Thursday 30 October 2014

Nell: Nuala didn't ban me from her deathbed

Among the thousands of viewers who tuned in for Marian Finucane's heart-rending documentary on Nuala O'Faolain last week was the writer's ex -- Nell McCafferty.

After sharing 15 years of her life with O'Faolain, the Derry woman was conspicuous by her absence from the 90-minute film having declined to take part for "personal reasons".

But once the credits had rolled, she added her voice to the debate, disputing the notion that O'Faolain had banned her from her deathbed and railing against the programme's attempts to label her lover's sexuality.

According to McCafferty (67), rather than being cast out of O'Faolain's last days, the couple remained in contact until the end and made the mutual decision not to see each other.

She says: "We agreed peacefully not to meet during the weeks of her dying, and were in almost daily email contact until she went into the morphine-induced coma. We loved each other well enough."

She adds: "All those questions about Nuala loving a woman? That love was not hard to understand."

McCafferty took to Facebook to discuss the RTÉ programme on Monday night, saying: "The documentary on Nuala tonight was skewed by its sclerotic views on sexuality.

"Nuala would never have allowed a trivial detail like gender to stop her loving someone. She was a sexual being, and I was irresistible."

So what went wrong in the relationship that the pair couldn't be in the same room at the end?

McCafferty was 36 and O'Faolain 40 when they started their relationship in 1980. In many ways they were the odd couple: McCafferty was the Derry firebrand, 4ft 11ins of militant feminism and civil rights crusading; O'Faolain was the academic with a highbrow love of Proust and an even greater love of men.

But however extraordinary their relationship, it seems that what destroyed it was no different to what casts many a union asunder -- petty grievances, power struggles, money issues and feelings of disillusionment.

According to McCafferty, cracks in the couple's domestic bliss started just four years in.

A 40th birthday trip was planned for New York when McCafferty had wanted Berlin. The holiday was a disaster and signalled the end of the couple's sex life.

There were wranglings over buying houses and career resentments. McCafferty felt her creative talents were underrated by O'Faolain and was hurt that her lover never saw fit to read what she wrote.

The relationship was finished but the two were never able to fully extract themselves from each other. Years later, McCafferty acknowledged this: "We split, but we never separated."

Their lives remained uneasily entwined, allowing old grudges to fester and old feelings to never fully be put to rest.

By 1996 McCafferty was in a brief relationship with a mum-of-two but still agreed to go travelling with her former lover. While in Albania O'Faolain announced she was writing her memoirs. McCafferty was horrified.

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