Monday 19 February 2018

Farrell beat polio, only to be swept away in a storm

JAMES Gordon Farrell was fishing from a rocky ledge on the shoreline of Bantry Bay on a stormy day on August 11, 1979, when he was swept away to his death. His body was not found for a month.

The extent of the storm that was brewing that day is clear from the fact that two days later, 15 people died when it hit the Fastnet race, wrecking numerous yachts.

Farrell was just 44 when he died, a highly regarded writer, having won the Booker in 1973.

Born in 1935 in Liverpool, Farrell had strong family connections with Ireland, spent much of his childhood here and lived here for extended periods as an adult, regarding himself as Irish. He was academic and athletic -- he was a good rugby player -- and good looking, a combination which made him very attractive to women, although for him writing always came before permanent relationships.

He went to Oxford in 1956 and during his first term there suffered what appeared to be a minor injury during a rugby game. But it was polio and it nearly killed him.

He spent weeks in an iron lung and when he recovered he was left with permanent weakness in one arm and in his shoulders.

Farrell's early novels include 'The Lung', drawing on his own experience, and 'A Girl in the Head', both of which marked his arrival as an interesting new writer.

But it was the 'Empire' trilogy that gave him a place among the very best writers of the past 50 years.

Irish Independent

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