Friday, May 18, 2012

In pursuit of John McGahern

The Barracks, Cootehall
Aghawillian School
The first stop on a drive into Counties Roscommon and Leitrim in pursuit of John McGahern was at Cootehall, where lived McGahern’s father, an  ex-IRA senior officer rewarded, post civil-war, with the position of senior police officer at a quiet and peaceful country village Garda Barracks (Police Station).  When young John was but ten years old his mother, with whom hitherto he and his siblings had been living on a nearby smallholding, died.  Thereafter the children were obliged to share their domineering father’s private quarters at the Barracks.  The two-storey late eighteenth century building, nestling beside the river Boyle was probably built originally to accommodate a British army guard.  Presently it is a private house.  While there I photographed the house and the lake behind it onto which the young John McGahern would row the Barracks’ boat to read in peace the books which were his escape from the tyranny of life at home.  On the road in front of the Barracks McGahern’s family have had erected a memorial to him. It bears words from the book:  “. . . . a white moon rested on the water, there was no wind, the stars in their places were clear and fixed.  Who would want change since change will come without wanting?  Who this night would not want to live?”
McGahern's grave in St Patrick's Churchyard
If his life at Cootehall barracks provided McGahern inspiration and material for his first novel, “The Barracks”,  Augawillan, where he spent his first happy years with his siblings and his mother, similarly influenced, “Amongst Women”.  So graphic are McGahern’s descriptions of walks up the hill from home to the village school at which his mother taught that, to be there, in the village, on the tree-lined hill outside the school (now also converted into a private house, the school having been moved to a new, larger, building lower down the hill.) invoked in me a strong sensation of déjà vu.  Before leaving Aughawillan I visited St Patrick’s Church to pay respect to McGahern at his grave, which he shares with his mother, and to give silent thanks for the immense pleasure he has posthumously given to me through his writing.

McGahern’s last novel, “To Face the Rising Sun”, follows the lives of a group of people who have in common  the lake which their homes either overlook or of which they are within a stone’s throw.  John McGahern eventually settled in a house on the shores of Laura Lough near Fenagh, County Leitrim.  The narrator of “To Face the Rising Sun” also moved from the city to live tranquilly on the shore of a lake.  Although the Loch is not identified in the book there is more than enough circumstantial evidence within the narrative to suggest that Lough Laura had considerable influence on its geography.
Laura Lough near Fenagh


a reader from Poland said...

Thank you very much for McGahern related photos and impressions. He's one of my most beloved authors, I'm going to make my own pilgrimage to the land of his books.
Kindest regards!

John Foster said...

With or without John McGahern Ireland is a wonderful place to be - only the weather there stops me being a full-time resident.