a young would-be writer and budding professional Irishman, I was infatuated with
The Ginger Man, the comic masterpiece
by Irish-American maestro J. P. Donleavy. I must have read it five times or
more, enraptured by its picaresqueness and the absurd tenacity of the
hero, Sebastian Dangerfield. Much of the book's influence trickled into my own Killoyle (which had several midwives:
Donleavy, Flann O'Brien, Kingsley Amis, Laurence Sterne) ... I've always admired
old J.P., not only for his talent, but also for his gutsiness, his originality,
and his no-bullshit attitude toward life. You don't mess with the guy. Many
have tried; all have regretted it.
was not going to let anything be done to that book that was detrimental,"
he says. "That is why I'm a different kettle of fish to most authors. I've
never had anything happen in my life, from the literary world, in the way of a
pat on the back or encouragement or anything else. All I've ever known are
lawyers and litigation and attacks from every source possible."
of these were notorious. When Maurice Girodias, owner of the raunchy Olympia
Press, published The Ginger Man under
the rubric of pornography, Donleavy sued. Girodias filed a countersuit, and he
and Donleavy sued each other back and forth until The Olympia Press went bankrupt and Donleavy's wife bought the rights at
The Ginger Man made him
rich. For many years now, he's lived the life of a country squire in Levington
Park, a 170-acre working farm in Co. Westmeath, in the heart of rural Ireland. Long
before J.P. owned the place, James Joyce stayed at Levington Park while
visiting the nearby town of Mullingar. A scene in Stephen Hero, Joyce's sketch for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, describes the manor:
"... [A]n odd irregular house, barely
visible from the road, and surrounded by a fair plantation. It was reached by
an untended drive and the ground behind it thick with clumps of faded
rhododendrons sloped down to the shore of Lough Owel. ... "
84, a still-hale Donleavy writes, paints, and draws regularly, but most of all
he takes his role as gentleman farmer seriously, having proudly declared
Levington Park to be the first farm in Ireland to be free of Genetic
Modification ("Frankenfood"). Outside his study window, as he writes,
60 to 80 prize cattle, raised for beef, graze on the lush grass of Co. Westmeath,
beneath the restless Irish sky. And all thanks to Sebastian Dangerfield, and a
will of iron. A lesson to us all.