John McGahern’s former barracks home to become a museum
Writer and his family had lived in Garda station which was closed last year
John McGahern, near his home in Leitrim, in 1990. After his mother’s death when he was 10, McGahern and his siblings moved into the Cootehill barracks to live with their father, Frank, wh was a sergeant there for many yeares. Photogaph: Frank Miller
It was the inspiration for John McGahern’s first novel and now the writer’s close association with the barracks in Cootehall, Co Roscommon, is to be commemorated.
A John McGahern library and reading room is to be established in the former Garda station which was closed by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter last year.
Already a place of pilgrimage for McGahern fans, the living quarters of the barracks on the Boyle river will be adapted as a community meeting space. The library/reading room will be in the public office, so familiar to readers of McGahern’s Memoir, as well as his fiction.
After his mother’s death when he was 10, McGahern and his siblings moved into the barracks to live with their father, Frank, who served as sergeant there for many years.
His family will be invited back to Cootehall in December when Minister of State Brian Hayes will, on behalf of the Office of Public Works, hand over the building to the Cootehall Community Development Group.
Maurice Gannon, secretary of the group, said it was “unthinkable” that the historic building would be sold on the open market and perhaps end up in private ownership. “We just could not let that happen. It would be irresponsible of us,” he said.
“I think John McGahern would like the idea that it is going back to the community.”
He added that many McGahern fans sought out the barracks where a plaque had been erected in memory of the writer, and where the garden was already being transformed into a park, due to open at the end of the year.
The building had views over many of the local landmarks immortalised by McGahern, Mr Gannon added, such as Oakport Lake and the 17th-century archway leading to The Bawn, once the home of Chidley Coote, from whom the village takes its name.
Contemporaries of the writer who still live in the village, have welcomed the proposals. Paddy O’Regan, who is in his 80s and runs a pub and shop there, said his generation remembered McGahern fondly.
“I remember him fishing on Oakport lake. The first radio in Cootehall was in the barracks and we used to gather outside a window and listen to the All-Ireland football final from there.”
Funding will be a challenge, the community group has acknowledged, especially given the building is not in good repair but they hope to make applications to the Arts Council and the Rural Development Fund.
“Where there is a will there is a way,” Mr Gannon said, putting a “very preliminary ballpark” price tag of €100,000 on the project.