McCabe, Patrick 1955–

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McCabe, Patrick 1955–


Born March 27, 1955, in Clones, County Monaghan, Ireland; son of Bernard (a clerk) and Dympna (a homemaker) McCabe; married Margot Quinn (a receptionist), December, 1981; children: Ellen, Katy. Education: Attended St. Macartan's College, Monaghan, Ireland, 1967-72, and St. Patrick's Training College, Dublin, Ireland, 1971-74. Religion: Roman Catholic.


Home—Sligo, Ireland. Office—Kingsbury Day Special School, Kingsbury, London NW9, England.


Educator and writer. St. Michael's Boy's National School, Longford, Ireland, teacher, 1974-78; St. Mary's, Dublin, Ireland, teacher, 1978-80; St. Theresa's National School, Balbriggan, Ireland, teacher, 1981-87; Kingsbury Day Primary School and Special School, London, England, teacher, 1987-93. Has also appeared as an actor in films, including Beam Me Up, Scotty!, 1996, The Butcher Boy, 1997, Life on Mars, 1998, and Breakfast on Pluto, 2005.


Hennessy Award from Irish Press, 1979, for short story "The Call"; Booker Prize nomination, 1992, and Irish Times/Aer Lingus Award for best novel by an Irish writer, 1992, both for The Butcher Boy; Booker Prize nomination, 1998, for Breakfast on Pluto; Hughes & Hughes/Irish Independent Irish Novel of the Year award, 2007, for Winterwood.



Music on Clinton Street, Raven (Dublin, Ireland), 1986.

Carn, Aidan Ellis (Oxford, England), 1989, Delta (New York, NY), 1997.

The Butcher Boy, Picador (London, England), 1992, Fromm International (New York, NY), 1993.

The Dead School, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.

Breakfast on Pluto (also see below), HarperFlamingo (New York, NY), 1998.

Mondo Desperado: A Serial Novel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Emerald Germs of Ireland, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Call Me the Breeze, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

Winterwood, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2006.


The Adventures of Shay Mouse (four-part series for children; broadcast by RTE-Radio, 1983), Raven (Dublin, Ireland), 1985.

Ulster Final (one-act play), first broadcast by RTE-Radio, 1984.

Frontiers (one-act play), first broadcast by RTE-Radio, 1984.

Frank Pig Says Hello! (play; adaptation of The Butcher Boy), first produced in Dublin, Ireland, 1993, produced in London at Royal Court Theatre, 1993.

Psychobilly (play), produced in London, England, 1994.

(With Neil Jordan) Breakfast on Pluto (screenplay; adapted from McCabe's novel), Sony Pictures Classics, 2005.

Also author of one-act plays Belfast Days, The Outing, and The Butcher Boy, all broadcast by RTE Dublin, the film script Madeleine's Eyes; the film script for LSD '73, 2003; and the short story collection Apaches. Work represented in anthologies, including The Dolmen Book of Christmas Stories. Contributor to periodicals, including Irish Press, Irish Times, and Panurge.


The Butcher Boy was filmed in 1998, and Breakfast on Pluto in 2005, both directed by Neil Jordan; author's books have been adapted for audio, including Carn, Recorded Books, 1997.


A longtime teacher for the learning-disabled in his native Ireland, Patrick McCabe turned his talents to writing plays and novels in the mid-1980s. He once told CA: "I am particularly interested in writing about contemporary Ireland, against which background all my work is set. The world is an insoluble enigma. Each novel written, each play completed is another step on the road to silencing the furies within." His work has steadily gained recognition from critics, prompting a Kirkus Reviews contributor to call him "as skilled and significant a novelist as Ireland has produced in decades."

In his novel The Butcher Boy, McCabe offers a vision of life in a small Irish town. As such it recounts "the cruelties, betrayals and other repressions of small-town life," noted James Hynes in the Washington Post Book World. As Julian Moynahan described it in the New York Review of Books, McCabe's "much discussed and prize-winning novel is full of social shaming but is full also of so many appalling other things—family breakdown, suicide, alcoholism, a priest's sexual abuse of a male child, hallucination, psychosis, and murder."

As Moynahan suggested, The Butcher Boy is also the story of a murder. The title refers to Francie Brady, a lower-class Irish lad who works in a slaughterhouse. Francie's psyche and behavior have been devastated by a childhood with alcoholic and disturbed parents. He has spent time in a reform school and a madhouse. He returns to his little town and eventually exacts revenge on his parents, his town, and everybody who has darkened his life, by murdering Mrs. Nugent. The Nugents, as Moynahan explained, "epitomize the decent Irish middle-class family and Catholic values from which Francie is forever barred." Also, Mrs. Nugent had once humiliated Francie and his mother, calling them "pigs." Francie's tale "is startlingly original," commented Hynes. "McCabe has … given us a protagonist who is nastier and scarier than any of the petty autocrats [of his small town]."

McCabe has Francie tell his own story, looking back at a personal history of decades ago through the distorting lens of psychosis. As David Mehegan explained in the Boston Globe, "The whole story is a continuous interior monologue, shifting seamlessly among Francie's narration, his often screamingly funny analysis of what is happening and his fantasies, … his own adventures … and his poignant image of himself as a bird on the wing above the town." The character that emerges from this monologue is what has attracted the greatest critical attention to McCabe's book. According to Mehegan, The Butcher Boy "has a compelling and terrible beauty that grows from Francie's convincing character and the truthfulness of his responses to the awful things that befall him."

In the estimation of New York Times Book Review contributor Rosemary Mahoney: "With eerie accuracy, Mr. McCabe has captured the machinations of a deranged young mind. Francie is a lovable villain, a semisweet psychotic who elicits from the reader much the same affectionate interest that Perry Smith did in Truman Capote's ‘In Cold Blood.’" Mahoney added that Francie is "part Huck Finn, part Holden Caulfield, part Hannibal Lecter. It is precisely Mr. McCabe's ability to capture the warring states of Francie's mind that elevates this book from the level of the absurd to that of art."

In addition to McCabe's story and his characterization, critics have remarked upon the author's ability to create Francie's unique voice. "McCabe's slyest move is to make Francie's voice as engaging and funny as it is frightening," observed Hynes. The critic added that McCabe's work is a "small masterpiece of literary ventriloquism—a Beckett monologue with a plot by Alfred Hitchcock." As Mahoney wrote: "Despite its Gothicism and its gruesome ending, The Butcher Boy crackles with humor, much of it generated by the remarkable authenticity of Francie's voice, the running, skipping, epic fashion in which he tells his story."

In The Dead School, McCabe portrays two teachers whose ages put them a generation apart. Raphael Bell stands for high standards and strict authority, while Malachy Dudgeon takes a more relaxed approach to his students. Bell comes to loathe Dudgeon as the embodiment of all the values he believes are ruining his world, but the story is more complex than that. A Contemporary Novelists contributor noted: "Though Malachy identifies Raphael as the major contributor to his downfall, it is instead his own incompetence, shiftlessness, and inability to accept responsibility for his own actions and his own fate that lead him to acid-induced madness."

McCabe's 1998 novel Breakfast on Pluto is, like The Butcher Boy, the story of a painful childhood and its aftermath. Patrick Braden is conceived when a priest rapes a teenaged parishioner; he is abandoned shortly after his birth and raised by a boozy woman known as Ma Whiskers. As an adult, Patrick moves to London and becomes a transvestite prostitute named Pussy. Despite his professed lack of interest in such things, Patrick/Pussy is inevitably drawn into Irish political violence. "By turns hilarious and pitiably lonely, Patrick is an unforgettable hero," wrote Malcolm Jones, Jr., in Newsweek. Some reviewers, including Des Traynor, a contributor to World of Hibernia, complained that there are too many echoes of The Butcher Boy in Breakfast on Pluto. Traynor also wrote: "one can hardly pick up a book or watch a film by an Irish writer or director these days that does not contain an obligatory scene of clerical sex crime." Yet he concluded: "These criticisms aside, Breakfast on Pluto is well worth the price of admission, if only for the way it is drenched in the music of the time." Other commentators were impressed by McCabe's creation of such a bizarre, fully realized protagonist. Booklist contributor Nancy Pearl commented that "the very funny parts of the book ironically emphasize the ongoing horror of Ireland's religious wars. In his artful novel … McCabe has created an unforgettable heroine." Library Journal contributor Marc A. Kloszewski wrote that McCabe "certainly has a talent for creating memorable characters who are worth spending some time with, warts and all."

Publishers Weekly interviewer Colin Lacey commented about McCabe's fiction: "Served up in a chatty, colloquial narrative voice, his darkly satirical burlesques strut the line between comedy and horror, while his characters are equal parts lovable and chilling." McCabe told Lacey: "A lot of people read the books and believe I must be some sort of freaky-deaky dude." The author added: "But that's not the case at all. It's not that difficult to put yourself inside the head of a character, and it's no more difficult to put yourself in the mind of a transvestite prostitute than it is to put yourself in the mind of a boy whose heart is broken and who chops up a woman. Writing is like method acting. You sit down and do the work and just switch off when its over."

Carn, first published in England in 1989 and released in the United States in 1997, tells the story of a 1950s-era Irish town named Carn that suffers great economic deprivation because of the railroad's closing. The novel follows the wealthy businessman Rooney as he proceeds to open a factory and other businesses that provide employment to the locals, who include Saide Rooney, who wants to move to London, and Josie Keenan, who came back to her hometown despite the fact that Carn is where she suffered childhood incest. Although things begin to look up for the local residents, the town's future is once again in jeopardy as the author presents a tale of difficulty of surviving in hard economic times. Joanne Wilkinson, writing in Booklist, commented that McCabe "offers a universal depiction of small-town life, steeped in rumor, conflict, and desperation." Library Journal contributor Marc A. Kloszewski noted the author's "simple and engaging style." Several reviewers also commended McCabe on his ability to capture small-town life and the people who live there, often in desperation. For example, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "McCabe fashions a portrait of a place and its people that is tough and funny but, above all, authentic."

Mondo Desperado: A Serial Novel is a series of interconnected short stories about the local populace in Barntrosna as told by the fictitious author Phildy Hackball, who McCabe presents to readers first in his introductory notes and then again through a brief biography at the end of the book. Among the town's numerous misfits are Larry Bunyon, who believes his pretty wife is leading a secret drug-induced life of squalor and sexual depravity; and the local bishop, who tortures himself with a hair shirt and is at odds with his competitor, Father Packie Coolie. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote of Mondo Desperado: "Like an Irish bull in a china shop, McCabe hilariously charges through yarns." Several reviewers also noted the moral- telling aspect of the tales. Writing in Library Journal, Heather McCormack referred to the stories as "B-movie parables" and also wrote that the various characters "induce cackling and knee-slapping." In his review in Entertainment Weekly, Mike Flaherty referred to the book as "a twisted anthology of adult fairy tales."

McCabe once again uses linking short stories to tell the tale of Pat McNab in the novel Emerald Germs of Ireland. Pat is forty-five-years old and still living with his overbearing mother when he murders her with a sauce pan. Freed from maternal constraints, Pat goes on to tell of his running amok and wreaking havoc among his neighbors through various crimes, including murder. Once again, critics generally praised McCabe's work. "With a great ear for language, McCabe spins a yarn all fiction readers should enjoy," wrote Brad Hooper in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote of Emerald Germs of Ireland: "McCabe's jokey verbosity and energetic narrative voice are on full display in this messy but manically vibrant novel."

In his novel Call Me the Breeze, McCabe features Joey Tallon, a bartender in Northern Ireland who wants to run off to America with his Californian girlfriend Jacy. Taking LSD, the would-be hippie does not quite fit in with the people of his tough local town teaming with violence, stemming from the Provisional IRA. When a bomb nearly kills him, Joey cuts his hair into a Mohawk, commits a crime, and is caught. When he gets out of jail, Joey decides to make something of himself and winds up becoming a teacher and a writer. However, when he makes a truthful film about his old hometown, the past comes back to cause troubles anew. Keir Graff, writing in Booklist, referred to Call Me the Breeze as "a rollicking tragicomedy, brilliantly cast." Several reviewers especially praised McCabe's writing style. In her review in the New Statesman, Stephanie Merritt wrote: "Grotesque humour and an unsurpassed ear for the music of unpolished Irish dialogue, which remains just the right side of pantomime dialect, are once more displayed in abundance." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented: "By turns fascinating, repulsive, heartbreaking, and unreadable: probably the greatest mess McCabe has published to date."

McCabe's 2007 novel Winterwood features narrator Redmond Hatch, whose dream of an idyllic marriage with a wife and child crumbles when his wife abandons him and leaves with their daughter. After faking a suicide, Redmond takes on a new identity as Dominic. As he begins stalking his old family, the former journalist recalls a story he did about an old musician named Ned Strange and thinks he may be following in Strange's footsteps as a killer and child molester. Several reviewers noted that the way in which Redmond presents his story confuses what is fact and what is fiction. A Kirkus Reviews contributor, for example, commented that the author creates this distortion because it helps him "to evoke the mental instability that seems to swallow [Redmond] whole." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Gregory Cowles noted: "At heart, Winterwood is a Gothic ghost story, complete with branches tapping on windows and the smell of mildew signaling the devil's arrival."



Contemporary Novelists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 194: British Novelists since 1960, Second Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Kearney, Richard, Transitions: Narratives in Modern Irish Culture, Wolfhound Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1988.


Book, March, 2001, Chris Jones, review of Emerald Germs of Ireland, p. 83.

Booklist, February 1, 1997, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Carn, p. 926; January 1, 1999, Nancy Pearl, review of Breakfast on Pluto, p. 832; February 15, 2000, Whitney Scott, review of Mondo Desperado: A Serial Novel, p. 1081; January 1, 2001, Brad Hooper, review of Emerald Germs of Ireland, p. 870; December 1, 2003, Keir Graff, review of Call Me the Breeze, p. 646.

Boston Globe, June 9, 1993, David Mehegan, review of The Butcher Boy, p. 65.

Entertainment Weekly, March 17, 2000, Mike Flaherty, review of Mondo Desperado, p. 64; November 28, 2003, Chris Willman, review of Call Me the Breeze, p. 128.

Europe Intelligence Wire, February 3, 2007, John Spain, "Coming of Age for Irish Book Award."

Guardian (London, England), August 30, 2003, John O'Mahony, "King of Bog Gothic."

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2003, review of Call Me the Breeze, p. 1194; October 15, 2006, review of Winterwood, p. 1038.

Library Journal, February 1, 1997, Marc A. Kloszewski, review of Carn, p. 106; December, 1998, Marc A. Kloszewski, review of Breakfast on Pluto, p. 157; February 1, 2000, Heather McCormack, review of Mondo Desperado, p. 118; February 1, 2001, Heather McCormack, review of Emerald Germs of Ireland, p. 126; November 15, 2003, Christopher Korenowsky, review of Call Me the Breeze, p. 98; November 15, 2006, Jim Coan, review of Winterwood, p. 57.

New Statesman, October 13, 2003, Stephanie Merritt, review of Call Me the Breeze, p. 53.

Newsweek, November 16, 1998, Malcolm Jones, Jr., review of Breakfast on Pluto, p. 87.

New York Review of Books, October 7, 1993, Julian Moynahan, review of The Butcher Boy, pp. 28-29.

New York Times, April 4, 2000, Michiko Kakutani, review of Mondo Desperado, p. E7; March 1, 2001, Janet Maslin, review of Emerald Germs of Ireland, p. E9.

New York Times Book Review, May 30, 1993, Rosemary Mahoney, review of The Butcher Boy, p. 9; April 9, 2000, Dean Albarelli, review of Mondo Desperado, p. 32; March 18, 2001, Tom Gilling, review of Emerald Germs of Ireland, p. 26; January 18, 2004, Lizzie Skurnick, review of Call Me the Breeze, p. 23; March 4, 2007, Gregory Cowles, review of Winterwood, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, December 9, 1996, review of Carn, p. 60; November 16, 1998, Colin Lacey, "Patrick McCabe: A Comedy of Horrors," pp. 50, 55; January 31, 2000, review of Mondo Desperado, p. 78; March 5, 2001, review of Emerald Germs of Ireland, p. 64; November 10, 2003, review of Call Me the Breeze, p. 42.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 2001, David Bergman, review of Emerald Germs of Ireland, p. 218.

Spectator, September 27, 2003, David Crane, review of Call Me the Breeze, p. 53.

Washington Post Book World, May 16, 1993, James Hynes, review of The Butcher Boy, p. 4.

World of Hibernia, autumn, 1998, Des Traynor, review of Breakfast on Pluto, p. 136.


Contemporary Writers, (April 12, 2007), Daniel Hahn, biography of author.

Dave the Novelist Blog, (February 17, 2007), David Schleicher, review of Winterwood.

Internet Movie Database, (April 12, 2007), information on author's film work.

Irish Writers Online, (April 12, 2007), brief profile of author., (March 13, 2000), Austin Dunn, review of Mondo Desperado; (December 18, 2003) Andrew O'Hehir, review of Call Me the Breeze., (May 13, 2004), "Murphy to Star in McCabe Novel Project."