| 10.5°C Dublin

Taxpayer's €260k extension to house of disgraced poet

The taxpayer has paid €260,000 for the extension at the home of disgraced poet Cathal O Searcaigh -- where he will live rent-free for the rest of his life.

In a deal struck with Donegal County Council before the broadcasting of the controversial documentary Fairytale of Kathmandu, O Searcaigh donated his archives to the county in return for living for free in the adjoining cottage for the remainder of his life.

But all 29 members of Donegal County Council snubbed the opening of an artists' retreat in honour of the disgraced Irish-language poet.

And a defiant O Searcaigh yesterday dismissed the controversy that has dogged him since he admitted having sex with teenage males he was financially assisting in Nepal.

He was speaking at the long-delayed opening of an artists' retreat adjoining his home in the foothills of Errigal Mountain.

None of the 29 elected members of Donegal County Council attended yesterday's low-key opening of the €260,000 facility that has been funded by Donegal County Council, Udaras na Gaeltachta and the Arts Council, several saying they had other commitments.

However, one elected representative, who asked not to be named, cited "moral reasons" for not being there.

"I just don't feel in good conscience I could be there. I feel he took advantage of his position with these young, vulnerable people," the councillor said.

In the documentary, made by locally based film-maker, Neasa Ni Chiannain, and in subsequent interviews, O Searcaigh admitted having sex with impoverished teenagers whom he was assisting financially, but he has denied any wrongdoing.

"It is very easy to start controversy about someone. You can edit anything to suit you," he said yesterday.

The state-of-the-art building will house his own original manuscripts, an extensive personal collection of books and visual artworks.

The poet said he hoped Damhlann an Ghleanna, as the retreat will be known, would be a public asset for the many artists and writers in the area.

"I don't think such a thing has been done with a living artist. It is probably quite rare in any country where someone opens up their house," he said.

He pointed out that most artists' archives were going out of the country and going to American universities.

He added that it was probably the first time a local authority had embarked on such a voyage with the arts.

"It shows some sympathy towards the Irish language in a world where it is eroding all the time," he said.

County librarian Eileen Burgess said there were 4,500 books stored in the new centre.

"Many of the artworks have been given to Cathal over the years and he has donated them all," she said.