John McGahern - 1934-2006

PRESIDENT Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Minister for Arts John O’Donoghue, along with figures from the arts and literary worlds, led tributes yesterday to the novelist, John McGahern.

He died suddenly in Dublin’s Mater Hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 71.

Mr McGahern had “made an enormous contribution to our self-understanding as a people”, the president said. “With the passing of John McGahern, Ireland has lost an outstanding literary talent.”

The Taoiseach described Mr McGahern as one of Ireland’s finest writers. “Through decades, he slowly, meticulously and beautifully crafted some of the finest passages of literature ever written on this island.”

Mr O’Donoghue, a friend of Mr McGahern, recalled meeting the writer for a drink in Dublin’s Buswell’s Hotel around Christmas. “We talked mostly about his recently published Memoir. You could be forgiven for thinking John was a small farmer from the West of Ireland. Indeed, you could say that he was a small farmer from the West of Ireland - but with one of the greatest intellects of his time.”

He described Mr McGahern as the true successor to Joyce and “a country man of immense humility. He could sup with beggars and walk with kings”.

Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney also expressed his appreciation of the author of Memoir (2005), That They May Face The Rising Sun (2001), Amongst Woman (1990) and The Dark (1965), the novel that was banned and partly led to Mr McGahern being sacked as a teacher in the 1960s.

“I see him as the heir of Synge and Beckett,” said Mr Heaney. “He was strict in his judgment, sympathetic in his understanding, courageous in the face of personal difficulties and always capable of merriment and grace.”

The former arts adviser to Charles Haughey, poet Anthony Cronin, said Mr McGahern was a faithful writer who returned again and again to the same subject.

Fiach McConghail, director of the National Theatre, said Mr McGahern was seen as a giant of world literature. “He was highly regarded as a significant writer in the whole of Europe, but particularly in France,” he said.

A former pupil of Mr McGahern, the academic and author Prof Declan Kiberd, said Mr McGahern understood Ireland and read it brilliantly. “He was gentle and rather old-fashioned in his politeness,” he said. “At the same time, he had a good-humoured mischievousness.”

Mr McGahern is survived by his wife, Madeline, and sisters. He will be buried in his beloved Leitrim in the coming days.

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