In 1914 Patrick MacGill's first novel, Children of the Dead End, sold ten thousand copies in a fortnight. In the same year, Joyce's Dubliners sold 499 copies, 120 of them bought by the author. In 1915, MacGill published a companion novel, The Rat-Pit, which was also highly successful and contained a Preface in which the author avowed himself to be 'highly gratified' by the success attained by Children of the Dead End 'in Britain and abroad. Only in Ireland, my native country, has the book given offence.' You could write a tune to that comment, one of the favourite choruses to the plaintive anthems of Irish novelists. However, MacGill prospered as a popular novelist until 1930, when he emigrated to the United States and, caught in the Depression, dwindled into obscurity. He died in 1963. Now there is a resurgence of interest in his work. Five of his novels, two memoirs of the First World War and his collected verse have been reprinted, and his native townland, Glenties in County Donegal, has an annua' Patrick MacGill Festival. Writers are now commemorated as often as saints used to be and, like saints, they fall into the categories of the local or the international. The particular flavour of MacGill's reputation is nicely distilled in a sentence from the 1982 Festival brochure: 'We have compiled a programme which we hope will be culturally acceptable while catering also for those who prefer outdoor activities.' These included sheep-dog trials, a lamb-shearing competition, a treasure hunt and a Gaelic football match.
LRB 7 February 1985 | PDF Download