Going out on a high: John McGahern’s That They May Face the Rising Sun

Conor McCloskey likens McGahern’s final novel to Ingmar Bergman’s swansong, Fanny and Alexander, Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa and the paintings of Brueghel

John McGahern  decided to end his career with a redemptive and celebratory work, which significantly deepened our view of his capacity for human warmth and understanding. In short: he presented a much more benign world view than most of his previous work suggested.  Photograph: Frank Miller

John McGahern decided to end his career with a redemptive and celebratory work, which significantly deepened our view of his capacity for human warmth and understanding. In short: he presented a much more benign world view than most of his previous work suggested. Photograph: Frank Miller


Just as the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s film Fanny and Alexander was heralded as his swansong, John McGahern’s last novel, That They May Face the Rising Sun, represents a development from the more austere works which preceded it. As in Bergman’s late film the tapestry is richer, so that a warmer, more lyrical and ultimately impressionistic work results.

The stylistic contrast between a film such as Winter Light (1963) early in Bergman’s career and Fanny and Alexander (1983) is mirrored in McGahern’s writing through contrasting the monochrome of a work such as his second novel, The Dark (1965), with the lusher palette of That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002). The view of humanity displayed is more nuanced, more subtly extracted and deeper hues are achieved, resulting in a range of acutely drawn, everyman characters populating the pages of the novel.

Furthermore, like Bergman, following a career of apparent misanthropic glee (at least in the view of many critics), McGahern decided to punctuate his career with a redemptive and celebratory work, which significantly deepened our view of his capacity for human warmth and understanding. In short: he presented a much more benign world view than most of his previous work suggested.

To further strengthen what at first glance may appear a tentative connection between these two artists, it is worth citing McGahern’s favourable 1994 review of Bergman’s second autobiographical novel Sunday’s Children (1), in which he states that “despite its sombre shadows, there is a great sense of playfulness throughout the novel” and “there are delicious allusions and touches of humour, but they are never more than incidental to the rich fabric of observation”. Perhaps most tellingly he alludes to “the indelible psychological hues that lie at the heart of the drama”, which is a comment that could stand for his own achievement in That They May Face the Rising Sun.

In the conclusion of his essay, McGahern quotes Chekhov to further illuminate Bergman’s achievement in Sunday’s Children:

“The best of them (writers) are realistic and paint life as it is, but because every line is saturated with juice, with the sense of life, you feel, in addition to life as it is, life as it ought to be.”

This also is a statement which could stand as a testament to McGahern’s own realised aims in That They May Face the Rising Sun, which despite managing to retain an innate believability, portrays an idyllic world, which invites comparison with the Garden of Eden. Joe and Kate Ruttledge are described in terms which evoke thoughts of Adam and Eve before the fall – “there are times when they’d make you wonder whether they are man and woman at all”. In the first paragraph of the novel we are told that “they had the entire world to themselves” and shortly after their home is described as “a little paradise”.

There is an interesting stylistic connection which can be drawn between Sunday’s Children and That They May Face the Rising Sun as well. When McGahern praises “a courtly yet ironic invitation” being extended to Bergman’s reader – “Do please enter the picture. You can stand there by the door out to the veranda or sit on the curvaceous sofa below the wall clock” – it is hard not to recall Jamesie’s surreptitious entry into the Ruttledge’s home at the opening of McGahern’s novel:

“The doors of the house were open. Jamesie entered without knocking and came in noiselessly until he stood in the doorway of the large room where the Ruttledges were sitting.”

Jamesie’s intrusion is uninvited and voyeuristic but in its innocence and light-heartedness, it amounts to a similarly warm invitation to the reader as Bergman’s personable appeal to immerse oneself in the world of his novel.

Both instances are reminiscent of the framing device John Ford employs in his western The Searchers (1956), in the opening scene of which the viewer is invited to become involved in the action through a tracking camera shot extending out from the doorway of a log-cabin towards the Monument Valley landscape, which will provide the backdrop to the film’s action.(2)

This symmetry is echoed in the legendary final scene when the Edwards family walk into the Jorgensens’ home escorting their traumatised daughter after her rescue from Comanche Indians, and the viewer is able to observe their entrance through the arch of the door-frame as if safely ensconced in the log cabin. However, John Wayne’s character (Ethan Edwards) is observing their entry as well from outside, and he stands framed in the doorway for an instant, before turning his back and walking away, as if declining to enter this now altered world. It is only then the door swings shut over the blacked out scene and the film ends.

McGahern too reiterates his own framing device at the end of his work, when he states that “Jamesie and Mary stood framed by the light”, and, like Ford in The Searchers, the device now works in reverse. The Ruttledges are standing watching them from across the lake and in the novel’s last paragraph we are permitted to view Jamesie and Mary through their eyes:

“At the porch, before entering the house, they both turned to look back across the lake, even though they knew that both Jamesie and Mary had long since disappeared from the sky.”

A work which bears sustained comparison with That They May Face the Rising Sun is Tomás Ó Criomhthain’s memoir The Islandman. Both Eamon Maher and Declan Kiberd have drawn connections between these two works and nowhere do the similarities seem as implicit as McGahern’s critique of Ó Criomhthain’s work in his revised essay What is My Language?’ (2005) (3). This essay proves an illuminating insight into his own writing preoccupations as well as Ó Criomhthain’s, for McGahern states:

“If we think of the style as the person, the revelation of personality in language, and that the quality of the personality is more important than the material out of which the actual pattern is shaped, then the opposite can be argued: style itself must be the outcome of a view of reality.”

This is McGahern’s variation on the form is content debate, and though he is ostensibly speaking about The Islandman here, it clearly reflects how he feels the narrative art operates in his own fiction as well. When we apply this definition to That They May Face the Rising Sun it is hard not to conclude that the celebratory feel of the language represents an increasingly benign view of his local environment. For everyday events are afforded a religious significance with almost the same sense of scrupulous observance. In the absence of God mortals have made their own importance, though tottering on the verge of a post-christian era, religious language is still there to describe these secular activities.

For instance, (to cite a small number of innumerable examples): the preparation for Johnny’s return is described in the following terms - ‘the house couldn’t have been prepared any better for a god coming home to his old place on earth’ ; ‘God bless yous’ is an oft-repeated refrain; the symbolic gestures of the church are frequently imitated by characters in the novel - ‘he raised a slow hand in a version of an episcopal blessing’; the self-same Shah is even described as resembling ‘a cardinal’ at one point; even the hyperbole surrounding a past religious event is captured in a religious metaphor - ‘they thought they were entering heaven the day Father Wrynn was ordained’; in its unfinished state the Ruttledge’s shed is described as ‘a holy sight’, though the Shah does also refer to it as a ‘cathedral’ (the Sagrada Familia would be an apt title based on its permanent state of incompletion) and in its overpowering spirituality it does indeed become a shrine to the beauty of nature. In response to Ryan’s enquiry ‘What are you looking at, lad?’ Ruttledge responds - ‘At how the rafters frame the sky. How the squares of light are more interesting than the open sky. They make it look more human by reducing the sky, and then the whole sky grows out from that small space.’ Ryan himself picks up on this idea later, enquiring - ‘Will we finish the cathedral?’ The churches throughout Ireland had played a similar role in allowing individual souls to view their importance and impotence in relation to a universal God, but here access to the overwhelming munificence of nature is demonstrated through reducing it in scale, which echoes McGahern’s own achievement in the perfectly realised, self-contained world he creates in ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun.’

Whilst at the same time there is a deliberate parallel drawn between the lives of humans and animals, as if to stress our similarity in terms of temporality and obliviousness to our ultimate fate. Again, from a litany of examples: the oft-repeated mantra that Johnny would have been better to shoot himself than the dogs before he left for England; the implicit suggestion that the dog is the only one truly grieving for Edmund - ‘the dog is pining since the day he went to the hospital’; the birds looking down on Ryan and Ruttledge at work on the shed, appear not to be able to tell if they’re any different than beasts in the field - ‘a wren or a robin would alight on one of the roof beams and look down on them as if they were sheep or cattle’; the begrudging respect for the lifestyle of bees - ‘if people were as busy and organized as the bees we’d have paradise on earth’ before their failings are pointed out, which are also reminiscent of humans - ‘the bees can be rough too in their way. They make short work of the drones’; the appreciation of the human complexity of the birds - ‘they say we think the birds are singing when they are only crying this is mine out of their separate territories’; the centrality of the cow birthing scene in the first section of the novel, deliberately juxtaposed after a visit to the dying Edmund and a discussion about human fertility; Ryan’s blunt questioning of Ruttledge regarding why they have no children - ‘was she too old when you started?’ could be an enquiry about a mare or a ewe; after one of John Quinn’s visits, Kate states - ‘he was looking me up and down as if I were an animal’; in the reminiscence of how Ruttledge successfully wooed Kate, he is equated with an animal of prey - ‘he was the sleepy fox lying in the grass, all that time waiting to pounce’; upon being thrown a handful of money by the Shah, Bill Evans ‘scrambled after the coins like some kind of animal’; there appears to be a palpable awareness of mutual extinction as well - ‘after us there’ll be nothing but the water hen and the swan’ and ‘his kind was now almost as extinct as the corncrake.’

O’Crohan’s phrase ‘la daor saol e’ which is translated in ‘The Islandman’ as ‘a day of our lives’ by Robin Flower, echoes the sort of effect McGahern achieves in ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’, where each of the days of the characters’ lives are built into the fabric of a week, a month, and eventually the circular wholeness of a year, while the seasons come and go. The behaviour of islanders in O’Crohan’s work has parallels in McGahern’s characterisation in this final novel as well. For instance: the episode concerning the stubborn refusal of the islanders to pay rent on the Blaskets, which culminates in the old woman blunting her scissors on the backside of the bailiff, is reflected in Ryan’s obstinance in relation to the unfinished shed at Ruttledge’s home. Both of these are comparable characters who are keen to illustrate that they will not be harried by the bourgeois conventions of the society they inhabit.

When McGahern states that in O’Crohan’s work ‘the concerns are immediate … no two days or two persons are alike’, it is equally true of the world of ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’. In fact McGahern is meticulous about clearly delineating characters who might otherwise be deemed similar and stereotypical. The Shah and Ryan are two obvious examples: the former a tight-lipped, essentially decent, self-made man and the latter a self-proclaimed truth teller, who apparently fails to perceive any wider truths about himself. Both represent distinct examples of the rural Irish bachelor experience in the period in which the novel is set. Yet they are only two examples from a vivid cast of characters, worthy of a writer such as Chaucer or Dante, in their accurate representation of the rich social world from which they emanate. Ruttledge’s comment to Jamesie towards the end of the novel that ‘you have been my sweet guide’ seems to confirm his friend’s Virgilian role in the novel. This comparison with Dante is further strengthened upon considering a passage from the same section of the novel, in which after being asked to consider the meaning of death, Ruttledge concludes that in the unlikely event of there being an afterlife, it will be composed of distinctly earthly impressions:

‘”I think that if there’s a hell and a heaven that one or other or both of the places are going to be vastly overcrowded,” he said with surprising heaviness. Even his walk and tone had changed.

“I suspect hell and heaven and purgatory - even eternity - all come from our experience of life and may have nothing to do with anything else once we cross to the other side.”’

Whilst many people round the lake live in a form of earthly paradise, characters such as Bill Evans and Johnny seem to exist in a form of purgatory. In the inferno cantos of ‘The Divine Comedy’ characters are apportioned the appropriate circle of hell according to the severity of the sins they have committed; and the brooding background of Republican violence in the north (not to mention Jimmy Joe McKiernan’s presence) with its occasional intimations of horror, hints strongly at the possibility of a hell on the margins of this world. Although the worst sin you can commit in McGahern’s society is to offend custom, making John Quinn an unlikely Francesca da Rimini.4

For the clear implication throughout the novel is that it may only be our capacity for ritual which sets us apart from other creatures. In ‘What is My Language?’ when McGahern cites O’Crohan’s boast that ‘never once did he infringe custom, and custom was the law of that civilisation’, the Blasket Islands writer invokes a substantial theme in much Irish writing of the 20th century, including McGahern’s final novel.

McGahern’s respect for custom and tradition in the time and place in which his fiction occurs is evident everywhere in ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’. It is built into the very fabric of the work. We need only think of episodes such as Ruttledge taking Ryan to see Edmund in hospital; the Shah taking his recently widowed niece on holiday; the continual hospitality shown to visitors to the Ruttledge’s lakeside; Johnny’s annual visits home and the establishment of an accompanying routine within this disruption of the natural rhythm of life, so that it becomes an acknowledged custom too. It is interesting that all of these customs are concerned with socialising and never exhibiting the taboo of being rude or too preoccupied with self. The characters who display these characteristics and show scant respect for custom are presented as somewhat ‘degenerate’ - to use the term McGahern references in relation to O’Crohan’s custom breakers - and they are quietly shown to get their comeuppance as well for displaying this degeneracy. This retribution is quiet in the sense that there is no formal or obtrusive intervention on the part of any narrator: think of Ryan defecating in the meadow and being attacked by bees or his self-appeasing visits to his sick brother; John Quinn’s misogynistic treatment of women, which eventually results in his being deserted by a bride who is more than a match for him.

Eamonn Hughes has stressed how “the social sphere is brought to life through the text’s insistent references to play and performance, in content, in metaphor and in the characters’ speech”. The novel’s continual stress on the performance aspect of life is designed not only to underline the consciously theatrical dimension which is surely at the heart of preserving social customs, but also to underline these social customs ultimate connection with that most established of Irish institutions – the church. Although conventional Christian belief had long since gone for McGahern, just like his spokesperson Ruttledge in the novel – in The Church and Its Spire (1993) he fulsomely expressed his indebtedness to his Catholic upbringing in Ireland, especially in light of a complete paucity of other cultural experiences:

“I have nothing but gratitude for the spiritual remnants of that upbringing, the sense of our origins beyond the bounds of sense, an awareness of mystery and wonderment, grace and sacrament, and the absolute equality of all women and men underneath the sun of heaven.” (5 )

Such indebtedness finds adequate expression in the novel through this emphasis on performance in everyday events, which frequently have religious overtones. For instance: early in the novel Jamesie justifies attendance at mass on the grounds that he couldn’t miss “the whole performance” and John Quinn’s habit of sitting at the front of the church with each new woman is described in similar terms; eating and drinking often attain the quality of transubstantiation in the novel, such as repeated descriptions regarding the preparation of whiskey and the cooking of Johnny’s sirloin; the Shah and Patrick’s Ryan’s religious greetings are described as a “superb” performance; whilst the dressing of the corpse towards the end of the novel becomes the ultimate respectful ritual blending a pagan and religious sense of propriety, akin to the final dignified tradition of laying out the body so that it faces the rising sun.

McGahern is working within an acknowledged tradition when he makes an examination of the role of custom a central theme in the novel. Irish writers as diverse as the aforementioned Ó Criomhthain, WB Yeats and Brian Friel have also discussed this idea in their work. And in each case the obsession with custom becomes a mechanism to celebrate a dying way of life.

By the time Yeats is writing a poem such as A Prayer for My Daughter (1919) he is acutely aware of the irreversible decline of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy from which he emanates, The setting for this poem is a storm at his recently reconverted tower in Thoor, Ballylee, and as he looks at his sleeping infant an ominous future is imagined by the poet:

“Imagining in exited reverie

That the future years had come,

Dancing to a frenzied drum,

Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.”

Thus, a poem ostensibly celebrating the birth of his daughter and the qualities he hopes she will possess also becomes a meditation on the importance of custom within the value system of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. His plea to his daughter to develop qualities which will ensure she is happy in her life to come, becomes a form of epitaph for those values he holds most dear. At the conclusion of the poem base values (“arrogance and hatred”) are contrasted with the two qualities he most values (“innocence and beauty”), which are shown to be rooted in the world of custom and ceremony. The subtle nature of their influence accentuated by images relating to Plenty’s horn and a “laurel tree”:

“And may her bridegroom bring her to a house

Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;

For arrogance and hatred are the wares

Peddled in the thoroughfares.

How but in custom and ceremony

Are innocence and beauty born?

Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,

And custom for the spreading laurel tree.”

A Prayer for My Daughter echoes sentiments confirmed in Yeats’ poem The Second Coming (1920), with regard to values which the poet felt would inevitably be lost in coming years as the world adjusted to tremendous change. The celebrated image of the Beast of the Apocalypse “slouch(es)ing towards Bethlehem to be born” is the confirmation of Yeats’ lament that “the ceremony of innocence is drowned”, effectively confirming his prediction from the earlier poem that an elevated way of life may be passing away.

Set in the Donegal hinterland of so much of his work, Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa (1990) is concerned with the ultimate extinction of the rural 1930s world inhabited by the Mundy sisters and he presents an array of related customs which are plainly going to decline alongside them. When Father Jack appears in his white uniform to orchestrate an elaborate ritual in which he exchanges hats with Gerry, it is more than simply the re-enactment of a “primitive” Ugandan custom, it becomes the symbolic representation of the transfer of responsibility for upholding a range of customs to the succeeding generation:

“Jack: Now if I were at home, what we do when we swap or barter is this. I place my possession on the ground -

(He and Gerry enact this ritual.)

Go ahead (Of hat) Put it on the grass - anywhere - just at your feet. Now take three steps away from it - yes? - a symbolic distancing of yourself from what you once possessed. Good. Now turn round once - like this - yes, a complete circle - and that’s the formal rejection of what you once had - you no longer lay claim to it. Now I cross over to where you stand - right? And you come over to the position I have left. So. Excellent. The exchange is now formally and irrevocably complete. This is my straw hat. And this is your tricorn hat. Put it on. Splendid! And it suits you! Doesn’t it suit him?

Chris: His head’s too big.

However, the failure of established ceremonies to survive - even as other age-old customs persist in diluted form - has already been broadly hinted at shortly before. This is most evident when Kate offers a scathing indictment upon learning of a former pupil’s engagement:

Kate: ‘The harvest dance is going to be just supreme this year, Miss Mundy’ - that wee brat!

Maggie: Sophia. Is she not still at school?

Kate: Left last year. She’s fifteen. And the lucky man is sixteen.

Maggie: Holy God. We may pack it in, girls.

Kate: It’s indecent, I’m telling you. Fifteen and sixteen! Don’t tell me that’s not totally improper. It’s the poor mother I feel sorry for.”

At every juncture Friel is keen to show established manners in decline, whilst at the same time making us increasingly conscious of his main characters’ imminent extinction. Like McGahern his ultimate achievement lies in having captured an entire world at precisely the moment before it ceases to exist forever.

For in the world of McGahern’s novel, his carefully constructed Eden is evidently under threat from outside influences as primal as death and as banal as “Blind Date”, which subtly underlines McGahern’s prescience regarding changing attitudes to sexual morality in the period. (6) Jamesie’s eventual fixing of the clocks may also be an ominous sign in a novel which has so scrupulously emphasised the timelessness of events, but this is a celebratory novel which ultimately avoids overly-plangent devices. So that it is the many instances where an idyllic atmosphere is evoked which tend to linger in the memory. Though it is not so much life idealised as fully realised - beneficent:

“Easter morning came clear. There was no wind on the lake. There was also a great stillness. When the bells rang out for Mass, the strokes trembling on the water, they had the entire Easter world to themselves.”

McGahern’s complete preoccupation has become the endless intricacies of his local world. Even though the existential has not quite been purged from his work, these moments are increasingly rare, appearing only in flashes. When Rutledge comments on the folly of feeling happiness – “As soon as the thought came to him, he fought it back, blaming the whiskey” – it is reminiscent of Camus’ sympathy for his absurd hero, Sisyphus, who in a moment of blind optimism as he trudges after his rock comments – “Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well.” (7)

Likewise, in McGahern’s novel, the statement that “Bill Evans could no more look forward than he could look back. He existed in a small closed circle of the present” is like a description of the world inhabited by a character such as Meursault in Camus’s L’Etranger. But such examples are increasingly scant as McGahern is a novelist nearing the end of his life, at ease with himself and his community, celebrating the natural delights of people and places he has increasingly come to adore.

Denis Sampson has stressed the novel’s pictorial quality, in what amounts to another framing device by the author. It is a truism that paintings capture a moment in time and this is certainly true of McGahern’s achievement in That They May Face the Rising Sun as well, through his deliberate cultivation of a timeless atmosphere. In many ways the novel is reminiscent of a Breughel painting such as The Peasant Wedding due to the large cast of colourful characters it contains (even if the lake shore is no longer “black with people”) and its emphasis on regular feasts and customs such as weddings, Easter and Christmas, even the flashback of Jamesie and his father planting potatoes.

There are thematic overtones with an artist such as Breughel too. The obliviousness of a range of animals to Johnny’s funeral towards the end of the novel, emphasises similar themes to the Breughel painting Landscape after the Fall of Icarus, in which the busy world of the living continues apace even as Icarus disappears into the sea:

“The mule came to the iron gate to inspect the hearse as it passed. The brown hens, used to all the traffic by now, went on pecking in the dirt as the long shining hearse turned, pausing to cast a yellow eye studiously on the scene before returning their attention again to the dirt.”

But it is the lyrical warmness of McGahern’s work which cause it to linger in the memory. In addition to the many evocations of life around the lake and its surroundings, episodes such as the Monaghan Day scene display all the descriptive authority and local knowledge of a novelist such as Thomas Hardy, writing in a very similar milieu:

“The traders had already set out their stalls. Chain saws were displayed on a long trestle table beneath a canvas tent that bulged and flapped. From the open back of a van a man was selling animal medicines, sprays and drenches and large cans of disinfectant, sticks of caustic for removing horns, bone-handled knives with curved blades for dressing hooves.”

Throughout the novel, in endless descriptions of people and places, McGahern is reminding us all how to live before it is too late. In capturing this passing way of life he celebrates its rites and rituals with such dignity that the novel has many of the hallmarks of religious worship. But more important than the living world he celebrates is the natural world which surrounds it – the sun, the sky and the lake – which provides order and an everlasting backdrop to the lives of its inhabitants. The descriptions of the lake, which are to the fore every time someone visits the Ruttledge’s home, are a constant reminder of our strictly human scope within the wider canvas of the natural world, for we are merely passing through, as we’re frequently reminded – “We’re but a puff of wind on the lake.” At times nature is referred to in such overtly iconographical terms – “Remember me to all around the lake” – that it serves to remind us that it is the sacramental source from which all else flows.


1. McGahern reviewed Bergman’s second autobiographical novel Sunday’s Child favourably and had evidently read and been impressed by Bergman’s first novel as well.

2. Although set in Texas it is the distinctive backdrop of Monument Valley which provides the setting for John Ford’s classic western.

3. ‘An t-Oileanach’ (1937) was the Irish language work written by the Blasket Islands’ writer Romás Ó Criomhthain (Tomas O’Crohan), which was translated by Robin Flower. The majority of McGahern’s critique of Ó Criomhthain’s work appeared in an essay entitled An t-Oileanach in the 1987 edition of the Canadian Journal of Irish Studies. It was then incorporated into the main body of a wider essay entitled What is My Language? 2004 (New Readings of Old Masters edited by Mary Massoud) before McGahern’s revised edition of this essay which appeared in the Irish University Review (2005)

4. In Dante’s Divine Comedy in the cantos devoted to hell, Francesca da Rimini appears in the second circle, which is reserved for the lustful. She was a member of the Polenta family who was killed by her husband upon being discovered with his brother, before she had time to repent her sin of adultery.

5. This extract is the precursor to one of McGahern’s formative memories, which is also recounted in The Church and its Spire: “Heaven was in the sky, and beyond its mansions was the Garden of Paradise … One of my earliest memories is of looking up at the steep, poor rushy hill that rose behind our house and thinking that if I could climb the hill I would be able to step into the middle of the sky and walk all the way to the stars and the very gate of heaven.” This extract bears contrast and comparison with the earlier quoted description of heaven (and hell) by Ruttledge on p310 of the novel, as well as Ruttledge’s observations on the sky on p71 of the novel , which have also been the subject of discussion in this piece.

6. This is also an area which Friel is interested in exploring in plays such as Dancing at Lughnasa. Namely the rapidly declining custom of sexual propriety. In McGahern’s novel the innocence of Jamesie’s highly sexualised remarks bear contrast with those of bachelors such as Patrick Ryan and the Shah, never mind the lewd conduct of sexual practitioners such as John Quinn.

7. In The Myth of Sisyphus the eponymous hero was condemned to push a boulder up a hill for eternity. Camus used this mythical figure’s fate as the example par excellence of the absurdist dilemma, even giving it the title for his long essay which outlined his absurdist philosophy.

Conor McCloskey is one of the organisers of the Benedict Kiely Festival, which this year takes place from September 9th-11th in Omagh, Co Tyrone.

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