The Niall Walsh - McGahern Correspondence
Reference code: P102
Title: The Niall Walsh - McGahern Correspondence
Date(s): 1971-2007
Extent: 1 box
Location: James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway
Biographical History

This collection consists of personal correspondence from writer John McGahern and his wife Madeline McGahern, to their friend Niall Walsh, as well as some printed material by John McGahern shared with Niall Walsh to whom he dedicated one of his novels. Niall Walsh was born in 1930, and is a retired pathologist from Ballinasloe, Co Galway. He first met John McGahern the writer in 1961 in Dublin through a mutual acquaintance, at a time when McGahern was working as a teacher but was already writing. A shared interest in literature brought them together, and McGahern shared some of his early written work with Walsh and other friends. They resumed contact in 1971, and a close friendship connected them and their spouses, Phil Walsh, and McGahern's wife Madeline, especially during the 1970s. John McGahern was born in Dublin in 1934 and grew up in Counties Leitrim and Roscommon. By profession a teacher, he began publishing fiction in 1963. During the periods covered in this correspondence, he created some of his major work, including The leavetaking (1974), Amongst women (1990), That They May Face The Rising Sun (2002) and Memoir (2005). Niall Walsh has stated that "I never wrote a letter to John that I didn’t get a reply to and he never promised anything that he did not carry out": correspondence by letter ensured continued contact despite John McGahern's frequent teaching commitments in the United Kingdom (London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Durham), and in the US (Colgate University New York). - There is some commentary in these papers from McGahern about his teaching commitments in Colgate, and the attitude to studies there [P102/ 12, 14, 66].- The two men gradually lost contact which accounts for the gap in the correspondence from 1977 effectively until 1990, and, once resumed, the connection did not quite return to its former cordiality, so Walsh. The families also met in the UK, and spent summer holidays on Achill Island where the Walshes owned a house. For a year, while work was underway on the McGahern's new house in Leitrim, they were able to use this house as their base, just as the apartment which the McGaherns owned in Paris from 1972 onwards, was also often available to the Walshes. While commenting on tiresome social rounds especially in London, some literary figures also find special mention, such as Ian Hamilton (London), and "the poet [Richard] Murphy" (Achill, and England). [e.g. P102/ 23, 31, 36, 44, 56, 61, 66] Regarding family, John and Madeline McGahern's wedding is treated by the former in a letter of January 1973 [P102/ 20]; some letters treat directly with McGahern's sisters, and his father's last illness and death. [P102/ 56, 21, 31, 67]. The McGahern's return to Ireland, and move to Leitrim in 1976 also elicit some commentary, mostly about the practicalities of the move. [e.g.P102/ 15, 18, 62] Niall and Phil Walsh had two children, Niall and Oonagh; Phil died in 1992. She is said to have been unusually reserved towards McGahern, wary of one day seeing her family portrayed in his work. According to Niall Walsh, McGahern hinted just before his death that the last paragraph in the Memoir was written with her in mind. McGahern appreciated Walsh's readership of his work, and while never quite asking for his opinions or discussing finer points, he sent him copies of pre-publication versions of The Leavetaking, "A Slip-Up", "All Sorts Of Impossible Things", the essay (to be republished) "An t-Oileánach", as well as passing on finished works (such as "Sinclair", and many others not contained in this collection). The Leavetaking (1973) was dedicated to Niall Walsh; McGahern had finished it during the year he and his wife lived in Achill. Although at times McGahern enclosed review material about his own work, commenting on it, there is little discussion of his work after publication. The editorial process is alluded to at times, and there are brief observations about progress with particular projects, though little elaboration about the writing process. He once remarked to Walsh that he would rather do anything than write, and describing the discipline it took to create, something he felt forced to do. Here, he specially mentions being given the Society of Authors' Award (1974), as well as expressing diffidence regarding the Booker Prize in 1990. [cf. P102/ 33, 37, 44, 74] McGahern's television work The Shoot, and his collaboration with the Abbey Theatre in 1991 on his play The Power Of Darkness also find references. [P102/ 73, 76, 79] From 2002, John McGahern also discusses his illness from cancer: Niall Walsh's opinion was valued not only as that of a medical professional, but also as a friend who had undergone cancer treatment himself over a decade earlier. [cf. especially P102/ 93] John McGahern died in March 2006; further items of correspondence from Madeline talk of their last years together. Walsh remembers particular points about McGahern: The role of his father in his life was a constant point of reference in their conversations, but the elevated role of his mother in the Memoir rather came as a surprise to Walsh. He remembers McGahern's conviviality and fondness of a story, his enjoyment of W.H.Auden (and anecdotes about him), his appreciation of the writings of Marcel Proust, and of T.S.Eliot. He remembers him as one who was thoroughly moral, though not one for moralistic cant, expressing himself instead by actions or in his writing. Ironical or even cynical remarks about anybody were rare in somebody who seemed to instead look for the "good" in people.

Immediate Source of Acquisition or Transfer

This collection was donated to the James Hardiman Library, NUIG, on 18 August 2009, by Dr Niall Walsh, Ballinasloe.

Scope and Content

Private correspondence (1971-1978, 1987-1994 and 2002-2007) from John and Madeline McGahern, for Niall and Phil Walsh. Literary work at draft, proof, and publication stages - by John McGahern. Press cuttings - reviews of John McGahern's work, usually enclosed in correspondence from McGahern [but see P102/ 49].

System of arrangement

The arrangement is imposed, beginning with the correspondence in chronological order (with two undatable items at the end). Six draft and printed items written by John McGahern are added to this. There are no covering letters for these, excepting P102/ 103 where the front page was used for a handwritten note.

Conditions governing access

One document in the collection is withheld from public consultation on grounds of confidentiality [P102/89]. Otherwise, the material in this collection is available to all bona fide researchers and subject to the conditions of access governing the consultation of archival material at the James Hardiman Library. No material may be reproduced from this collection without the written permission of the Library. The most appropriate form of reference is title of item: date of item: reference number (P102/..), James Hardiman Archives, NUI Galway.

Finding aids
Descriptive list
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