The novelist J.G. Farrell – known to his friends as Jim – was drowned on August 11, 1979 when he was swept off rocks by a sudden storm while fishing in the West of Ireland. He was 44. Forty years after it was first published, Troubles, by J G Farrell was announced in May 2010 as the winner of the Lost Man Booker Prize - a one-off prize to honour the books published in 1970, but not considered for the prize when its rules were changed. Farrell, born in Liverpool of Irish descent , made up his mind to leave London and move to Ireland, a decision influenced by advice from his accountant and his doctor. Earnings for writers in the Irish Republic were tax-free, and both men, independently, pointed out that the financial cushion would be invaluable if – or, more likely, when – the newly discovered long-term effects of polio curtailed his ability to write. He moved to West Cork in March 1979.
In a letter to Bridget O’Toole he wrote “I just got back from a rapid and exhausting trip to Cork and Dublin in the course of which I hope I bought a house – an old farmhouse on the very end of the peninsula between Dunmanus and Bantry Bays, on the side of a hill locally known as Letter Mountain. Ach, vot is zis? Ve haf heard of ze vine lakes and ze butter mountain, now ve are haffing a letter mountain? It’s a splendid place, but very exposed, so if you need a wuthering you must come and stay. You must come and stay anyway as I’m hoping to buy a sailing dinghy and want you to give me lessons. Provided the sale goes through without a hitch I’m going to make a determined effort to settle down there. It’s beyond Kilcrohane if you have a map. London already seems far away.”
He only lived in West Cork for 149 days before he tragically drowned. On August 10th he wrote to his publisher, saying he hoped to deliver his new novel, The Hill Station , by the end of the year, “barring some unforeseen disaster”. By the next day he was dead.
This brief, final, time in Ireland is the subject of the documentary, produced by Ciaran Cassidy, called JG Farrell: 149 Days in the Life Of, on RTÉ Radio 1 (www.rte.ie) on Saturday, December 18th, at 6.05pm, repeated the following day at 7pm. It features neighbours, family and friends, including his brother Richard. It also interviews Pauline Foley an Englishwoman who was living near Bantry, recalls witnessing the drowning. “Farrell turned back, started to cast and slipped. I think it was more of a slip than the waves,” she says. “He looked at me and he went under.” Farrell’s body was recovered a month later; he is buried in St James’s Church of Ireland cemetery in Durrus.
JG Farrell in His Own Words Selected Letters and Diaries edited by Lavinia Greacen, ISBN 9781859184769 is published by Cork University Press.
Today Bill Mallon the world's leading Olympic Historian has reviewed “Gold, Silver and Green: The Irish Olympic Journey 1896-1924” by Kevin McCarthy in the Journal of Olympic History.
Kevin obtained his PhD from UCC’s Department of History.
This is a remarkable book. It looks at Irish athletes in the Olympic Games from 1896-1924, during most of which time Ireland did not exist as an independent nation. Rather, from 1896-1920, their athletes competed under the British flag, as Ireland did not become independent until 1921. But it is hardly true that Irish athletes did not compete in the Olympics prior to that time. In addition to competing for Great Britain, many of them competed for the United States after emigrating to that nation, and some of them were likely still Irish nationals in that era in which participation details were not checked as closely.
Kevin McCarthy is an Irish historian who is a senior inspector in the Department of Education and Science at Cork University in Ireland. He has written several other historical works, and in this book, he brings his expertise as a professional historian to the Olympic Games, of which he has been an ardent fan and devotée for many years. The book is described as being the result of six years of research across Ireland, but the detail is such that one imagines that it has encompassed much of his adult life.
The book is separated into chronologic chapters, usually devoted to each Olympiad and Irish participation in each of them. It begins in 1896 with John Pius Boland, the winner of the tennis singles and doubles (with Fritz Traun), who was a Dubliner. In his chapters on the 1904 Olympics, McCarthy focuses on the Irish Whales, a popular name for the many Irish-Americans who specialized in weight throwing events for the United States. From there thru the 1920 Olympics, McCarthy describes not only the Irish athletes who were required to compete for Great Britain, but also gives great detail about the Irish athletic detail which supplied so many nations’ athletes, especially the USA.
Interspersed throughout are descriptions of the internecine political and national struggles among the various groups that controlled Irish athletics. This struggle would not end within the time frame of the book, as in 1948, two sets of teams tried to represent Ireland at the Olympics. And throughout the story of the struggle for Irish independence and its effect on the athletes is handled in a fine manner. The final chapter, “From Antwerp to Paris 1920-24” gives information about the formalization of the Olympic Council of Ireland and its recognition by the IOC, as Ireland prepared to enter its first formal independent team at the 1924 Olympics.
It always amazes me that so many nations, seemingly without large Olympic histories, have produced extensive books on those histories. Recently I received a book on the Olympic history of the Saar, which competed at the Olympics only one time as an independent entity, that being in 1952, yet the book is over 390 pages. McCarthy also does not spare the detail, as this description of the early history of a nation that did not yet fully merit that description, goes to over 410 pages. But the book never seems overly long, as it engrosses the reader.
I really liked this book, but as I must do in my medical field, here I must make a disclaimer – I’m of Irish ethnicity – the original Mallons came from Ulster, under the name O’Meachláin. But I think you’ll like it anyway.
The book which was published earlier this year would make an ideal Christmas present, it is in the CUP 3 for 2 offer.