John McGahern: Quotations


Novels
The Barracks (1963)
The Dark (1965)
The Leavetaking (1974)
The Pornographer (1979)
“The Wine Breath” ( 1992)
Amongst Women (1990)
Memoir (2005)
That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001)


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‘I never write anything unless it is in my head for a long time.’ (Quoted in Emmanule Vernadakis & Linda Collinge, ‘Forward’, Journal of the Short Story in English, 41, 2003), pp.13-21 [1.p.] - available online; accessed 21.12.2015.
 
Private worlds: ‘Each of us has a private world, and the only difference between the reader and the writer is that the writer has the ability to describe and dramatize that private world. As a writer, I write to see. If I knew how it would end, I wouldn’t write. It’s a process of discovery.’ (Interview following a writer’s seminar at SUNY, Albany, NY, in 1996; quoted James F. Clarity, obituary notive, in New York Times, 31 March 2006 - available online.

For grammar fascists ...
 
See a compilation of McGahern-esque apothegms and possible malapropisms from the works - infra.

Sundry writings
Aran Islands
“The Image”
On Dubliners
Maurice Goldring
Ireland back when
Autobiographical?
‘Whatever you say ...’
Alastair MacLeod
Youth & Age
“Catholicism ...”
loss of mother
on divorce

Longer extracts
         


‘I think that a writer writes out of his private world, and that is more or less shaped by the time one is twenty, twenty-one or twenty-two. Everything that happens to you changes you, but that private world is essentially shaped and one always works on that.’ (Interview of 1994; quoted in Hugh McFadden, review of Young John McGahern, by Denis Sampson, in Books Ireland, April 2012, p.59.)

‘I became a writer by accident, and I didn’t grow up in any tradition. In fact, it’s a question of whether there is a literary tradition in Ireland, no matter what is made out of it, because I think that tradition is individualistic rather than a tradition.’ (In ‘Entretien avec John McGahern’, in La Licorne [“Numéro Spécial John McGahern”, ed. Liliane Louvel, Gilles Ménégaldo & Claudine Verley], Poitiers: UFR Langues Littératures, 1995, pp.19-32; p.32.)

‘A lot of nonsense is written about themes and subject and the whole writing process. People imagine that its all very deliberate and planned out, that you choose your theme and then proceed from there. In fact, most writers don’t choose their themes at all – the themes choose them. That’s certainly the case with my writing.’ ([Shirley Kelly,] ‘The Writing Keeps the Cattle in High Style’ [interview-article], in Books Ireland, (2002), p.56.

‘I see the whole function of writing as circling on the image [...] To try to pick the image that’s sharp, that can dramatise or bring to light what is happening, be it a wedding-ring, a Coca-cola bottle, or someone rolling an orange across the floor.’ (Interview, quoted in James Whyte, History, Myth and Ritual in the Fiction of John McGahern, NY: Edwin Mellon Press 2002, p.229.)

‘In a world governed by the desire for total control, the writer must be the caretaker of the possible.’ (‘A Literature without Qualities’, in Love of the World, ed. . Stanley van de Ziel, London: Faber & Faber 2009, p.184; quoted in Paula McDonald, MA Diss, UUC 2011.)

‘We grow into a love of the world, a love that is all the more precious and poignant because the great glory of which we are but a particle is lost almost as soon as it is gathered.’ (Memoir, Faber, p.36.)

See also McGahern’s exchange of letters with Michael MacLaverty, infra.

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From the novels

The Barracks (1963)
[Opening passage]: ‘The bright golds and scarlets of the religious pictures on the walls had faded, their glass glittered now in the sudden flashes of firelight, and as it deepened the dusk turned reddish from the Sacred Heart lamp that burned before the small wickerwork crib of Bethlehem on the mantelpiece. Only the cups and saucers laid ready on the table for their father’s tea were white and brilliant.’ (Quoted in Eamon Grennan, ‘“Only What Happens”: Mulling over McGahern’, in Irish University Review (Spring/Summer 2005, p.15.)
‘She [Elizabeth] was determined to grasp at a life of her own desiring, no longer content to drag through with her repetitive days, neither happy nor unhappy, merely passing them in the wearying spirit of service; and the more the calls of duty tried to tie her down to this life, the more intolerably burdened it became.’ (Faber edn., 1963; p.14.)
‘A simple trap this half-hour of peace and quiet was, she’d have had more peace if she’d kept busy to the point of physical breaking-strain. She couldn’t ever hope to get an ordered vision on her life. Things were changing, going out of her control, grinding remorselessly forward with every passing moment.’ (Faber Edn. 2002; p.50.)
[Elizabeth on her husband]: ‘There had never been any real understanding between them, but was there ever such between people? He’d have none of the big questions, what do you think of life or the relationships between people or any of the other things that have no real answers? He trusted all that to the priests as he trusted a sick body to the doctors and kept whatever observances were laid down as long as they didn’t clash with his own passions.’ (p.54.)
‘The level glare stained the red roadway on the water to the navigation signs and the grass of the river meadows was a low tangle of green and white light. It came so violently to the window that she’d turn away, spelling the word [“beautiful”] Willie had asked her in inarticulate wonder.’ (p.53.) ‘She could no longer feel the sticky dampness of the stuff she was kneading with her hands or taste it if she touched it with her tongue or see it other than through a clear covering of glass - it felt as if the surfaces of her body had turned dead. She was existing far within the recesses of the dead walls and gaping out in mute horror.’ (p.57?)
‘It all came round again if you managed to survive long enough.’ (p.56.) ‘He [Halliday] had forced her to see farther than marrying for a house and position and children. She had seen the happy solution of her whole world in love and mutual sympathy [...] She’d never be able to dream of happiness again.’ (p.76.) ‘A total love was the only way she had of approaching towards the frightful fulfilment of being resonant with her situation, and this was her whole terror and longing’ (p.78.)
‘She did not want an ensured imitation of other people’s lives any more, she wanted her own, and with the wild greed of youth. Safe examples that had gone before were no use - her mother and father and the nurses about her - she could break her way out of the whole set-up [...]’ ‘The impossible became turned by fierce desire into the possible, the whole world was beginning again as it always has to do when a single human being discovers his or her uniqueness, everything becoming strange and vital and wondrous in this the only moment of real innocence, when after having slept for ever in the habits of other livers, suddenly, one morning, the first morning of the world, she had woken up to herself.’ (p.72; var. p.87.)
‘It was so beautiful when she let up the blinds first thing that “Jesus Christ”, softly was all she was able to articulate as she looked out and up the river to to the woods across the lake, black with the leaves fallen except the red rust of the beech trees, the withered reeds standing pale and sharp as bamboo rods at the edges of the water.’ (p.170.) [The foregoing both quoted in Paula McDonald, PG Dip./MA Essay, UUC 2011.)
‘Nothing could be decided here. She was just passing through. She had come to life out of mystery, and would return, it surrounded her life, it safely held it as by hands; she’d return into that which she could not know; she’d be consumed at last in whatever meaning her life had. here she had none, none but to be, which in acceptance must surely be to love. There’d be no searching for meaning, she must surely grow into meaning as she grew into love, there was that or nothing and she couldn’t lose.’ (p.179) [The foregoing variously quoted in Jürgen Kamm, ‘John McGahern’ 1990, pp.177-79 and Conor Doris, UG Diss., UUC 2003.]

See also quotations Douglas Dunn [op. cit.,], p.211: ‘the nowhere of herself’ ‘It seemed as a person grew older that the unknowable reality, God, was the one thing you could believe or disbelieve in with safety, it met you with imponderable silence [...]’

‘[Reegan] donned the uniform of the Garda Siochana and swore to preserve the peace of the Irish Free State when it was declared in 1920.’ (p.109.) ‘Sam Browne too, the one time it was dangerous to wear it in this balls of a country. And I wore it to command men, soldiers, and not to motor around to see if a few harmless poor bastards of policemen would lick me fat arse, while I shit about law and order.’ (p.231.)

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The Dark (1965):
Opening scene:
“Say what you said because I know.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Out with it I tell you.”
“I don’t know I said anything.”
“F-U-C-K is what you said, isn’t it? That profane and ugly word. Now do you think you can bluff your way out of it?”
“I didn’t mean, it just came out.”
“The filth that’s in your head came out, you mean. And I’m going to teach you a lesson for once. You’d think there’d be some respect for your dead mother left in the house. And trying to sing dumb – as if butter wouldn’t melt. But I’ll teach you.”
He took the heavy leather strap he used for sharpening his razor from its nail on the side of the press.
[..]
“Don’t move and shut that shouting,” and when he was reasonably still except for the shivering and weeping, the leather came for the third time exactly as before. He didn’t know anything or what he was doing or where the room was when the leather exploded on the black armrest where his ear was.’ (q.p.)
[Sharing a bed with his father:] ‘It was impossible to lie close. The loathing was too great. He lay far out on the bed’s edge, but as Mahoney moved in his sleep, all the clothes began to be dragged away, gathering in a huge ball around Mahoney, till only a sheet was left to cover him out on the bed’s edge. it was bitterly cold and the loathing had soon to perish in the cold. He had to draw close to the sleeping heap of warmth.’ (p.21; see also account of same in Memoir - as infra.)
[Mahoney is beating one of his children:] ‘Hit and I’ll kill you,’ you said and you knew nothing, there was no fear, you watched the hand come up to hit, your own hands ready and watching the raised hand and the throat. You knew or felt nothing, except once the raised had moved you’d get him by the throat, you knew you’d be able, the fingers were ready.’ (p.36).
‘The moment of death was the only real moment in life; everything took its proper position there, and was fixed forever, whether to live in joy or hell for all eternity, or had your life been the haphazard flicker between nothingness and nothingness’ (p.69; var. 51.)
‘You barely listened this time, resentment risen close to hatred. He had broken down your life to the dirt, he’d reduced you to that, and no flesh was superior to other flesh .... He must have committed sins the same as yours once too, if he was flesh. What right had he to come and lie with you in bed, his body hot against yours, his arm about your shoulders’ (p.74).
‘Dream of peace and loveliness, charm of security: picture of one woman, the sound of wife [...]’ [82]; ‘God before life’ [83]; ‘If you married you would plant a tree to deny and break finally your father’s power, completely supplant it by the graciousness and marvel of your life, but as a priest you’d remain just fruit of the cursed house gone to God.’ (p.84.)
‘You didn’t know very about yourself so. The mirror was before you now, temptation to probe to see other pictures of you in her mind, but it was no use, she had had her life as well as you, every life had too much importance and importance [than] be only a walking mirror for another.’ (p.94.)
‘That was it simply, and you had set your face the other way from it, towards the bauble. You were heading out into an uncertain life, sacrificing the certainty of a life based on death; for what you didn’t know, windblown excitements and imaginings that in the humdrum of their actuality might soon get stripped of their sensual marvel.’ (p.127.)
‘What does it matter to God whether I get the exam or not, or to my life under him? If it’s his Will, and I’m lucky enough and good enough, I’ll get the exam. And if I don’t it doesn’t matter. It’ll not matter the day I’m dying’ (p.129).
‘You’d be cut loose from your father. You’d not have to worry about a job or what people thought. In your death you’d be a priest, a priest of God, the death already accepted in life, the life already given into His keeping before it was required, years before, in your youth. [...] There was a fierce drag to go down to ... give your life into that death, but no, you’d set your face another direction [...]’ (p.127.)
‘The other appeals - comradeship, the sharing of mysterious power, working in exotic countries where oranges and lemons grew alongside the road, walking with the great of the land - never moved you much. In the reality your life moved in the shade of a woman or death. Only the lifeless or blind fell for the lesser of these. This was just the destruction of entering the dream around delight of the woman or the disciplined waiting in the priesthood of Christ.’ (p.127-28.)

[Goodbye to his father from the bus]: ‘[H]e wanted to say it now for everything if he could, no bitterness or anything else in some vision of this parting of both their lives passing utterly alone and lost in time, outside the accidental places and manner of their happening, and then one absolute compulsion to praise or bless.’ (p.163.)

‘This was the dream you’d left the stern and certain road of the priesthood to follow after, that road so attractive now since you hadn’t to face walking it any more, and this world of sensuality from which you were ready to lose your soul nor so easy to drag to your mouth either for that one destructive kiss, as hard to lose your soul as to save it. Only in the mind was it clear.’ [178].
‘One day, one day, you’d come perhaps to more real authority than all this, an authority that had need of neither vast buildings nor professional chairs nor robes nor solemn organ tones, an authority that was simply a state of mind, a calmness even in the face of the turmoil of your own passing.’ (p.188.)
“In the bedroom that night on prospect hill the rosary was said before undressing. There was a morbid fascination watching Mahoney take off his clothes ... Memories of the nightmare nights in the bed with the broken brass bells came, and it was strange how the years had passed, how the nights were once, and different now, how this night’d probably be the last night of lying together’(p.189).
[The Dean’s scorn:] ‘there seemed contempt in his voice, you and Mahoney would never give commands but be menials always to the race he’d come from and still belonged to, you’d make a schoolteacher at best. You might have your uses but you were both his stableboys, and would never eat at his table.’ [q.p.]
‘The Holy Father had defined a vocation as three things: good moral character, at least average intelligence, a good state of health.’ [q.p.].

“Take it if you want and don’t take it if you don’t want. It’s your decision. I won’t have you blaming me for the rest of your life that the one chance you did get that I stood in your way. Do what you want to do.”
He knew Mahoney wanted him to stay from school and work in the fields.
“I’ll take it,” he said in spite of what he knew.
“Take it so and may it choke you but I’ll not have you saying in after years that I kept you from it.” (q.p.)

Also: ‘There was a fierce drag to go down to [...] give your life into that death, but no, you’d set your face another direction’ [...]
‘You want to go out into the world? You want girls and women, to touch their dresses, to kiss, to hold soft flesh, to be held in their caressing arms? To bury everything in one swoon into their savage darkness?’ [q.p.]
 

Cf. Chap. 3 of The Dark, where the father sleeps with his son, and offers the same supposed comfort: ‘The old horror as hand were put about him and the other face closed on his, the sharp stubble grown since the morning and the nose and the kiss, the thread of half-dried mucus coming away from the other lips in the kiss. / “You don’t have to worry about anything. There’s no need to be afraid or cry. Your father loves you,” and hands drew him closer. They began to move in caress on the back, shoving up the nightshirt, downwards lightly to the thighs and heavily up again, the voice echoing rhythmically the movement of the hands. / [...] “You like that. It’s good for you,” the voice breathed jerkily now to the stroking hands. / “I like that.” / There was nothing else to say [...; 20] There was no hope of sleep [...] The loathing was too great [...] the stupid bulk that had no care for anything except itself.’ (Faber pb. edn. 1983, pp.20-21.) [See also extract from Memoir, infra.]

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Coming Into His Kingdom” (1963; in Nightlines, 1970) - The protragonist Stevie finds himself sleeping with his widower father: ‘The whole world was changed, a covering torn away; he’d never be able to see anything the same again. His father had slept with his mother and done that to her, the same father that slept with him now in the big bed with the broken brass bells and rubbed his belly at night, saying, “That’s what’s good for you, Stevie. Isn’t that what you like, Stevie?” ever since it happened the first night, the slow labouring voice explaining how the rubbing eased wind and relaxed you and let you sleep.’ (Coll. Stories, p.21.)

Note that McGahern echoes the famous sentence with which O’Faolain ends “Guests of the Nation”.

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The Leavetaking (1974):
‘It was the first break in the sea of faith that had encircled me, for what if God was but the same deception. I shuddered as if I had felt already that the journey would be dark and inland through sex and death, the sea continually withdrawing.’ (p.63.)
‘Could not the small acts of love performed with care, each normal, mysterious day, be a continual celebration, as much as the surrender of the dream of woman whould allow the dubious power of th elaying on of anointed hands [i.e., the priesthood]?’ (p.156.)
[on national school-teachers:] ‘When we teach history Britain is always the big beast, Ireland is the poor daughter struggling while being raped, when most of us know it’s a lot more complicated than that.’ (p.162.)
‘No boat needs so much trust to put to sea as it does for one body to go human and naked and vulnerable into the arms of another.’ (p.170.)
‘We will be true to one another and to our separate selves, and each day we will renew it again and again. It is the only communion left to us now.’ [The above all quoted in Conor Doris, UG Dissertation, UUC 2003.]

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The Pornographer (1979; Poolbeg Edn. 1980)
‘It seems we must be beaten twice, by the love that we inflict and then by the infliction of being loved, before we have the humility to look and take whatever agreable plant we have never seen before, because of it being all around our feet, and take it and watch it grow, choosing the lesser truth because it’s all we’ll ever know.’ ([p.39]; quoted in Eamon Maher, John McGahern: From the Local to the Universal, 2003; also in Bridget O’Toole, review of same, in Books Ireland, March 2005, p.48.)
[Narrator’s aunt:] “It’s only after years that you get some shape on things, and then after all that you have to leave. It’s comical.” (ibid., p.144).
‘We can no more learn from another than we can do their death for them or have them do ours. We have to go inland, in the solitude that is both pain and joy, and there make our own truth, and even if that proves nothing too, we have still that hard joy of having gone the hard and only way there is to go, we have not backed away or staggered to one side, but gone on and on and on even when there was nothing, knowing there was nothing on any other way. We have gone too deep inland to think that a different physique or climate would change anything. We were outside change because we were change.’ (p.203.)
‘What had I learned from the clandestine night? The nothing that we always learn when we sink to learn something of ourselves from a poor other - our own shameful shallowness. We can no more learn from another than we can do their death for them or have them do ours. We have to go inland, in the solitude that is both pain and joy, and there make our own truth, and even if that proves nothing too, we have still that heard joy of having gone the hard and only way there is to go, we have not backed away or staggered to one side, but gone on and on and on, even when there was nothing, knowing there was nothing on any other way. All the doctrines that we have learned by heart and could not understand became laughingly clear. To find we had to lose: the road away became the road back. All, all were travelling. Nobody would arrive. The adventure never would be over even when we were over. It would go on and on, even as it had gone on before it had been passed on to us. (p.203.)
‘“You’d have seen me if you had been paying attention,” she’d once said to me, the night she came towards me the floor of the Metropole. By not attending, by thinking any one thing was worth doing as any other, by sleeping with anybody who’d agree, I had been the cause of as much pain and confusion and evil as if I had actively set out to do it. I had not attended properly. I had found the energy to choose too Painful. Broken in love, I had turned back, let the light of imagination almost out. Now my hands were ice. / We had to leave the road of reason because we needed to [251] go farther. Not to have a reason is a greater reason still to follow the instinct of the true, to follow it with all the force we have, in all the seeing and the final blindness.’ (pp.251-52.)
‘What I wanted to say was that I had a fierce need to prace, for myself, Maloney, my uncle, the girl, the whole shoot. The prayers could not be answered, but praers that cannot be answered need to be the more completely said, being their own beginning as well as end. [...] I tried to say something back but couldn’t. And in the silence a fragment of another day seemed to linger amid the sweeping wiers, and grow: the small round figure of my uncle getting out of the train away down the platform, childishly looking around, the raincoat over his arm, at the beginning of the journey - if beginning it ever had - that had brought each to where we were, in the now and the forever.’ (p.252.)

For further quotations and sundry variations on the same from two editions, see attached.)

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The Wine Breath” (in Collected Stories, 1992) - burial of Michael Bruen:
‘All was silent and still there. Slow feet crunched on the snow. Ahead, at the foot of the hill, the coffin rode slowly forward on shoulders, its brown varnish and metal trappings dull in the glittering snow, riding just below the long waste of snow eight or ten feet deep over the whole countryside. The long dark line of mourners following the coffin stretched away towards Oakport Wood in the pathway cut through the snow. High on Killeelan Hill the graveyard evergreens rose out of the snow. The graveyard wall was covered, the narrow path cut up the side of the hill stopping at the little gate deep in the snow. The coffin climbed with painful slowness, as if it might never reach the gate, often pausing for the bearers to be changed; and someone started to pray, the prayer travelling down the whole mile-long line of the mourners as they shuffled behind the coffin in the narrow tunnel cut in the snow.
  It was the day in February 1947 That They buried Michael Bruen. Never before or since had he experienced the Mystery in such awesomeness. Now, as he stood at the gate, there was no awe or terror, only the coffin moving slowly towards the dark trees on the hill, the long line of the mourners, and everywhere the blinding white light, among the half-buried thorn bushes and beyond Killeelan, on the covered waste of Gloria Bog, on the sides of Slieve an Iarainn.’ (pp.178-179.)

Source: quoted in Bertrand Cardin, ‘“Absence does not cast a shadow”: Yeats’s shadowy presence in McGahern’s “The wine breath”’, in Journal of the Short Story in English [John McGahern Special Issue, ed Linda Collinge-Germain & Emmanuel Vernadakis; JSSE 53 (autumn 2009, 111-125; q.,p.; also [in part] in Josiane Paccaud-Huguet, ‘“Grave of the images of dead passions and their days”: “The country funeral” as McGahern’s poetic tombeau’, in Ibid. - available online.)

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Amongst Women (1990):

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‘As he weakened, Moran became afraid of his daughters. This once powerful man was so implanted in their lives that they had never really left Great Meadow, in spite of jobs and marriages and children and houses of their own in Dublin and in London.’ (p.1.)
[Moran to McQuaid:] ‘What did we get for it? A country, if you’d believe them. Some of our johnnies in the top jobs instead of a few Englishmen. More than half of my own family working in England. What was it all for? The whole thing was a cod.’ (p.5.)
‘He [Moran] had never been able to deal with the outside. All his dealings had been with himself, and that larger self of family which had been thrown together by marriage or accident. he had never been able to go out from his shell of self.’ (p. 12).
[Moran to Maggie]: ‘Life is a peculiar venture. You never know how low or high you’ll. No matter how your rise in the world never look down on another.’ (p.61.)
[On the effect of the family rosary:] ‘The closeness was as strong as the pull of their own lives; they lost the pain of individuality within its protection.’ (p.85.)
[The family’s response to the encroaching death of Moran:] ‘They were so bound together by the illness That They felt close to being powerful together. Such was the strength of the instinct That They could force their beloved to remain in life if only they could, together, turn his will around.’ (Ibid., p.178.)

The ’RA: [Moran:] ‘For people like McQuaid and myself the war was the best part of our lives. Things were never so simple and clear again. I think we never rightly got the hang of it afterwards. It was better if it had never happened. Tired now. You were all great girls to travel such distances to see one sick old man.’ (p.6; quoted [in part] in Deborah McWilliams [guest ed.], ‘Across the Pond: Reflections on Irish Writing - A View from the Irish States’ [Spec. Iss.], Studies, 88, 351, Autumn 1999, Introduction, p.268.)

Family-self: ‘His fascination with McQuaid’s mastery of his own world was boyish. He had never been able to deal with the outside. All his dealings had been with himself and that larger self of family which had been thrown together by marriage or accident: he had never been able to go out from his shell of self.’ (p.12.)

On McQuaid, (former colleague): ‘After years he had lost his oldest and best friend but in a way he had always despised friendship; families were what mattered, more particularly that larger version of himself - his family.’ (p.22.)

‘He [Reegan] slipped out to the fields [...] and on to the meadow. It was no longer empty but filling with a fresh growth, a faint blue tinge in the rich green of the young grass. To die was never to look on all this again. It would live on in other’s eyes but not his. He had never realised when he was in the midst of confident life what an amazing glory he was part of.’ (p.179.)
[For longer quotations, see attached.]

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That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001)
[Jamesie’s account of John Quinn’ rape of his new wife Margaret]: ‘John Quinn put the blanket he had brought down on the rock. Margaret looked as if she was trying to break away but he could have held her with one hand. It was over before anybody rightly knew. He lifted the blue dress up over her head and put her down on the blanket. The screech she let out would put your heart crossways. John Quinn stood between her and the house while he was fixing his trousers and belt. He must have been afraid she’d try and break back on her own but she just lay there on the ground. In the end he had to lift her and straighten her dress in his arms.’ (p.30)
Mary: ‘“You’re welcome. Welcome.” He shook everybody by the hand, but did not kiss or embrace. In an instinctive move to harness his excitement, he swooped to lift the three grandchildren one by one and then pretended he was no longer able. “You are all growing up past me and this poor old fella is going down,” he pulled his doleful clown’s face so That They all laughed. By then he had regained his old watchful, humorous presence. In contrast, Mary’s face was mute with devotion as she waited to receive her son’s kiss as if it were a sacrament. / “Is he still treating you badly, Mother?” her son joked. [...]’ (p.124.)
‘The flurry and excitement of the arrival died away. The brown hens returned to their pecking in the dirt, raising a yellow eye sideways from time to time to inspect with comic gravity the strangely crowded street. From within the house one of the clocks began to strike an earlier hour. A blackbird landed with a frenzied clatter in the hedge beside the hayshed. Completely alone though a part of the crowd, Mary stood mutely gazing on her son and his wife as if in wonderment how so much time had disappeared and emerged again in such strange and substantial forms that were and were not her own. Across her face there seemed to pass many feelings and reflections: it was as if she ached to touch and gather in and make whole those scattered years of change. But how can time be gathered in and kissed? There is only flesh. / To Ruttledge, Jim was a quiet, courteous man without the vividness or presence or the warmth of his parents. He had the habit of attention and his face was kind. It was as if he had been prematurely exhausted by the long journey he had made and discovered little sustenance on the new shores of Kildare Street and Mount Merrion. Already he had gone far but was unlikely to advance much further without luck. The people who could promote him to the highest rung would have to be interacted with and could not be studied like a problem or a book.’ (p.125.)
[Robert Booth discussing Bill Evans with Ruttledge]: ‘“He looks like something out of a Russian novel”, he said. / “He’s all ours, completely home-grown and mad alive. They were scattered all over the country when I was young. Those with English accents came mostly from Catholic orphanages around Liverpool. The whole business wasn’t a million miles from the slave trade.”’ (p.155.)
‘“I think people are sexual until they die,” said Kate [...] “She’s right,” said Jamesie. “You can see children jigging as soon as they can walk. The old crowd have it in their heads and if they have it anywhere else they are clever enough to keep it under cover.”’ (p.170.)
‘As he [Ruttledge] listened to the two voices he was so attached to and thought [182] back to the afternoon, the striking of the clocks, the easy, pleasant company, the walk round the shore, with a rush of feeling he felt that this must be happiness. [...] The very idea was as dangerous as presumptive speech: happiness could not be sought or worried into being, or even fully grasped; it should be allowed its own slow pace so that it passes unnoticed, if it ever comes at all.’ (p.183.)
‘The welcome disruption of the everyday the visit brought was nothing compared to the richness it provided for weeks and months. “A terror how old villains like John Quinn could have such decent children while decent people are as likely as not to get children bring nothing but trouble. Study how an old blackguard like that after burying two wives and having all sorts of other women could sail out at the end of his days and get a respectable, well-preserved, presentable woman from, of all places, Knock where the Virgin appeared, when men who would make far better husbands were left with two hands hanging,. Some poor women can go badly astray when it comes to this move business.”’ (p.172; note that the speech is uttered by an imaginary voice representing the gossiping consensus.)
[on Johnny’s returning or not to Ireland]: They could not live with him and they could not be seen - in their own eyes or in the eyes of others - to refuse him shelter or turn him away. The timid, gentle manners, based on a fragile interdependence, dealt in avoidances and obfuscations. Edges were softened, ways found round harsh realities. What was unspoken was often far more important than the words that were said. Confrontation was avoided whenever possible. These manners, open to exploitation by ruthless people, held all kinds of traps for the ignorant or unwary and could lead into entanglements that a more confident, forthright manner would have seen off at the very beginning. It was a language that hadnt’t any simple way of saying no. (p.186; see commentary - as attached.)
 

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That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001)
[On homeboys like Bill Evans] “I don’t think luck has much to do with it. They could be as lucky as anybody. The bad go with the good, in and out the same revolving doors,” Ruttledge said. (p.232.)
“I have no quarrel with John,” Mrs Maguire said. “The family all stay her when they come home from England in the summer. They are charming and have got on wonderfully well in the world.” It was clear Mrs Maguire was closing the subject down and when Shah remarked, “Often people like John Quinn have the best children,” it was pursued no further. (p.235.)

[Kate:] “You can never be sure with people. Once they get the reins into [236] their hands you don’t know what way they’ll drive.” / “When money and power are involved people can change very quickly. I’ve seen it happen too often,” she [Kate] said. (p.236.)

[Jamesie and Ruttledge:] “There are no misters here,” he cried. “No misters in this part of the world. Nothing but broken-down gentlemen!” / “There are no misters in this house either. He that is down can fear no fall.” (p.238; note biblical allusion.)
[Jamesie:] “You’re not one bit slow, Kate. You just weren’t born up here. You nearly have to be born into a place to know what’s going on and what to do.” (p.239.)
[Jamesie to Ruttledge:] “These things happen. Anybody with livestock is going to have deadstock.” [...] As he spoke, the black lamb became an instant of beauty, safe by the side of the young ewe on the bank in the sun, and was gone. The beauty of that instant in the sun could only be kept now in mind. (p.251.)
[Johnny to Ruttledge - in answer to a question about regrets:] “Many times over. The whole country was leaving then and I passed no heed. I didn’t even have to leave like most of the rest. You don’t get reruns in life like you do in a play. There’s no turning back now anyhow,” he smiled. (p.263.)

[Narrator:] The timid gentle manners, based on a fragile interdependence, dealt in avoidance and obfuscations. Edges were softened, ways found round harsh realities ... These manners, open to exploitation by ruthless people, held all kinds of traps for the ignorant or unwary and could lead to entanglements that a more confident, forthright manner would have seen off at the very beginning. It was a language that hadn’t any simple way of saying no. (q.p.; quoted in Seamus Deane, ‘A New Dawn’, in The Guardian (12 Jan. 2002) - as supra.)

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That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001)

[Jamesie, recalling his childhood witnessing of a failed IRA ambush at the timeof the current commemorative march:] “I often think of that line of young men filing up through the bog towards Glasdrum in the morning and the terrible changes a few short hours can bring.” (p.241.) [...] “Hel-lo ... hel-lo ... hel-lo,” Jamesie called out suddenly, no longer rendering the plea or call faithfully, but turning it into the high cry of a bird calling out of the depths of the bog.” (p.242.)

Cont.: [...] “In the spring [...] I often see myself and my father planting potatoes on the hill and that line of young men coming up through the bog and think of the changes a short hour can bring. And that’s life!’ / And it is everything,” Kate said slowly. (p.243; note that the ungrateful IRA survivor is called Barnie Reynolds - and cf. Bertie Reynolds, Fianna Fáil Taoiseach.“[...] Now it’s a monument and an Easter march. The dead can be turned into anything,” he said almost in wonderment. (p.244.)

[Jamesie departing from the Ruttledge’s house:] ‘He did not move for a long time as he listened [ to the distant bugles at the Easter 1916 commemoration] and then turned round to bow low. “I have decided, I have decided after serious deliberation that I never liked yous anyhow.” / The sun was now high above the lake. There wasn’t a whisp of cloud. Everywhere the water sparkled. A child could easily believe that the whole of heaven was dancing.’ (p.247; end of section.)
[Interrment of Johnny:] ‘They closed the ears and the nostrils with the cotton wool, and [272] when they turned him over to close the rectum, dentures fell from his mouth. The rectum absorbed almost all the cotton wool. The act was as intimate and warm as the act of sex. The innate sacredness of each single life stood out more starkly in death than in the whole of its natural life. To see him naked was also to know what his character and clothes had disguised - the wonderful physical specimen he had been. That perfect co-ordination of hand and eye that had caused so many wildfowl to fall like stones from the air had been no accident. That hand, too, had now fallen.’’( pp.272-73.)

[Ruttledge talking with undertaker Jimmy Joe McKiernan, leader of the local PIRA): ‘“You don’t seem to have any interest in our cause?” / “No,” Ruttledge said. “I don’t like violence.” / “You don’t believe in freedom, then?” / “Our country is free.” / “A part of it is not free.” / “That is a matter for that other part. I don’t think it’s any of our business.” / “I think differently. I believe it is all our business.” / Ruttledge knew that as he was neither a follower nor a leader he must look useless or worse than useless to this man of commitment and action.’ (p.286.)

[Jamesie ponders the existence of heaven and hell:] "You mean [...] that when we're dead we are just dead?" / "More or less," Ruttledge answered carefully. "I don't know from what source life comes, other than out of nature, or for what purpose. I suppose it's not unreasonable to think that we go back into whatever meaning we came from. Why do you ask?" [...; Ruttledge:] “I think if there there’s hell and heaven that one or other or both of the places are going to be vastly overcrowded,” he said with surprising heaviness. [...] “I suspect hell and heaven and purgatory - even eternity - all come from our experience of life and may have nothing to do with anything else once we cross to the other side,” Ruttledge said briskly, anxious to hide his affectionate amusement at Jamesie’s display of weight and gravity - he who was so important because of his wondrous lightness. / “At the same time you wouldn’t want to leave yourself too caught out in case [...].”’ (p.294.)

[Jamesie to Ruttledge:] ‘“Isn’t Patrick Ryan the most hopeless man? The poor cattle alone and fending for themselves on that big hill and Patrick astray all over the country. I may not have travelled far but I know the whole world,” he said with a wide sweep of his arm. / “You do know the whole world,” Ruttledge said. “And you have been my sweet guide.” / Jamesie paused, and then turned quickly away: “I wasn’t the worst anyhow.”’ (p.296; note the implicit allusion to Dante and Vergil.)

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That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001)
Some apothegms & seeming-malapropisms

“Right or wrong, foul or fair, what does it matter? It’s a rough business. Those that care least will win. They can watch all sides. She has no more value on Johnny than a dog or a cat.” (p.5.)
“They all turn, Kate. If they have to pick between religion or the boggy hollow they’ll all turn.” (p.7; euph. for sex.)
“Always lie so that you speak the truth” (p.7.)
“What went wrong?” was asked politely in the face of all that [22] was proffered as fluently as a door-to-door salesman pretending to straight-faced openness. (pp.22-23; John Quinn is the speaker).
“They have no value on people, only what they think they can get out of them.” (p.25.)
“Not one little bit out of his mind, Kate. [...] There’s method in everything John Quinn does.” (p.29.)
[...]
Alone, they kept him at an iron distance, but when he appeared with the children they allowed the distance to lapse. (p.171.)
‘It seems we can never know ourselves’, Ruttledge admitted out of the silence.’ (p.179.)
‘This must be happiness.’ (p.183.)
[...T]he heron rose out of the reeds to flap him [sic] lazily round the shore, ghostly in the moonlight. (p.191.)
The burden of putting round the winter disappeared for days in a great flare of excitement, rumour and conjecture. (p.192; and cf. ‘We had a most wonderful evening. It helped put round the day. It’s all A-one. Everything now is completely alphabetical ...’ p.267.)
Mister Singh ... Mister Sing [sic] ... Mister Singh (p.193.)
[...]
“They were high up like Jim ... important ... clever ... no daws [208] anyway. The clevers are always plain.” (p.209; i.e., plain-spoken.)
They [the farm animals] all recognised him and the old cow looed her recognition. (p.210; looed sic.)
“They’ll [sic] be great talk at Mass when you march up to the front seat with that scarf on your head.” (p.210; poss. a ref. to presents brought from Dublin).
“Jamesie is always winning,’ Patrick Ryan winked. “He must have the best, best cattle in, in, in the whole of Ireland.” (p.223.)
“They honoured themselves at Enniskillen. How many innocent people did they kill and maim?” (p.225; on the IRA bombing.)
“What the fuck matter whose round it is? - all we are on is a day out of our lives. We’ll never be round again.” (p.228.)
[...] the half-dismantled skeleton of trunks and engines and all kinds of machinery. (p.233; trunks sic for trucks?)
[...] each throw went home. Only a single was missed and that by no more than the thickness of a wire. (p.266; Johnny playing darts.)
Except for the bars the town was closed and had the same sense of closure and emptiness as beaches and public gardens at the end of the day. (p.266.)
“He has more now than he needs. There’s only so much you can do with the day.” (p.267; Johnny, of Ruttledge’s uncle, the Shah.)
At the gate to the house they met sudden consternation. The glass and polished chrome of the hearse waited outside the gate. (p.282.)
‘[Jamesie, of the disabled clockmaker:] “That little man is great [...] All his people were decent and gave him great seeing to. He didn't let it go to waste[.]”

‘savages [..] for masters’ (p.110.)
‘.. fucken disaster ..’ (p.221.)
‘do the gulpen.’ (p.247 - drinking)
‘the old learned strengths’ (p.257.)
‘aeroplane’ (p.289; 295.)

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The Love of the World” (extracts from an unpublished work):

It is very quiet here. Nothing much ever happens. We have learned to tell the cries of the birds and the animals, the wingbeats of the swans crossing the house, the noises of different motors that batter about on the roads. Not many people like this quiet. ’There are times when you can hear yourself thinking.’ There is a constant craving for word of every sound and sighting and any small happening. Then when something violent and shocking happens nobody will speak at all after the first shockwave passes into belief. Eyes usually wild for every scrap of news and any idle word will turn away or search the ground.

§

 As soon as she entered the house she saw the strain in Harkin’s friendliness.
“Well, have you made up your mind?”
 She was calmer now. She said it was impossible. She felt the stone-faced silence return. Only by shutting everything out and going from moment to small moment with the children was she able to get through the long evening which then suddenly seemed to race as the time to leave drew near.
 The two girls were reserved as she kissed them goodnight. She was afraid the boy would cling to her, so she lifted him in the air. Beforehand, she had been eating currants nervously from a glass jar [57] on the sideboard, so she lifted him awkwardly because the currants were still in her hand and she did not want them to scatter. ”I want you to know that if you leave tonight you’ll never set foot in this house again.”
 She bowed her head. “ll have to take that risk.” As she turned her back, she heard a sharp click, but did not turn to see him lift the gun. One hand was reaching for the door when she fell, the other closed tight. When it was opened, it held a fistful of small black currants.

§

A silence came down around all that happened. Nobody complained about the normal quiet. Bird cries were sweet. The wing-beats of the crossing swans brought continuance. A recognisable old diesel beating the road gave reassurance. The long light of day crossing the lake steeped us in privilege and mystery and infinite reflections that nobody wanted to break or question.
 Gradually, the sense of quiet weakened. The fact that nothing much was happening ceased to comfort. A craving for news began again. The silence around the murder was broken. All sorts of blame was apportioned. Each year that passed across the face of the lake quickened and gathered speed before swinging round again, until all the years were suddenly in the air above the lake, and taking flight.

 

1985; rep. in The Flight Path, ed. Maurice Hayes [The American Ireland Fund] Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 19 June 1996, pp.57-58.)

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McGahern Special Issue of JSSE (2009) - McGahern’s Preface to Collected Stories

These stories grew in the mind and in the many workings of the material, but often began from as little as the sound of a chainsaw working in the evening, an overheard conversation about the price of cattle, thistledown floating by the open doors of bars on Grafton Street on a warm autumn day, an old gold watch spilling out of a sheet where it had been hidden and forgotten about for years. Others began as different stories, only to be replaced by something completely unforeseen at the beginning of the work. The most difficult were drawn directly from life. Unless they were reinvented, reimagined, and somehow dislocated from their origins, they never seemed to work. The imagination demands that life be told slant because of its need of distance.
  Two such stories were “The Key” and “The Stoat”. Over the years I rewrote them several times, but was never satisfied but still would not let them go. I was too attached to the material. I stubbornly refused to obey the primary rule that if a writer finds himself too fond of a rhythm or an image or phrase, or even a long passage, he should get rid of it. When I came to write Memoir, I saw immediately that the central parts of both “The Key” and “The Stoat” were essential to the description of the life we lived with my father in the barracks, from which they should never have been lifted. No matter what violences or dislocations were attempted, [they remained] obdurately what they were.
  Among its many other obligations fiction has to be believable. Life does have to suffer such constraint, and much of what takes place is believable only because it happens. Fiction has to be true to a central vision of life.’ (pp.15-16.)

Cf., ‘It’s been my experience that I’ve made my worst artistic mistakes by keeping too close to what happened[. L]ife ‘needs to be re-ordered. Reinvented in order to be true.’ (Quoted in Eamon Maher, John McGahern, From the Local to the Universal [Contemporary Irish Writers Ser.] (Dublin: Liffey Press 2003), p.147.

Note: McGahern told Maher that what he most admired in the novelist John Williams was ‘his method’: ‘His method is to go as far as possible from the self towards the other, and then find his way back through the self.’ (Maher, idem.)

 

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Memoir (2005)
The soil in Leitrim is poor, in places no more than an inch deep. Underneath is daub, a blue-grey modelling clay, or channel, a compacted gravel. Neither can absorb the heavy rainfall. Rich crops of rushes and wiry grasses keep the thin clay from being washed away.
 The fields between the lakes are small, separated by thick hedges of whitethorn, ash, blackthorn, alder, sally, rowan, wild cherry, green oak, sycamore, and the lanes that link them under the Iron Mountains are narrow, often with high banks. The hedges are the glory of these small fields, especially when the hawthorn foams into streams of blossom each May and June. The sally is the first tree to green and the first to wither, and the rowan berries are an astonishing orange in the light from the lakes every September. These hedges are full of mice and insects and small birds, and sparrowhawks can be seen hunting all through the day. In their branches the wild woodbine and dog rose give off a deep fragrance in summer evenings, and on their banks grow the foxglove, the wild strawberry, primrose and fern and vetch among the crawling briars. The beaten pass the otter takes between the lakes can be traced along these banks and hedges, and in quiet places on the edge of the lakes are the little lawns speckled with fish bones and blue crayfish shells where the otter feeds and trains her young. Here and there surprising islands of rich green limestone are to be found. Among the rushes and wiry grasses also grow the wild orchid and the windflower. The very poorness of the soil saved these fields when old hedges and great trees were being levelled throughout Europe for factory farming, and, amazingly, amid unrelenting change, these fields have hardly changed at all since I ran and played and worked in them as a boy. (p.1.)
 
The barracks itself was a strange place, like most of the country at the time. Though the Free State had been wrested in armed conflict from Britain, it was like an inheritance that nobody quite understood or knew how to manage. The Catholic Church was dominant and in control of almost everything, directly or indirectly. In a climate of suppression and poverty and fear, there was hardly any crime and little need of a barracks in a place like Cootehall, other than as a symbol.
  The place was run on lines that were no longer connected to any reality, if indeed they ever were. Though my father slept every night in the barracks, the guards in their turn had to leave their own families and sleep the night beside the telephone that hardly ever rang, even in the daytime. I cannot remember anybody coming to the barracks at night. If there was a sudden death or illness, people went to the priest, or to the doctor if they weren’t poor.
 The familiar sounds each night were the heavy boots of the barrack orderly taking down the bedclothes from the upstairs room to make up his bed for the night beside the phone. We’d hear the sounds of raking and blowing as he started the fire in the morning and then the unlocking of the back door when he went down to empty his chamber pot and bucket of ashes into the ash pit over the river. We were able to tell the different guards by their sounds and footsteps. Sometimes in the mornings they hummed or whistled, which always set my father muttering.(p.32; US edn. p.35.) [For longer extract from Chapter One, see attached.]
 

‘No matter how strong that faith was, it could hardly alleviate the human pain of losing everyone who depended on her whom she loved and held dear. She had no one to communicate this to after her forty-two years in a world where many loved her.’ (p.117; quoted in Paula McDonald, MA Diss., UUC 2011.) [See also remarks on his mother’s death in Memoir - as infra.]

 
When my father came late to bed and enquired as he took off his clothes if I was awake, I nearly always feigned sleep. He never interfered with me in an obviously sexual way, but he frequently massaged my belly and thighs. As in all other things connected with the family, he asserted that he was doing this for my good: it relaxed taut muscles, eased wind and helped bring on sleep. In these years, despite my increasing doctrinal knowledge of what was sinful, I had only the vaguest knowledge of sex or sexual functions, and took him at his word; but as soon as it was safe to do so, I turned away on some pretext or other, such as sudden sleepiness. Looking back, and remembering his tone of voice and the rhythmic movement of his hand, I suspect he was masturbating. During the beatings [that his father gave to him and the other children] there was sometimes the same sexual undertow, but louder, coarser. (All Will Be Well: Memoir, p.200 [US edition; quoted in Michael L. Storey, ‘“Fellows like yourself”: fathers in John McGahern’s short stories’, in Journal of the Short Story in English / JSSE (Autumn 2009), p.15; available online.) [Cf. account of same in The Dark - as supra.]
 

[On foregoing the priesthood]: ‘I would no longer have to die in life in order to circumvent death and the judgment and to keep the promise to her I loved. Instead of being a priest of God, I would be the god of a small, vivid world. I must have had some sense of how outrageous and laughable this would appear to the world, because I told no one, but it did serve its first purpose – it set me free.’ (p.205; quoted in Paula McDonald, MA Diss., UUC 2011.)

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Sundry writings
Aran Islands: ‘I believe that this island lies closer to Mount Olympus that it does to the Roman gate of heaven that we used to pray to in my youth.’ (Essay on An t-Oileanach by Tomás Ó Crohan, in The Irish Review, Spring 1989, p.62).

Celebration: I’ve always thought that one of the functions of the writer is to celebrate and to praise. Maybe that doesn’t come across in my earlier work, but all the writer can do is write what he has to write at the time. Of course one’s vision of life changes. There’d be something wrong with a person if he didn’t change at all. (Shirley Kelly, “The Writing keeps the cattle in high style”, in Books Ireland (Feb2002), p.5-6. [See longer quotations under Commentary, infra.]

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The Image’, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies (July 1991), p.12 [prev. as preface to revised edn. of The Pornographer]: ‘When I reflect on the image two things from which it cannot be separated come: the rhythm and the vision. The vision, that still and private world which each of us possesses and which others cannot see, is brought to life in rhythm - rhythm being little more than the instinctive movements of the vision as it comes to life and begins its search for the image in a kind of grave, grave of the images of dead passions and their days. / Art is an attempt to create a world in which we can live: if not for long or forever, still a world of the imagination over which we can reign, and by reign I mean to reflect purely on our situation through this created world of ours, this Medusa’s mirror, allowing us to see and to celebrate even the totally intolerable. [...] It is here, in this search for the one image, that the long and complicated journey of art betrays the simple religious nature of its activity: and here, as well, it most sharply separates itself from formal religion. [...]’ (See full text, as attached.)

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James Joyce’s Dubliners [article], as ‘Dubliners’, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies (July 1991), p.31-37 [opening]: ‘Dubliners has often been compared to The Untilled Field; Moore’s stories are seen to have foreshadowed Joyce’s, and they are linked in trying to establish a tradition for that dubious enterprise, The Irish Short Story. I do not use “dubious” in the pejorative sense, other than the absurdity of trying to tout one race or literary form above any other. Remarkable work in the short story has come continually out of Ireland, but it is likely that its very strength is due to the absence of a strong central tradition. Stanislaus Joyce is most persuasive in his articulation of this problem for the Irish writer, if problem it be; for to live here is to come into daily contact with a rampant individualism and localism dominating a vague, fragmented, often purely time-serving, national identity. James Joyce’s remark about the citizens of Trieste - “They are all for the country when they know which country it is” - could be equally true of his own countrymen. Moore expressed this rowdy individualism, and in some respects he personified it, as did Patrick Kavanagh later, but it is not applicable to Joyce. [...] Particularly in “The Boarding House”, “Grace”, and “The Dead”, pun, coincidence, and echo are used as a writer of verse would use the formality of rhyme, deepening the sense of the lives of these mortal-immortal Dubliners, drawing together the related instincts of the religious, the poetic, and the superstitious.’ (p.31.)]

Cont. [James Joyce’s Dubliners, CJIS 1991]: ‘The prose never draws attention to itself except at the end of “The Dead”, and by then it has been earned: throughout, it enters our imaginations as stealthily as the evening invading the avenue in “Eveline”. Its classical balance allows no room for self-expression: all the seas of the world may be tumbling in Eveline’s heart, but her eyes give no sign of love or farewell or recognition. / Joyce does not judge. His characters live within the human constraints in space and time and within their own city. The quality of the language is more important than any system of ethics or aesthetics. Material and form are inseparable. So happy is the union of subject and object That They never become statements of any kind, but in their richness and truth are representations of particular lives - and all of life. / I do not see Dubliners as a book of separate stories. The whole work has more the unity and completeness of a novel. Only in the great passages of Ulysses was Joyce able to surpass the art of Dubliners. In many of these, like the Hades episode, his imagination returns again and again to his first characters, his original material.’ (p.37; see full text, as attached.)

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Maurice Goldring, Pleasant the Scholar’s Life: Irish Intellectuals and the Construction of the Nation State, reviewed by John McGahern in The Irish Times (23 July 1994), “Weekend” - reviewed: MacGahern recounts Goldring’s Marxian view that, in the outlook of the early Sinn Féin, one has to be middle-class to be included in the nationalist ideological circle - eloquent but wealthy as well: ‘it was a history of nationalist and Catholic Ireland from which the people were excluded’. He [JMcG] goes on to speak of the exclusion of women, and children, and quotes Shaw’s quip when the bishops objected to the sending of children to England for want of food during the 1913 Lock-Out, ‘There are some dwellings in Dublin that if they took the children out of them, the adults would misbehave themselves’ but ‘the old and ever-present cry went up that those stating the facts were writing for the English.’

Maurice Goldring (Pleasant the Scholar’s Life, reviewed in The Irish Times, 23 July 1994) - cont. [On political violence]: ‘The construction of the tradition of violence in Irish cultural nationalism at once made its use easier in future conflicts such as that in the North. Where there is no tradition to support it, violence becomes more difficult to institutionalise. Once this happens, though, Goldring sees little point in its criminalisation and he believes that the violence will not disappear until it is absorbed and is able to express itself through normal politics, as in the other European democracies. He differentiates between the violence in the North and the violence that led up to 1922, and he also separates that violence, loyalist as well as nationalist, from purely social upheavals.’ [MacGahern also cites a memoir of a conversation in the home of Conor Cruise O’Brien in Goldring’s book - as infra.]

Cf. an alternative reading of Goldring in Mark Bowles contrib. to ‘Summer Books’, in Fortnight Review (July/Aug. 1994), p.11, where the writer summarised Goldring’s conception of Easter 1916 as a ‘middle-class putsch’ of shopkeepers, teachers, clerks and journalists who managed to make their claims to represent the Irish nation appeal to the largest constituency on the island. In illustrating the idea of the class hegemony Bowles quotes Goldring as follows: ‘In order to rule a group must have an ambition, an image of the future acceptable to a wide range of people.’

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What is My Language?’, in Irish University Review [“John McGahern Special Issue”], 35, 1 (Spring/Summer 2005), pp.1-12; 11-12: ‘What, then, is my language? [...] The speech my mother gave me was the English spoken on the Iron Mountains. That language still contained within it at least the ghost of the Irish language. It was a slow, careful, humorous speech, grounded and practical, with a strong Northern accent, its rhythms almost entirely Gaelic, and Gaelic words were retained in the English usage. Her speech was not as earthen as her mother’s speech or that of her brothers and sisters; it was refined by years of schooling with the nuns and girls from rich families in the Marist Convent in Carrick-on-Shannon [11] and in the training schools of Trinity College. Many of the families from the mountain had been weavers in Armagh and Fermanagh, undercutting the established Protestant weavers. In an uprising in Armagh towards the end of the eighteenth century, their homes had been pillaged, their webs and looms broken, and they fled west and south. Though low-grade seams of coal and iron had been mined on the Iron Mountains for generations, nobody thought a living could be won from the slopes until those Northern families came and settled there. It was the realities of their precarious existence I found reflected in An tOileánach. Naturally there were differences as well. They were careful with money, had a horror of display or extravagance, and were extremely political. Motives and character came at all times under intense scrutiny. The localities I grew up in were all within sight of these mountains. The speech in these places was not greatly different but was softened and obscured by the gentler influences of the West. As my mother’s speech was refined by education, my speech was probably tempered in turn by an indiscriminate reading of books in English and by the prayers and ceremonies of the Catholic Church. If I have used that language in any way well, it will in its turn have used me.’ [End; for full-text version, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Irish Classics” > - as attached.]

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Bad writing (Interview with Rosa González, in Ireland in Writing: Interviews with Writers and Academics, ed. Jacqueline Hurtley, et al., Amsterdam: Rodopi 1998): ‘[...] I think that all autobiographical writing is by definition bad writing unless it’s strictly an autobiography. Writing, fiction especially, is life written to an order or vision, while life itself is a series of accidents. It would be very nice if life gave us fiction, but it never does. Also, I don’t think it is difficult enough; for some reason, in order to have true emotion one has to reinvent everything, and there is this strange contradiction that the more artificial the language becomes, actually the more true the emotion is, because in a way the language is being refined through the artificial to receive the emotion, and I think that instant words that come out of life are almost superficial emotion. So that actually, what’s easy in writing is nearly always bad and what is difficult is always likely to be true. / Comparing writing to painting or drawing, I’ve noticed that I’ve always made my worst mistakes when I’ve kept too close to realism. It has to be re-invented or re-imagined, and I think that’s because it has to conform to an idea. That’s why the short story is called “The Beginning of an Idea”.’

Further, on being asked about cosmopolitan aspects of Irish society, or even setting his novels outside Ireland altogether: ‘No, that doesn’t interest me. In other writers depth has always interested me much more than variety. And one has no choice anyhow, because generally something is in one’s head for years before one writes it down. Sometimes when one writes it down it disappears, and then other times when one writes it down, it starts to grow. Also, one is always writing for a certain time before one knows whether it is going to be a novel or a short story, and if it is a nove one is in big trouble because that means the next three or four years is gone.’ (p.45.)

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The Solitary Reader’, in Love of the World: Essays (2009): ‘I think that women fared worst of all within this paternalistic mishmash, but to men with intellectual interests it had at the time, I believe, some advantage ... What developed was a Freemasonry of the intellect with a vigorous underground life of its own that paid scant regard to Church or state.’ (p. 91; both of the foregoing quoted in Paula McDonald, MA Diss, UUC 2011.)

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Butchered - letter to Michael McLaverty: ‘Dear Michael I send you this in some reparation for the unfortunate going astray of the barracks [viz., The Barracks] though the prose has been incredibly butchered by editors I often wonder how you are, please remember me to Mrs McL[.] All good wishes, [Addressed from 57 Howth Road Clontarf, in 1962-63] (Letter in John McGahern Archive at Hardiman Library, Galway; copy supplied by Raymond Mullen.)

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Ireland back when: ‘The whole notion of [Irish] society was patriarchal, from the concept of God the Father right down to the father who actually dominated the household and dictated even when the rosary should be said [...].’ (Interview with Joe Jackson, ‘Tales from the Dark Side’, in Hot Press, 14 Nov. 1991, p.19; quoted in Conor Doris, UG Diss., UUC 2003.)

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Whatever you say, say nothing: ‘Eye on the 20th Century: Ireland 1950-1959’, in The Irish Times (30 Dec. 1999): ‘People did not live in Ireland then. They lived in small, intense communities, and the communities could vary greatly in spirit and character, even over a distance of a few miles; and I believe the real pain or emptiness for many exiles was that the places they had left were far more real to them than where their lives were taking place and where their children were growing up with alien accents. There was a hidden bitterness, but sometimes it was not so hidden. / I heard it expressed clearly on a London building site in 1954 [...]. Most ordinary people went about their sensible pagan lives as they had done for centuries, seeing all this [Church and State] as just another veneer they had to pretend to wear like all the others they had worn since the time of the Druids. [...] Dublin was more a provincial capital than a city then, much smaller, friendlier.’

Further: ‘It was easy to fall into conversation ... there were good secondhand bookshops ... the city was full of cinemas ... We paid little heed to the pieties of Church and State. The Censorship Board was thought to be a joke ... no taste as sharp as that of forbidden fruit ... I think of the decade beginning with the lighting of the paraffin lamps as darkness came on, the polishing of the globe, the trimming of the wicks, the adjustment of the flames, as it had been done for generations. By the end of the decade every house had electricity. Most people had radios,very soon they would all have television. The world that had stayed closed and certain for so long would soon see nothing but change.’

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Alistair MacLeod, Island: Collected Stories (2001) - Introduction by John McGahern: ‘[R]unning through the work is the irony that it is human ingenuity that is bringing an end to this traditional world.’ McGahern remarks that MacLeod’s work is ‘masculine in its strengths and its vulnerabilites. The men and women of the stories inhabit separate worlds. They are drawn together for love or procreation and then part, further withdrawing into their separate worlds. [...] This is stated with sympathy and palpable regret, but it is also seen to be as inevitable as fate.’ (From abridged version, printed in The Irish Times, 2 June 2001, “Weekend”, p.15.) [Note: MacLeod won the IMPAC Dublin Prize in 2001.]

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Youth & Age: ‘I’m only interested in what I know and care about. One of the more uncomfortable facts about growing old is that while you are failing, everything around becomes more interesting, because you know more. One of the hard things about being young is that most of the time you don’t know what the hell is going on around you.’ (Interview, quoted in Eamon Maher, John McGahern: From the Local to the Universal, 2003; see Bridget O’Toole, review of same, in Books Ireland, March 2005, p.48.)

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Catholicism & sex (interview with Eamon Maher, Tallaght IT, 2000): ‘No, I mean I have nothing but gratitude to the Church. I would think that if there was one thing injurious about the Church, it would be its attitude to sexuality. I see sexuality as just a part of life. Either all of life is sacred or none of it is sacred. I’m inclined to think that all of life is sacred and that sexuality is a very important part of that sacredness. And I think that it made a difficult enough relationship - which is between people, between men and women - even more difficult by imparting an unhealthy attitude to sexuality. By making sexuality abnormal and by giving it more importance in a way than it has - by exaggerating it.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index or direct.)

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The Church and Its Spire’, in Love of the World: Essays (2009): ‘I was born into Catholicism as I might have been norn into Buddhism or Protestantism or any of the other isms or sects, and brought up as a Roman Catholic in the infancy of this small state when the Church had almost total power: it was the dominating force in my whole upbringing, education and early working life. / I have nothing but gratitude for the spiritual remnants of that upbringing, the sense of our origins beyond the bounds of sense, an awareness of mystery and wonderment, grace and sacrament, and the absolute equality of all women and men underneath the sun of heaven. That is all that now remains. Belief as such has long gone.’ (p.133; quoted [in part] in Paula McDonald, MA Diss., UUC 2011; also quoted in Colm Tóibín, ‘Among the Flutterers’, review of The Pope Is Not Gay by Angelo Quattrocchi, translated by Romy Clark Giuliani [Verso 2010], in London Review of Books, 19 Aug. 2010 - available online; accessed 25.09.2015.)

Note that Tóibín quotes the letter of Proust in 1903 on the exclusion of the parish curé from the school prize giving in a French town: ‘I can tell you that at Illiers, the small community where two days ago my father presided at the awarding of the school prizes, the curé is no longer invited to the distribution of the prizes … The pupils are trained to consider the people who associate with him as socially undesirable … When I think of all this, it doesn’t seem to me right that the old curé should no longer be invited to the distribution of the prizes, as representative of something in the village more difficult to define than the social function symbolised by the pharmacist, the retired tobacco-inspector and the optician, but something which is, nevertheless, not unworthy of respect, were it only for the perception of the meaning of the spiritualised beauty of the church spire – pointing upward into the sunset where it loses itself so lovingly in the rose-coloured clouds; and which, all the same, at first sight, to a stranger alighting in the village, looks somehow better, nobler, more dignified, with more meaning behind it, and with, what we need, more love than the other buildings, however sanctioned they may be under the latest laws.’ (LRB, Aug. 2010 - online.)

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His mother’s death: ‘It was the most important thing, in the worst sense of the word, that ever happened to me, and I have wondered often would I have been a writer if it had not happened, and sometimes I think that maybe the long and complicated journey of art may be a simple activity to try to recover that world that I lost at her death. But I don’t know that. One writes because one needs to, and it’s an instinct, and though I’ve done nothing else for the last 40 years much, I still don’t understand it.’ (Patricia Deevy, ‘A light in the darkness’ [interview], in Irish Independent, 30 Dec. 2001.)

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On divorce: ‘I was looking back at the amount of stupidities that the right-wing people said when divorce became possible here because anyone who has gone through a divorce, as I have, it’s a terrible experience, because it’s almost like having a death without a body and one has an incredible sense of personal failure: you won’t get married to someone unless you make some sort of commitment; you have let yourself down and let somebody else down.’ (Deevy, op. cit., 2001; available online.) [Note: Deevy is director of Penguin Ireland.]