Sunday 21 January 2018

Key figure in capital's colourful literary scene dies

Brendan Behan (centre) socialising in the 1950s with his wife Beatrice and sculptor Desmond McNamara, who has died at the age of 89
Brendan Behan (centre) socialising in the 1950s with his wife Beatrice and sculptor Desmond McNamara, who has died at the age of 89
Two of two of McNamaras works, James Joyce (left) and Behan (right), which he gifted to his friend Brendan Lynch

Louise Hogan

A PIVOTAL figure of the colourful literary scene in 1940s Dublin, where gifted-storytellers Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O'Brien mingled, has died in London.

Fond tributes poured in last night for sculptor and writer Desmond McNamara, known as "Mac", who died following a short illness at his West Hampstead home, just three months short of turning 90.

Friends and family last night recollected Mr McNamara's stories of escapades from the 1940s and 1950s as writers and artists gathered for endless debates at his studio near Grafton Street before retiring to literary haunts such as McDaid's.

Mr McNamara, who was born in Dublin's Mount Street in 1918, had moved to London in the late 1950s. He is survived by his wife Priscilla, known as Scilla, and his sons Oengus and Oisin.

On his return to Ireland he worked for both the Gate and the Abbey theatres, where he designed costumes.

Mr McNamara's cast bronze head of his friend, the renowned writer Behan, is also in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.

He also turned his imagination to writing, with numerous published works, including novels "Confessions of an Irish Werewolf".

His actor son Oengus told how his father had made his papier-mache sculptures from the works of the writers who posed for him.

He had a huge circle of friends, with many receiving little moulded

works of famous Irish writers in their Christmas cards each year, Oengus said.

All the key figures on the literary scene would spend time in Mr McNamara's studios, often sleeping there, said his friend, writer Brendan Lynch.

"He introduced everyone to everyone else," he said. "Mac's Salon led to McDaid's becoming a literary pub, as they would all go over there," Lynch said.

Lynch said it was "unfortunate" that Mr McNamara, one of the significant figures on the scene, did not get the recognition he deserved, as

he had left Ireland.

Mr McNamara's burial is due to take place at the Islington Cemetery in north London on January 17 next.

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