John McGahern, regarded as one of the most important Irish writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, dies in Dublin on March 30, 2006. Known for the detailed dissection of Irish life found in works such as The Barracks, The Dark and Amongst Women, The Observer hails him as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death and in its obituary The Guardian describes him as “arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett.”
Born in Knockanroe about half a mile from Ballinamore, County Leitrim, McGahern is the eldest child of seven. Raised alongside his six young siblings on a small farm in Knockanroe, his mother runs the farm (with some local help) while maintaining a job as a primary school teacher in the local school. His father, a Garda sergeant, lives in the Garda barracks at Cootehall in County Roscommon, a somewhat sizeable distant away from his family at the time. His mother subsequently dies of cancer in 1944, when the young McGahern is ten years old resulting in the unrooting of the McGahern children to their new home with their father in the aforementioned Garda barracks, Cootehall.
In the years following his mother’s death, McGahern completes his primary schooling in the local primary school, and ultimately wins a scholarship to the Presentation Brothers secondary school in Carrick-on-Shannon. Having traveled daily to complete his second level education, he continues to accumulate academic accolades by winning the county scholarship in his Leaving Certificate enabling him to continue his education to third level.
Following on from his second level success, McGahern is offered a place at St. Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra where he trains to be a teacher. Upon graduation from third level education, he begins his career as a primary schoolteacher at Scoil Eoin Báiste (Belgrove) primary school in Clontarf where, for a period, he teaches the eminent academic Declan Kiberd. He is dismissed from Scoil Eoin Báiste on the order of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. He is first published by the London literary and arts review, X magazine, which publishes in 1961 an extract from his abandoned first novel, The End or Beginning of Love.
McGahern marries his first wife, Finnish-born Annikki Laaksi, in 1965 and in the same year publishes his second novel, The Dark, which is banned by the Censorship of Publications Board for its alleged pornographic content along with its implied sexual abuse by the protagonist’s father. Due to the controversy which is stirred by the book’s publication McGahern is dismissed from his teaching post and forced to move to England where he works in a variety of jobs before returning to Ireland to live and work on a small farm near Fenagh in County Leitrim.
John McGahern dies from cancer in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin on March 30, 2006, at the age of 71. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Church, Aughawillan alongside his mother.