Church's role in McGahern sacking should have been 'wake up call'

 

THE CATHOLIC Church’s role in having John McGahern sacked from his teaching post in the mid-1960s should have been a “wake up call”, novelist Colm Tóibín suggested last night.

Speaking in Carrick on Shannon where he delivered the keynote address at the opening of the fifth John McGahern International Seminar and Summer School, Tóibín drew a parallel between McGahern’s experience at the hands of the church and more recent events highlighted in the Cloyne report.

“Here we are 45 years later still dealing with the same problem in the Cloyne report – the priest threatening not to sign the teacher’s pay cheque,” he said.

Tóibín said his late friend had been an iconic figure in two ways. Like Edna O’Brien, he had in his writings been “breaking glass” in addressing subjects about which others remained silent. But he had also been an artist and when he wrote about the pain experienced by children, he did so “not in polemic articles but in beautiful novels”, added Tóibín.

When McGahern had written about the loneliness and misery of a child in pain, a subject never addressed until then in Irish literature, his work was met with hostility, Tóibín said. McGahern’s second novel The Darkwas banned and when he was sacked he did not even have the support of his union “who should have made his a test case”.

Dr John Kenny of NUI Galway, which organises the annual seminar in conjunction with Leitrim County Council, announced last night that, having been inaugurated in 2006 on a five-year basis, the event will continue for a further five years.

In coming days admirers of the late writer, who died in March 2006, will retrace his steps and visit many of the locations so familiar from his work – including the barracks at Cootehall, the national school in Aughawillan where his mother taught, and the churchyard where they both lie.