Gerard McCarthy (1949-2022): an appreciation by Chris Agee and Manus Charleton

His editor and a friend pay tribute to a writer of essays of great depth and humanity

Gerard McCarthy died in the North West Hospice, Sligo on Friday, January 14th, 2022 in the early evening, a month or so after a diagnosis of cancer. His funeral took place on January 17th at St Colmcille’s Church, Rathcormac, Co Sligo, in whose cemetery he is now buried.

His brilliant and profound first book of essays, Old Istanbul & Other Essays, is published by The Irish Pages Press this month. After an unfortunate printer’s delay, the final bound-proof copy was placed in his hands the afternoon before his death, and the book’s final essay, At Algeciras, with its perfect last line at that moment, was read aloud by his partner Nora to family and friends assembled at his bedside as he lay medicated the next day.

The book consists of the eight essays he published in Irish Pages between 2006 and 2020. For now, there appear to be no other extant, completed essays.

Gerard was a great and unforgettable person, and a great and unforgettable writer. It is an enormous personal and familial tragedy that his life was cut short at such an age, and that many of his future readers will not have the opportunity to meet the living person that shines through the writing left behind on his “final journey to the final boundary, from which no voyager returns”.


Chris Agee is the general editor of The Irish Pages Press/Cló An Mhíl Bhuí.

Gerard was a close friend for over 50 years. We met in 1968 in University College Dublin where we attended the same classes in philosophy. From the early 1980s he lived in Sligo with his beloved partner Nora close to where I lived with my wife and children. He had a deep influence on me, and on all who knew him.

Aristotle wrote that one of the many benefits of friendship is that it enables a person “to share with his friends that occupation, whatever it may be, which forms for him the essence and aim of his existence”. Gerard understood this as a matter of course. From time to time it featured in his conversation and discussion with close friends. He was interested in what mattered to us most and how we were getting on in shaping it at the heart of our lives.

As a young man in the late 1960s, Gerard and some friends went on camping trips from Dublin to the west of Ireland. It led to their purchase in the early 1970s of a small disused national school on the shore of Collanmore Island in Clew Bay. Gerard went there frequently over the years, often on his own, travelling out and back at the tiller of a small currach that had an outboard engine. Poking fun, we sometimes called him “the helmsman”. But there was an appropriate element in that epithet. It stood as a metaphor for the way he perceptively guided us towards a reflective return to ourselves from the midst of busyness and distractions. He kept us in touch with our deeper selves.

Located at the western edge of Europe, the island’s isolation and distance from events enabled him to develop a broad perspective on the world as our common home, a home blighted by conflict and displacement. It was a perspective informed by his travels, notably to Istanbul and Jerusalem to experience their heritage of religious cultural differences, and to the island of Lesbos to see the camp for refugees from the Syrian civil war and elsewhere who were seeking asylum in Europe. He was also drawn to India, to Varanasi in particular. The combination of the island and travel enabled him to find a language and style needed for doing justice in his essays to his perspective on the world as our common home.

He was a man for going on solitary walks, usually along a deserted Sligo strand, or in Hazelwood in the early morning. He also initiated a monthly walk with friends which took place every month for years. We often climbed Ben Bulben, or up “Where the wandering water gushes / From the hills above Glencar”, as Yeats described it. On these walks the enjoyment of nature was combined with convivial banter, shared reflections on life and events, and companionable silence.

So much of who he was came from the sense he gave of being present in the world – to himself, to others and to nature. He was both singular and sociable as well as empathetic and considerate, traits that inclined him towards his job as a social worker. An older meaning of “considerate” is “showing careful thought”, and Gerard always did. He was also stoic. Marcus Aurelius’ meditations were a foundational influence. So, too, was Nietzsche’s penetrating and disconcerting scepticism. In later years he was also influenced by Montaigne’s seminal and effervescent essays.

An annual winter solstice walk with friends included taking a group photograph. Gerard knew the rock on which to place the camera, and the angle at which to point the lens. The resulting picture captured us in another year of ageing against an Atlantic backdrop with its tides that wait on no one. Last winter solstice illness prevented him from taking part in the walk. He was on his own last journey, leaving behind essays of great depth and humanity.

Manus Charleton is a writer living in Sligo, whose essays have appeared in Irish Pages: A Journal of Contemporary Writing (, founded in 2002.


From Old Istanbul & Other Essays (2022):

“The monks of Inishmurray: their faith in the literal meaning of their prayers. How does the human need to transcend translate into a time when any one faith is seen as one among many? As metaphor? There remains a faith in the need to transcend old local perspectives, seeking a perspective from which to view them. A belief that what is most central can be found in the boundaries between them.

"How can one assume a neutrality when addressing the cultural air we breathe? How can one see one's heritage unless one steps outside it into that space we share in common with all heritages: the world that none of us can step outside – until the final voyage to the final boundary, from which no voyager returns?" – Gerard McCarthy

May he rest in peace.

Old Istanbul & Other Essays can be ordered here.