McGahern’s works characterised by ‘revolutionary disillusionment’

Roy Foster tells seminar author’s work ‘clearly reflected’ father’s experience as a Volunteer

John McGahern photographed near his home in Co Leitrim in 1990. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

John McGahern photographed near his home in Co Leitrim in 1990. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

 

Revolutionary disillusionment is a theme which recurs in much of John McGahern’s work and clearly reflected his father’s experience both as a Volunteer and in his later life in the Free State, historian Roy Foster suggestedthis evening.

Addressing the opening session of the seventh International Seminar on John McGahern in Carrick-on-Shannon, Mr Foster, a Professor of Irish History at Oxford University, explained how over the previous 24 hours he had been struck by the connection between locale and inspiration, a familiar theme for McGahern fans.

“Last night I slept in Michael Collins bed in this hotel (Collins overnighted in the Bush Hotel in 1919), this morning I stood by a warm fire at (1916 leader) Sean MacDiarmada’s house near Kiltyclogher and later I stopped at the barracks in Cootehall where some of John McGahern’s extraordinary and harrowing inspiration began,” he explained.

Outlining McGahern’s portrayal of disillusionment by those who made the Irish revolution, Mr Foster pointed out that in Amongst Women a tricolour was placed on the coffin at the funeral of the central character, Moran.

“But the novel ends with two venal politicians who come just for the face of it, looking with contempt on the local people and talking conspiratorially amongst themselves. I think that is very emblematic.”

The historian linked this McGahern theme with a wider theme of disillusionment among such figure as Eimar O’Duffy, P S O’Hegarty, Bulmer Hobson, and Desmond Ryan, “ writers whose vision of an independent Ireland didn’t measure up to the reality”.

This reflected an agenda of socialism or feminism “or a whole portfolio of radical causes which were suppressed when the revolutionary enterprise was directed towards a conservative and clericalised nationalism”.

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