John le Carré pondered move to Ireland, says friend John Banville

Novelist was in process of applying for Irish passport after tracing family line to Co Cork

Acclaimed English novelist John le Carré who died on Sunday at the age of 89 was applying for an Irish passport and considering moving to Ireland after discovering a family connection with west Cork, according to friend and fellow writer John Banville.

Banville said le Carré , whose real name was David Cornwell, was appalled at developments in the United Kingdom in recent years. Namely the rise of English nationalism, leading to the UK voting for Brexit and he was exploring taking out Irish citizenship and moving to the Republic.

Banville told host Seán Rocks on Arena on RTÉ Radio 1 last night that his friend had travelled to west Cork to trace his ancestors. Le Carré was best known for his espionage novels about the British secret service – The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

"He was so disgusted with his England having betrayed itself by the Brexit vote he was contemplating moving to Ireland. He came here . . . and went down to Cork to look into his family roots there," said Banville.


"I think it was in Rosscarbery. And he talked to some kindly woman who was in charge of the local records and she said to him, 'welcome home'. He was getting his Irish passport and he seriously was thinking of coming here."

Le Carré spoke about learning about his Irish grandmother, Olive Wolfe, and visiting her birth place at Inchanattin, Rosscarbery, when he was interviewed by the late Marian Finucane on her RTÉ Radio 1 radio show in October 2019.The novelist told how he had visited Ireland recently as he spoke about how he believed the Tories, with leaders like Boris Johnson, were in danger of breaking up the UK and how Johnson seemed to have no regard at all for "the chaos it will be visiting on Ireland" as a consequence of Brexit.

“I am indeed applying for an Irish passport. And it means a lot to me for two reasons: firstly, I want to remain in the EU and an Irish passport will enable me to do that; I am a European and I would like the passport of a European,” said le Carré.

“Secondly, I have much to learn. I was completely enchanted by my journey to Ireland where I visited my grandmother’s birthplace in Inchinattin near Rosscarbery in Co Cork and that was where she grew up. And at the age of 16, from there, she went to England as a lady’s maid. That was in 1911 and a couple of years later all hell broke out in that region and there was a terrible religious war and carnage. And she escaped that, so I went and found this tiny little spot, Inchinattin near Rosscarbery.

"Afterwards I went to Skibbereen where there is a heritage centre and a wonderful lady called Margaret Murphy, an archivist, first of all looked rather sternly at her computer for a long while and then she turned up to me and with a beautiful smile said, 'welcome home'.

“It was very moving. And particularly since I had no way really of relating to my mother [who left home when le Carré was five years old], I immediately fell in love with my grandmother and explored as best I could her life in those days.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times