Monday, May 11, 2009

John McGahern

There are some days I will remember better than others in Dublin. On the 12th of September of last year I had the opportunity through work to go to the launch of "Memoir" by John McGahern. This was a special book launch and therefore was held in a place where it would be best suited. The venue was the Long Hall in Trinity College. I rarely went to book events over the 10 years I have worked in bookshops. I had only read one John McGahern book prior to "Memoir", "Amongst Women" which I had liked a lot. The next month I would find a hardback copy of the book in a lovely little secondhand bookshop in Youghal, Co Cork. While there I also found and loved Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach" and Stephen King's "Firestarter" with Drew Barrymore on the cover. I brought two of my friends, the two Pats, to the launch, both who are well read and whom I knew would appreciate the evening. The event was of course well attended. For all the years I've lived in Dublin I had never been to the Long Hall and it is the kind of place that is like a view you just stand back and take in, a room dating back to 1712. It's high shelving holds 200,000 books and it's high ceilings and beautiful light and colours engulf the person standing in awe. We sat on a bench waiting for the reading to commence. I looked around and saw some writers and academics, Terence Brown and the then recently Booker nominated Sebastian Barry beside us. When John McGahern spoke his accent was the same as it had been as a young man, his appearance that of the classic quite country man. He looked like an uncle. Your father's friend. He read the piece which involved himself, the irate priest of the story and his more irate father. There we sat listening to him talk of the man who is at the heart of most of his writings. To me, it was a little bit of literary history. At the end of the reading he signed copies of his books, something he always did. He had previously been to the shop I worked in and had signed all the stock on hand, which was many. They of course had sold that day. But I hadn't been there that day. My friends got their copies signed and dedicated. He then asked me my name and I said David and then he asked would he sign my name in full. I am glad he did. He commented that my surname was a Southern one. How many names had this man come across over the years. We didn't stay long after that, the room was full of chat and we went quietly down the stairs out into the fresh, bright Dublin evening. Walking through the grounds of Trinity, a place I had once tried to attend when I had began a degree there but it wasn't meant to be. At that time. Afterwards the three of us went for a meal and chatted of the evening. There was no inkling the man was ill at that time and when I heard he had died in the Spring of the next year, I had a little bit of extra sadness. That September evening was a memory because as I looked around the room at the predominately Irish gathering listening to someone speak of the Ireland of my Father and Grandfather I thought this time will not come again.
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