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Death of J.P. Donleavy, Novelist & Playwright

jp-donleavyJames Patrick Donleavy, Irish American novelist and playwright, dies in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017. His best-known work is the novel The Ginger Man, which is initially banned for obscenity.

Born in New York City on April 23, 1926 to Irish immigrants Margaret and Patrick Donleavy, Donleavy receives his education at various schools in the United States. He declares himself to be an atheist at the age of 14. He serves in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war ends, he moves to Ireland. In 1946 he begins studying at Trinity College, Dublin, but leaves in 1949 before taking a degree. Also in 1946, he marries Valerie Heron and the couple has two children: Philip (born 1951) and Karen (born 1955). They divorce in 1969 and he remarries in 1970 to Mary Wilson Price. That union also ends in divorce in 1989.

Donleavy’s first published work is a short story entitled A Party on Saturday Afternoon, which appears in the Dublin literary periodical, Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art in 1950. He gains critical acclaim with his first novel, The Ginger Man (1955), which is one of the Modern Library 100 best novels. The novel, of which his friend and fellow writer Brendan Behan is the first person to read the completed manuscript, is banned in Ireland and the United States by reason of obscenity. Lead character Sebastian Dangerfield is in part based on Trinity College companion Gainor Crist, an American Navy veteran also studying at Trinity College on the G.I. Bill, whom Donleavy once describes in an interview as a “saint,” though of a Rabelaisian kind.

Correctly or incorrectly, his initial works are sometimes grouped with the Kitchen Sink artists as well as the “angry young men.” Another novel, A Fairy Tale of New York, provides the title of The Pogues hit song “Fairytale of New York.”

In March 2007, Donleavy is the castaway on BBC Radio 4‘s Desert Island Discs. In 2015, he is the recipient of the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

In 2011, it is reported that Donleavy had not fathered his two children with Mary Wilson Price. A DNA test in the early 1990s confirms that Rebecca is the daughter of brewing scion Kieran Guinness, and Rory is the son of Kieran’s older brother Finn, whom Price marries after her divorce from Donleavy. “My interest is only to look after the welfare of the child,” Donleavy tells The Times, “and after a certain stage, you can’t worry about their parentage.”

J.P. Donleavy dies of an apparent stroke in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017 at the aged of 91.

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