in a rural Garda barracks where the free-spirited Elizabeth Reegan settles into a loveless marriage and watches in despair as her horizons and ambitions shrink.



Bookcover: The Dark by John McGahern The Dark (1965) This novel details the experiences of a young man growing up in rural Ireland and trying to decide his future. The novel was banned because of its descriptions of parental abuse and alleged pornographic content. McGahern was shortly afterwards dismissed from his position as a teacher at a National School in Dublin. McGahern was one of the few Irish writers to take on the taboo of child abuse in Ireland. The Dark remains one of the most controversial novels ever published in this country.


Bookcover: The Leavetaking by John McGahern The Leavetaking (1974) Set during a teacher's final day in a Dublin school before his dismissal for marrying a divorcee during a year's leave of absence. The novel draws upon McGahern's own experience at the Belgrove National School but the early sections of the novel deal with a more tragic form of 'leavetaking', the early death of his mother. For a long time The Leavetaking was probably the most underestimated novel in the McGahern canon. This neglect has been redressed in recent years and it is now recognised as one of his most powerful works.


Bookcover: The Pornographer by John McGahern The Pornographer (1979) A bleakly-funny and, at times, chilling study of the distance between love as imagined and love as practiced through the relationship between a writer of pornography and his pregnant girlfriend.



Bookcover: Amongst Women by John McGahern Amongst Women (1990) Former IRA veteran Michael Moran dominates his children while railing against the compromises and failures of the Republic he fought for but never arrived. Amongst Women gave McGahern international status as a writer and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.



Bookcover: That They May Face the Rising Sun That They May Face The Rising Sun (2001) McGahern's masterpiece depicts a year in the life of a lakeside community. Drawing upon his conviction that 'the ordinary is the most precious thing in life', the novel contrasts the trivialities and intermittent dramas that preoccupy people against the unremitting cycles of nature. McGahern quietly insists that life in all its manifestations is the most precious and fragile thing of all. Everyday life is the greatest source of wonder we have access to, if only we could take the time to do so. It is also an elegy for a rural way of life that is fading from view. One of the greatest Irish novels of the twentieth century.

Short Stories

McGahern was a grandmaster of the short-story form. His stories about Dublin like 'Sierra Leone', 'Bank Holiday', 'Doorways', and 'Parachutes' surpass the efforts of many native Dublin writers.

Bookcover: Nightlines by John McGahern Nightlines (1970)

Bookcover: Getting Through by John McGahern Getting Through (1978)

Bookcover: High Ground by John McGahern High Ground (1985)

Bookcover: The Collected Stories by John McGahern Collected Stories (1992)

Bookcover: Creatures of the Earth by John McGahern Creatures of the Earth: New and Selected Stories (2006)


Bookcover: Memoir by John McGahern Memoir (2005) Memoir is one of the best-selling books of the past decade in Ireland. McGahern's account of growing up in Leitrim closely echoes his novels and shows just how close to the bone his fiction was. Interspersed with accounts of rural poverty and the brutality of the venerable institutions of family, church, and school is McGahern's discovery of literature as a counterpoint to the darkness. His most tender book.


Bookcover: Love of the World, Essays by John McGahern Love of the World, Essays (2009)

Further Reading

The John McGahern Yearbook


Amazing books, absolutely amazing. I like your taste of reading materials.

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