McCabe, Eugene 1930-

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McCABE, Eugene 1930-

PERSONAL: Born July 7, 1930, in Glasgow, Scotland; son of Owen (a publican) and Helen (a teacher and musician; maiden name, MacMahon) McCabe; married Margot Bowen (an air hostess with Aer Lingus), 1955; children: Ruth, Marcus, Patrick, Stephen. Education: Attended Castleknock College, Dublin; University College, Cork, B.A., 1953. Politics: "Disenchanted left of center." Religion: "Not Christ's cup of tea, lukewarm, God has a lot to answer for." Hobbies and other interests: "Pastoral, historical."

ADDRESSES: Home—Drumard, Clones, County Monaghan, Ireland. Agent—A. P. Watt Michelin House, 81 Fulham Rd., London SW3 6RB, England.

CAREER: Farmer, 1955-96; writer, 1955—.

AWARDS, HONORS: Irish Life Award, 1964, for The King of the Castle; Prague Festival Award, for television play, 1974; Irish Critics Award, for television play, 1976; Royal Society of Literature Winifred Holtby prize for fiction, 1977; Reading Association of Ireland Award, for Cyril: The Quest of an Orphaned Squirrel, 1987.



The King of the Castle (produced in Dublin, Ireland, 1964, produced in New York, 1978), Gallery Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1978, Dufour Editions (Chester Springs, PA), 1997.

Breakdown (produced in Dublin, Ireland, 1966).

Pull Down a Horseman (produced in Dublin, Ireland, 1966), published with Gale Day (also see below), Gallery Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1979.

Swift (produced in Dublin, Ireland, 1969).

Victims (includes Cancer, Heritage, and Victims), adapted from his own fiction (televised, 1976; produced in Belfast, Ireland, 1981), Mercier Press (County Cork, Ireland), 1976; Cancer, published by Proscenium Press (Newark, DE), 1980.

Roma (adaptation of his own story; televised, 1979), Turoe Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1979.

Gale Day (televised, 1979; produced in Dublin, Ireland, 1979), published with Pull Down a Horseman, Gallery Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1979.


Victims: A Tale from Fermanagh (novel; also see below), Gollancz (London, England), 1976.

Heritage and Other Stories, Gollancz (London, England), 1978; reprinted, 1985.

Cyril: The Quest of an Orphaned Squirrel (juvenile), illustrated by Al O'Donnell, O'Brien Books (Dublin, Ireland), 1987.

Death and Nightingales (novel), Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1992, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2002.

Christ in the Fields: A Fermanagh Trilogy (stories), Minerva (London, England), 1993.

Tales from the Poorhouse, Gallery Press (Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland), 1999.

Contributor of screenplays to television, including A Matter of Conscience, 1962; Some Women on the Island, 1966; The Funeral, 1969; Victims (trilogy; includes Heritage and Cancer), 1976; Roma, 1979; Gale Day, 1979; Music at Annahullion (based on his own short story), 1982; (with Pierre Lary) The Year of the French, adapted from the novel by Thomas Flanagan, 1983. Author of essay on County Monaghan for 32 Counties: Photographs by Donovan Wylie, by Donovan Wylie, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1989; introduction to Shadows from the Pale, by John Minihan, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1996; short story "Heaven Lies about Us," in Irish Short Stories, edited by David Morcu, Phoenix, 1997.

SIDELIGHTS: From his border farm in County Monaghan, Ireland, Eugene McCabe has published a stream of plays, screenplays, short stories, and novels that treat life in Ireland, present and past. A common thread of his works has been the theme of the emotional or physical breakdown under the stress of life in a violent land. McCabe has yet to earn the worldwide audience that other Irish writers of his generation have enjoyed, but he is highly respected by critics, who feel that his best work offers an unflinching portrait of Ireland's ills. In the Dictionary of Irish Literature, Christopher Murray wrote, "McCabe's voice is distinctive: penetrating, clear, and forthright. His honest style and . . . confrontation of the violence inherent in the Irish character provide a refreshing antidote to the marketable charm of much Irish writing."

For his first play, The King of the Castle, in which he dared treat the then taboo subject of fertility and surrogate fatherhood, McCabe earned the coveted Irish Life award. While The King of the Castle was a success when mounted in 1964, McCabe's other works for the stage were not well received, and the author turned to writing for television, where he earned greater acclaim.

McCabe's three-part drama cycle about the situation in Northern Ireland, Cancer, Heritage, and Victims, has been praised for a realistic and objective quality that made it fresh and powerful to television viewers. The trilogy of dramas was based on earlier or simultaneously written works. For example, the screenplay for Heritage was adapted from Heritage and Other Stories, which includes the novella Heritage and five short stories. In the short story collection, McCabe focused on bigotry, and the novella revolves around the activities of a young Protestant man who must decide whether to become involved in the sectarian violence around him or flee to England. "A brilliant piece of writing, but the final effect is frustrating," Frank Tuohy wrote about Heritage in the Times Literary Supplement. "Bigotry as portrayed here forces the reader to keep his distance. This is a pity since Eugene McCabe is a writer of undoubted gifts."

Likewise, the screenplay for Victims was written in tandem with McCabe's first novel, Victims: A Tale from Fermanagh, which tells the story of a kidnapping of dinner party guests by terrorists of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the ensuing siege by authorities. In Victims, McCabe portrays the different kinds of people who are drawn to the IRA, including an alienated student, a psychopath, and several devout farm workers. "McCabe has constructed a microcosm of the Ulster stalemate so neat that only the polish of the writing prevents one calling it glib," remarked Frank Pike in the Times Literary Supplement. "The author is well known as a stage and television playwright in Ireland, and the professional assurance shows." Film West contributor Vincent Brown stated that the "Victims Trilogy" in its Irish television incarnation, gave viewers "some of the best television drama ever produced."

In an interview published on the Clones Home Page, McCabe is quoted as saying that he was compelled to write the "Victims Trilogy" out of a sense that he could not turn his back on the Troubles, especially since he lives in a border territory. He said that the writing of the three works eased his conscience. He added: "It will, of course change nothing, but if it has truth it must in time be of consequence. The overall theme is, of course, the futility of violence. It does also show that there is an underlying cause for violence but it proffers no solution and there is no message."

McCabe's more recent works include Christ in the Fields, a collection of short stories, and the historical novel Death and Nightingales, which takes place in Ireland of the 1880s. The novel deals with a Protestant landowner and Beth, the illegitimate daughter of his late wife, whom he had abused. Beth, unable to withstand the stress of life, finally takes action after government officials begin an investigation of the man with whom she had hoped to run away. The work is "a shattering story, breathtaking in scope," declared an Observer critic. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found the book's climax "riveting," concluding that McCabe has written "a fine book that rarely blinks at the bitter truths of life, loss and war." A Kirkus Reviews correspondent likewise deemed Death and Nightingales "a haunting novel of love and deception.... Brilliant, richly conceived, and perfectly narrated with the suspense of a good thriller."

Tales from the Poorhouse presents a series of four interwoven monologues that reveal the wretched poverty and casual abuse that ran rampant in nineteenthcentury Ireland. As the title implies, the stories are set in a poorhouse, the last resort for those men and women who were starving and penniless in a time of famine. In a World of Hibernia review of the book, Des Traynor observed: "If McCabe continues producing work of this high a standard to put alongside his novel Death and Nightingales and his stories . . . it is surely only a matter of time before his work reaches the wider audience it deserves."

McCabe once told CA: "I always felt that farming was 'real' work, and writing a much lesser trade. Somewhere in an interview I described myself as a tenth rate farmer (I got by) and a third rate writer. Even to describe myself as third rate may be presumptuous. It implies that some of my work will be viable a hundred years from now. This is far from certain. I decided to be a writer after reading a boys adventure novel called Boys Trapped in the Rockies! When I was seven to write such a story, I thought, must be wonderful. No one has even read or heard of this book, but it does (did!) exist. I'd love to read it again sixty years later!"



Berney, K. A., editor, Contemporary British Dramatists, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.

Riggs, Thomas, editor, Contemporary Dramatists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of Death and Nightingales, p. 13.

Listener, January 4, 1979, p. 30.

Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2002, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Death and Nightingales, p. R-15.

New Statesman, August 13, 1976, p. 216.

Observer (London), August 15, 1976, p. 20; July 25, 1993, p. 55.

O, The Oprah Magazine, March, 2002, Francine Prose, review of Death and Nightingales, p. 128.

Publishers Weekly, February 18, 2002, review of Death and Nightingales, p. 75; January 17, 2002, review of Tales from the Poor House, p.45.

Spectator, August 14, 1976, p. 16.

Times Literary Supplement, August 13, 1976, p. 1005; September 1, 1978, p. 965.

World of Hibernia, fall, 1999, Des Traynor, review of Tales from the Poorhouse, p. 169.


Clones Home Page, (April 1, 2002), "Eugene McCabe."

Film West, (April 1, 2002), Vincent Browne, "Interview with Eugene McCabe."

Irish Writers, (April 1, 2002).*