4 September 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard


The death of major literary figures is usually perceived in terms of national loss, with grief general that the prevalent culture will no longer be enriched by their creativity, that the pen has been stilled and the story woven by their imagination will be added to no more. Such has certainly been the case with Eugene McCabe, whose passing last week at the august age of four score and ten evoked tributes from president Michael D Higgins, national politicians and the lions of the worlds of literature and the theatre for which his words had been rich sources of illumination and sometimes contention. But there is an equally strong sense with Eugene McCabe that his death has visited local and personal loss in the Clones community he lived the vast majority of his life in. People here are mourning a neighbour and a friend, a farmer and a familiar face as much as they are regretting the writer’s passing. He would have been pleased, if a little modestly discomfited, by that. His word draws its preoccupations and its patois, its major concerns and its linguistic weaves and conceits, from the earth that he ploughed and tilled and tended and the people he mixed with and mingled among along the borderlands. Eugene McCabe understood the land’s beauty and its harshness, its mystic beneficence and its indomitable persistence, and he wove this understanding into the language and atmosphere of his plays and stories. And he was intimate too with the souls of those who peopled this place. Living and breathing with them, buying and selling trained his ear and his eye to their comedy and their tragedy. When sectarian trouble and strife came to the place they shared and stayed for too long a time, he watched how it insinuated itself into the behaviours and attitudes of contrasting traditions, how it changed people, how it marked them even though they sometimes struggled heroically against the forces at work in their midst. What he saw sometimes broke his heart and made him put down his pen for a long time. but when he took it up again he became a peerless chronicler of the times and places he found himself in, finding the grandest of themes and the most epic of concerns in out-of-the way places and obscure twists of the country roads, and in the quiet habits and secret notions of those who dwelt along them. The whispers of Homer’s ghost that Kavanagh heard were heeded too by Eugene McCabe – in plays like King of the Castle or the stories that became the RTÉ drama trilogy Victims and the book Christ in the Fields, and in his single gleaming jewel of a novel Death and Nightingales, walk characters, like Scober MacAdam and Jody McMahon and Beth Winters, fashioned from humble clay into figures as noble, terrible and exemplary as Achilles, Priam and Helen of Troy. Many memories have been shared of Eugene McCabe in the last week, and many of the best, and most insightful, have been local. Barry McGuigan has shared the message Eugene sent him before the fight that won him the world featherweight boxing crown; pat deery has remembered the playwright’s the encouragement and co-operation he generously bestowed on the Garage Theatre in Monaghan Town. This is apt. For Eugene McCabe, the universe was encompassed in the local. He was a patient miner in its clay and he unearthed many pearls beyond price that he shared with us. May he rest in peace.

The great Clones writer would have been pleased by the story that emerged this week of the success of efforts in the Bragan area of North Monaghan to help stave off the extinction of the curlew. once prolific in our countryside, where the haunting melody of its cry was as familiar to farmers and rural dwellers as the warblings of song birds, the curlew has been decimated by changes in agricultural practices that have laid waste to its habitat. The birds mate for life, and their breeding numbers have grown perilously scarce. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has set up a small constellation of conservation centres throughout the country, and in recent weeks its action team in Co Monaghan have reported that three curlew chicks have fledged in Bragan, a considerable fillip to conservation efforts. Farmers and landowners have banded with the conservation experts to come to the curlew’s rescue, fencing off areas of land and taking measures to lessen the risk to the birds from natural predators. The future for the curlew, one of our precious natural blessings, is still far from certain but the work taking place in Bragan and at other locations is making hopes for its preservation a good deal brighter than was the case not too long ago. While human beings seem sometimes to lay waste to their living environment with harsh and heedless abandon, we also have the capacity to go to great lengths to tend and care for the other living creatures that populate the earth we share. If the efforts in Bragan and other locations manage to save the curlew, perhaps there is hope for all of us after all.

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