Leitrim is known for being lovely — “Lovely Leitrim” was a song my grandmother used to sing — but for me as a child, it was a place of what I called ‘the lonely roads.’ There were no streetlights, and when we drove there to visit my granny, I’d look back from the car into nothing but black night. It seemed at once peaceful and eerie.
Leitrim is where my mother grew up. It’s also a novelist’s dream. Choosing to live there now suggests you want a quiet life, with no disturbance from the press or public. It is a place of long-kept feuds and of secrets carried to the grave. Till recently the county was home to the late writer John McGahern, and he wrote about it in ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun,’ a novel closely (– very closely) based on real characters and happenings. The style is light and monosyllabic like simple speech, but the novel is still and deep — as a cousin of mine observed, reading the book is like listening to our late grandmother and her old friend Packy talk. McGahern revealed some shocking stories from Leitrim history, and was threatened by a lawsuit from the son of one of his ‘characters.’ I’ve asked some of my uncles and aunts if a brutal rape that he describes towards the start of the book actually happened; they say it did.
The tales you hear in Leitrim are from another world. Last weekend, my family were reminiscing about the various disappointed bachelors who lived there — men who were ‘let down’ by the women they loved and who never got over it (one, after building the house in which he expected they would live; he had yet to put the finishing touches on it, and though he spent his life there, it remained curtainless forever). Perhaps with this idea in the back of her mind, a distant relative of mine, a journalist from Manchester, once wrote an article for a British woman’s magazine about Leitrim as a land of bachelors. At Mass, men and women would sit on separate sides of the church. My relative (a McLouglin by name, I think) took a photo of just the men’s side, so that when the picture accompanied the article, it looked like the population was entirely male. The locals were furious. (We still have that article.)
DBC Pierre, the 2003 Booker winner, is another writer based in Leitrim, living in Aughnasheelan; he was recently interviewed by Sean O’Hagan about his new novel at the yellow pub below. DBC had a wonderful lyrical tribute to Leitrim in the Guardian a few years ago, and the piece captured its loveliness — in winter it may be a remote, lonely place, but on a sunny day it is glorious, as the pics below show.