A History of the John McGahern Banning Controversy

Irish Studies Review

I meant to plug this sooner, but ‘If it was Just Th’oul Book …’: A History of the McGahern Banning Controversy – my article on the banning of John McGahern in 1965 – was published a little while ago in the Irish Studies Review. It’s the first time this crucial event in McGahern’s life has been looked at it any depth.

The article examines the banning of John McGahern’s novel The Dark in Ireland in 1965, along with the subsequent controversy surrounding its author’s dismissal from his teaching position in Dublin. This so-called McGahern Affair provoked wide-ranging and vigorous debate about both the censorship legislation and the role of clerical authority in the Irish educational system. Throughout the article I delve pretty heavily into contemporary journalism, reviews, parliamentary records, and letters-to-editors to construct the most detailed account available of this central event in the development of McGahern’s reputation, with the involvement of figures such as Bishop John Charles McQuaid, journalist Peter Lennon, and Senator Owen Sheehy-Skeffington contextualised against the social transformation of 1960s Ireland.

Anyone with institutional access to a decent university library ought to be able to access the article online via the link above, though if you’re having trouble with that or are locked out by the ivory tower paywalls, just let me know and I’ll send you on the PDF. Knowledge should be free, etc., etc.

For what’s it’s worth, the gestation of this project was a curious one. It was originally an idea for a short story, an alternate history of what might have happened if McGahern had not been banned.  The process of putting together the divergent timeline necessitated researching what actually happened in considerable detail, with the lack of one single history of the banning sending me deep into the embarrassment of riches offered by the newspapers of the era. It didn’t take long to conclude that reality was far more fascinating than anything I was going to make up on the topic.

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