Writer John McGahern to be commemorated by library at Cootehall barracks
Minister hands over key of former Garda station to local community
John McGahern’s sister Margaret takes a moment to herself in the old barracks in Cootehall where she and the writer spent much of their childhood. Photograph: Brian Farrell
John McGahern’s sister Margaret sat on a low wall in front of the barracks in Cootehall, Co Roscommon, and pointed to the spot where her father used to stack turf. She was there to see Minister of State Brian Hayes hand over the key to the former Garda station to the local community.
“I think it’s great that the barracks will live on as part of the community – and that it won’t be knocked down and turned into something atrocious,” she said.
Cootehall Community Development Group intends to open a library and reading room to commemorate John McGahern in the former dayroom of the barracks immortalised in his work. The “married quarters” where Sergeant Frank McGahern lived with his young family will become a community facility for everyone from the parent and toddler group to the Tidy Towns Committee.
Yesterday Margaret ventured into the residence, where the torn wall paper and the cold range added to the sense of nostalgia . “It’s great that John is being remembered here, a place which was so much part of his life,” said Margaret. “We had the greatest freedom children could have here. My father had a black tarred boat and we used to push it out on the water. We fished every minute of the day.”
The writer’s sister also said she was proud of her father “and the role he played in this community”.
Many of the McGahern children’s school friends were there for the handing over ceremony. “He was older than me but I remember him working on the bog with his father and his sisters,” said local man Sean Higgins. “I have the novel The Barracks at home – whenever one of his books came out it was fierce craic identifying the characters. Local people knew exactly who he was talking about even when he used different names.”
Dympna O’Regan was training to be a teacher in Dublin at the same time as McGahern. “I used to meet him in the Crystal Ballroom. He was very shy but he always gave me a dance – maybe because I was a local. Little did I think that he would be so famous.”
Mr Hayes said the barracks was already “a place of pilgrimage” for McGahern fans. The Government had closed 140 Garda stations and the OPW was keen that many of them would be preserved as community facilities. “This is a perfect fit as far as we are concerned,” he said.
Writer Paddy Gilligan, who is married to McGahern’s sister Monica, said the couple were delighted that the barracks had been returned the community.
“I hope that the guards who lived here will also be remembered as they are all part of the history,” he said.