Thursday 21 November 2019

McGahern's words on abuse were prophetic, says author

John Spain Books Editor

FIVE years after his death, bestselling author John McGahern continues to lambast the Catholic Church's repressive attitudes to sexuality.

A new book has revealed the full extent of the writer's view on the repressive attitude of the church to sex, and how it created major problems in Ireland.

McGahern was dismissed as a Dublin primary school teacher in the 1960s when the church directly intervened because of the content of his second book and because he had married a Finnish woman in a registry office.

"I see sexuality as part of life," he told the author of the new book, Eamon Maher.

"Either all life is sacred or none of it is sacred. I'm inclined to think that all of life is sacred and that sexuality is a very important part of that sacredness."

The book is called 'John McGahern and the Catholic Question', and includes a lengthy interview with the bestselling author in 2001.

"McGahern believed that the church and State worked hand in glove to ensure the preservation of a conservative, traditional mode of existence," Dr Maher, a director of the National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies, says in the book.

Raw deal

"He thought that women got a particularly raw deal in this society: they were forced to give up work when they married and then they were deprived of contraception, which would have allowed them control the number of children they conceived."

There were even more sinister practices like symphysiotomy, Dr Maher says, which McGahern referred to in 'Memoir'.

"The breaking of pelvic bones took place during difficult births in hospitals because it was thought to be more in conformity with Catholic teaching than Caesarean section, presumably because it was considered more natural," he wrote.

The banning of McGahern's second novel, 'The Dark', in 1965, combined with the registry office marriage, led to his dismissal as a primary school teacher in Clontarf.

"McGahern's handling of child sexual abuse in 'The Dark' was forthright and brave, way ahead of its time," he writes.

Dr Maher said that his book deals with "the prophetic nature of McGahern's writing, his ability to capture the hidden Ireland that remained buried until very recently".

Irish Independent

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