Monday, March 30, 2009

Meeting John McGahern

Almost exactly about this time 13 years ago, early in April:
Why not meeting halfway, he had suggested; at Blake's in Enniskillen.

So, on a bright and sunny (Satur-) day arriving in Enniskillen. Oh, what a wonderful world! Eleven years ago, summer '85: Each of the few noises reechoing; a voice here, a pair of stilettos there; at least one person sitting in each of the few cars parking in the main road.
Today: spring in the air, spring in the faces; no one sitting in the long row of parked cars, reading a newspaper. A cheerful laughter here, no supicious glances at the stranger with the strange bag. What a difference!

Blake's of the Hollow. He's not arrived, yet. After a while, I decide to rather wait in front of the entrance, enjoying the sun and - the very difference.
"May I leave my camera-bag?" - "There's no bomb in it, eh?" Laughingly the barkeeper nods, takes the bag.

Waiting. Waiting. For Godot? No. For John McGahern. Here he comes.

Two pints of Guinness, some sandwiches and two pots of tea later - apart from his work - we'd have talked about: history; many of his colleagues; the (then) political situation; abortion; the (ab)use of language, censorship, the Church.

At one stage he says: "One of the best things in my life so far has been to see the Church's influence fading."
"Well, I remember f.e. that [in autumn 1990] especially in rural western areas quite a few priests would call upon their flock by no means to vote for Mary Robinson becoming President."
"And, did it keep the majority from electing her?"
"Still, ...

"And you think that's irreversible?"
"Hm, that's what Gorbatchov said about Glasnost and Perestroika."
"Never again was said after the Holocaust, too, and still we are having our Srebrenicas and Rwandas. Yes. But we should never give up hope."

"Is that your Message to the Irish People?"
"À la Seán MacBride?" And again there is this tiny almost imperceptible smile.

And so we are going to talk about MacBride's 'testimony', finally coming to chapter 11 - Criminal Neglect of Forestry.
"Ah, yes, forestry", he says, raises his arm and asks the waiter to bring us another pot of tea.

Why would I've told this? Well, today three years ago John McGahern died.
Not really, hm?
You can meet him every day - in his books.

Oh well ... and whenever striving through his forest.


  1. What a wonderful encounter. Sadly I have only ever read Amongst women. I must read more

  2. Jams,
    a wonderful encounter, indeed.
    For a beginning I commend 'The Collected Stories', Faber & Faber, ISBN 0-571-16948-1

  3. Lovely story, and a very nice video to accompany it. Thank you Sean. McGahern was a superb writer, and though I never met him, he seemed like a man of principle, subtlety, and humility.

  4. Ah, Stan, glad you like it.
    Isn't it strange? I never thought of words to describe his personality. Yours are beautifully chosen, indeed. Thank you.