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)


Memory Trace

In 2005 a French production of a science fiction film, Memory Trace, was about to start shooting in Co. Leitrim, which was to be its main location. At the last minute one of their main financial backers pulled out and they had no choice but to put the project on hold. Hopefully they will get to return to it someday but I did find some information and what may have been a mocked up title image from it scattered through the Internet. From this I have managed to piece together what appears to have been its basic plot. I couldn’t find out who wrote the screenplay but the science fiction writer James P. Hogan (1914 -2010), who would have been living in Dromahair, Co. Leitrim at the time, appears to have been involved in someway (perhaps as a script consultant) but may well have even come up with the original story (but I cannot confirm this).

The story was to center around one main character, a former female journalist that slowly comes to the realisation that her memory has been wiped as she was about to go public with a potentially worldwide story who has now been placed in a life she never wished for. The society she inhabits appears on the surface to be free and democratic but is actually very tightly controlled behind the scenes by corporations through the State and media. We see their agents busily occupied with keeping the population within a narrow bandwidth of consciousness and approved trains of thought. The practice is that each country has variations on this set up but the same corporations are in charge and each have a dumping ground for various types of undesirables that have glimpsed or somehow discovered this truth. Burnt out agents of control get placed there as well. A person’s memory of this knowledge would be first wiped and replaced with a new but misleading revelation, in this case an urge to go back to nature. They then tell their friends and family they are moving to the countryside to get away from it all to pursue this simpler life. From behind the scenes any obstacle to this is seen to be removed and before they know it they and their families, if they have one, will be living there. They would then be monitored for a short period but if all seemed well they would be left to their own devices from that stage on.

In the story the main character keeps meeting other people like herself that all know deep down that something is very wrong with their lives and the world at large. They do experience traces of the removed memory from time to time but can’t put their finger on what the root problem might be. Implanting the desire to live sustainably turns out to be something of a self defeating goal which leads to most people’s energy being spent on keeping food on the table and basic survival. With her however, gradually and through living her everyday life in this way she again comes to the same realisations as before. By befriending a former agent who is confused about which reality he is in (we never truly learn if he is deactivated or not) she also understands what must have happened to her the last time she reached this point. She also meets a French national who is convinced of a supernatural reality and an ex-scientist who is equally convinced of an objective scientific reality. She now has to figure out how to get anyone to listen to what she knows and wonders what will happen to her if she does. The metaphor of the rusting motorcycle (once so full of energy and can be so again if restored) seems apt both for the story of the film and in a way aspects of the county itself.

While Leitrim was not to be identified by name in the film, the thinking may have been that as it was already marginalized, mysterious, isolated and badly represented politically (the county is split into two constituencies and even includes parts of Sligo and Roscommon), a low population, plus an over supply of rural housing it would be an obvious candidate for this place if such a thing were true.

I couldn’t figure out how the story progresses from this point on but it does end with her murder and her information getting released in a disguised form on the internet. Someone clicking on it is the way the film ends. The film was to leave open whether what she puts online is actually the truth or just her own interpretation of it. (Stephen Rennicks)

A postcard and print of this image can be purchased at this link.