McGahern Paradox


“One of the differences between life and writing is that writing always has to be believable whereas life isn’t.” – John McGahern

As we reach the 101st and final entry, it’s perhaps fitting to give the last word to John McGahern (1934-2006), Leitrim’s best mythologist and master story-teller, and end this subjective and very affectionate guide to the county.

It’s a paradoxical reminder from him about the nature of reality and fiction I came across in a very damp and crumbling November 1991 issue of Hot Press magazine in one of the many abandoned houses I so regularly come across in this sometimes curiously decaying and time-locked county. Inside I found a 3 page interview by Joe Jackson (along with a long black single hair) which contained the following quote in full, “One of the differences between life and writing is that writing always has to be believable whereas life isn’t! Writing also has to conform to an idea. Now and again life will give you this exact shape but 99% of the time it doesn’t and has to be reinvented. And I find that the more you go through artifice the closer you get to real feeling whereas instantaneous feeling, or direct reporting in fiction is, by definition, cheap and shoddy.” 

While some of the things you may have read about Leitrim in the Guide may seem unbelievable, many of the ‘true’ facts and untold stories are of course even more so and poetic truth often needs an artificial foundation.

It might be useful at this stage to read the About page again to remember what this project was all about and how it came into being. I’d also like to use this final entry to thank Isabel Löfgren for coming up with the original concept, doing and inspiring many of the early entries and always being at the other end of our Unicorn Email Trail through the process as well.

While at this stage we do not plan for any new entries please keep an eye on this site for information on exhibitions from it, other documentation and spin-offs from it. We hope you enjoyed your stay and tell others about it. Many thanks.

(Stephen Rennicks)


Eat the Peach

The Irish film Eat The Peach (1986) was inspired by the true story of two Co. Longford brothers in-law who built a motorcycle wall of death very close to the border with Co. Leitrim, near Granard. From Wikipedia, “The film is based on actual events – the film is based on a true story of two brothers-in-law Connie Kiernan and Michael Donoghue. They build a wall of death in their back garden for fun. The director, Peter Ormond, had seen a huge, wooden tank just off the road when he was looking for items for Irish television.” Released to some acclaim at the time, today this fictionalised version (written by Peter Ormond and John Kelleher) of their story has become a cult film and regarded by some to be weirdly prescient of the Celtic Tiger and its collapse.

At the beginning of the film’s story a large local employer closes, a Japanese computer manufacturer, which was a common event at the time but would of course become more so in the future. The unemployed brothers in-law build a wall of death in a poetic gesture to transcend their stifling lives and uninspiring rural surroundings while also embracing a darker impulse of possible sacrifice as they become unemployed once more. As they dream and build the wall they are ridiculed by friends and neighbours, one of them loses his wife for a time, as she can’t understand his actions. When it is completed and they launch it to the local public they struggle to get media interest and during the display the viewers who do come get nervous that the structure will collapse (it doesn’t) and they panic and leave. One national news crew (featuring a very young Pat Kenny) turns up late and does film them in action and duly broadcasts it on the news that night with a plea for sponsorship or financial investment for them to run it as a business and take it to festivals and elsewhere. No one calls so one of them, perhaps sensing the folly of the idea and realizing what his dream has already cost him or simply because he has the power to do so, destroys it by burning it down. The film ends with them still dreaming anew however.

The wall of the film could be read today as a metaphor for any crazy start-up enterprise and the glimpse they give of it in action to the public at large is the moment of non-comprehension as its difference is too great for most people to fathom without creating fear and rejection (ahead of its time).  The film is also thought to give a very perceptive glimpse of the coming success of the Celtic Tiger and its collapse but does promise a more mature second chance at sometime in Ireland’s future.

What happened in reality was not all that different from the film as it turned out. In 1977 the pair had been initially inspired by an Elvis Presley film, Roustabout, (which is also referenced in the film) and while on a visit to Tommy Messham’s wall of death show at Funderland in Dublin they gained an insight to the dimensions and construction of it. The director Peter Ormond did make an Irish news item on them in 1979 but no-one came forward with sponsorship and gradually the wall deteriorated and became spread far and wide after a storm.

(Stephen Rennicks)

The Magic Cinema

According to an article in the annual Leitrim Guardian, the first cinema to travel regularly to Co. Leitrim was called The Magic Cinema in the early 1900s. It was run by the Clarke family who, in a very circus like way, would erect a tent, or weather permitting, set up in the open air. They would hang a large canvas screen and attach it to a frame and source seating locally, often just long planks of wood resting on tree stumps.

It is known that as late as 1936 it showed a print of The Dawn by the famous early Irish film maker Tom Cooper. Cooper was a Kerry garage owner who had no film-making training and shot his films with amateur actors in a home made studio rigged with converted trawler lights and developed his film stock in a local chemists shop.

From the 1930 onwards small rural towns throughout the country began to get their own small cinemas, including The Roxy in Drumshanbo and the Gaiety in Carrick-on-Shannon. After these closed down in the 70’s and 80’s and no other private company took their place, Leitrim County Council paid for a mobile cinema to be purchased and operated so that its people would continue to be entertained, informed and have their imaginations fueled by cinema. In 2007 Carrick got a 5 screen multiplex. Around the same time the Mobile Cinema became Cinema North West and serviced the whole region while still being very much based in Co. Leitrim. One of the many important legacies of this initiative will no doubt be considered its raising of awareness of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale rock for gas. They did this through repeated screenings of Gasland (2010), a documentary on the subject, throughout the county, direct to the public in parish, village and town.

More recently as technology got cheaper and projectors more common, Leitrim is now said to have the most private home cinema clubs in the country. In 2012, with The Magic Cinema in mind, I decided to take my regular home screenings for friends a little more into the public domain. Although perhaps with more in common with The Roxy than the original Magic Cinema, I begin to again show films under this name in Drumshanbo in what used to be a shoe shop, now the Yellow Ducati Bazaar. On a good night you can squeeze about 20 people into the space with a lively chat (aided with drinks from the neighboring Welcome Inn) ensuing after usually 2 films, often a documentary or short and main feature.

In July 2013, to tie-in with the Guide, a screening of Man of Aran (1934) and How the Myth Was Made (1978) was held.  Man of Aran was made by Robert J. Flaherty and was billed as a documentary at the time but would prove to be more fictionalized than real. While over the years its audience found many poetic truths in it that refuse to die, in 1978 a documentary was produced which revisited the island and its people some 40 years later and set much of the record straight. (Stephen Rennicks)

Location on map