Obituary: French philosopher who fell in love with Donegal

Paul Chatenoud

Sat, Feb 15, 2014, 12:56

Paul Chatenoud, who has died at the age of 73, was a much-loved French resident of Ardara in Donegal, owner/proprietor of The Green Gate (An Geata Glas), a popular bed and breakfast in Ardvalley outside the town.

A philosopher and musicologist, he was once memorably described as a cross between Jean Paul Sartre and Charles Aznavour “with the furrowed face of a philosopher but the twinkling eyes of an entertainer”.

Visitors to his scenic cottage overlooking Loughros Bay would have noticed the stacks of books, including the complete works of Freud, and his extensive collection of classical music. He liked to serve breakfast with bread freshly baked locally, and introduced guests to his tame robin, Christopher.

Born in Casablanca, Morocco to a father who was an agriculturalist, he was the second youngest of six children. His mother died when he was two and his father married again and had six more children.

At 17 he joined a shipping company in Casablanca and moved to Paris at 24 after his Baccalaureate to study philosophy at the Sorbonne under Vladimir Jankélévitch.

After leaving university he became sales director of an industrial machinery company with responsibility for Ireland and the UK and it was during a trip to the North that he first fell in love with Donegal.

Paris life

In Paris he took up singing lessons, learning German and Italian in order to understand libretti. In the late 1970s he opened Librairie Musicale near Notre Dame, the first bookshop in Paris specialising in music. Its many patrons included Alain Resnais, Arthur Rubenstein and the biographer Jean Lacouture.

In 1983 he decided to come to Ireland to write a book on philosophy and rented a cottage at Loughros Point. The urge to stay became so great that in 1988 he sold his shop and his apartment on the Ile St Louis and bought – somewhat on the spur of the moment – a 200-year-old cottage outside Ardara, which he renovated and eventually opened as a bed and breakfast.

A voracious reader and letter writer, he attracted visitors from all over the world and many reviews and features in leading English and French newspapers and magazines. His book The Eye of the Ventriloquist was finally completed a few years ago and recently translated into English.

Ambassador for Ardara

For 30 years he was Ardara’s most ardent exponent and ambassador, “a kind, loving and very caring man” according to the Donegal Post .

His Requiem Mass, celebrated by his friend Fr Pascal McDonnell, drew a huge attendance of locals, relatives and friends from Paris.

By special permission he was buried in the l8th-century Kilternan graveyard just below his cottage. At his graveside, his son, Édouard, described him as “a poet, a creator, a farmer, a conformist, an anticonformist, an anarchist, a Catholic, a free man, a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and an artist whose masterpiece was his life” .

A commemorative Mass will be held in Paris on March 1st at midday in St Germain des Prés.

He is survived by his son, Édouard, daughter-in-law, Claire, grandson, Edgar, Édouard’s mother, Marie José, and 10 brothers and sisters.

Born: July 15th, 1940

Died: January 29th, 2014