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Prologue xxiii ‘Dublin Ireland. Aug. 14’ began the 1979 Reuters report carried by newspapers worldwide. ‘Author J.G. Farrell, 43, who won literary fame for his novels about the British Empire, is believed to have drowned off the southwest coast of Ireland, police said today. A vacationer told police he saw Mr Farrell slip and fall into the sea Saturday while fishing near his home in Bantry Bay. Police said the area was particularly dangerous because of strong currents. Divers searching the area have not found the body.’ The Major was floating in soft black water in a disused quarry. The depth of the water was so great that when he dropped a white pebble into it he could still see it minutes afterwards, winking in the darkness as it sank. Then he was sinking beside it, down and down. ‘Death is the only peace on earth,’ he thought as he was sinking. As soon as he was notified, the novelist’s younger brother, Richard, flew over from England to join the search. From the public phone box in Kilcrohane he rang the Dublin solicitor Jack Kirwan, a friend from childhood. ‘Died 11.8.79 at 6pm, Saturday’, Jack jotted down. ‘Aged 44 approx. Fell into sea – fishing on rocks near his house. Witnessed by a lady called Mrs Foley with 3 young children. Body not found – weather terrible. Could be days – weeks – months or never. Mrs F: she had taken her children fishing. Decided water was too rough. One of children said wave hit Jim. Child of 12 said: ‘He is in the water.’ She said ‘Lie on back and I will get help.’ Did not respond. Did not appear to attempt to swim. No visible efforts. Screams. She tried to reach down. 4-5 yards. Suddenly he was swept under and disappeared. Q. undercurrent. He was upright in water. Was wearing boots.’ The Guardian journalist Malcolm Dean set off within twentyfour hours to cover the story at his own request, and on arrival phoned David Simpson in London, who was known to have been a recent guest. Once again the call was written down verbatim. ‘Collapsed. A tourist family told the police that his body slipped into the water and was swept out to sea without struggle. Fog has prevented coastguard planes from joining the search. Children aged 10 and 6 saw the collapse. Fell in water. Turbulent wild weather, though Jerry not . . .’ At that point the line broke, so David managed to get through to Jerry O’Mahony, whom he recognised as the local contact. ‘He fell to ground,’ he scribbled on. ‘No flailing, no swimming . Collapsed. Fell into water.’ Jim Farrell, that most elusive of twentieth-century novelists, was an early victim of the freak storm that two nights after his death ripped apart the Fastnet race, drowning eighteen crew members. One sailor who survived, Captain John Coote, publicly attributed his escape to having been born with a caul, part of a membrane from the womb, believed from Roman times to forestall a watery grave. Barometers plummeted as the centre of the depression roared up the Irish Sea and raged unabated for fourteen hours, blowing first from the south-west and switching around to a westerly direction, causing sixty-knot winds and towering fifty-foot waves called grey beards. It would become known as the worst night in history for the local Ballycotton, Dunmore East and Courtmacsherry lifeboats, necessitating the biggest joint air-sea rescue operation ever mounted. Five lifeboat stations, three Irish Air Corps helicopters, three British Nimrods, eight naval frigates, two tugs, a Dutch destroyer and the B & I car ferry St Killian, as well as commercial freighters and private boats, came to the aid of the stricken yachts. Mrs Foley, the only witness, had found herself in the nightmare predicament of being unable to leave her children in such dangerous conditions, and when she did succeed in raising the alarm there was no trace of a body. At first the identity of the lone fisherman was unclear, but Farrell’s name was on a bag of tackle found carefully stowed near the scene of the accident, and when gardaí called at the house that the Booker Prize-winning author had bought not long before, they found his car in the garage, the doors unlocked and nobody inside. After taking the phone call, Richard Farrell had to break the news to his mother; it was, he would admit later, the hardest thing he had ever had...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781909005075
Related ISBN
9781859184899
MARC Record
OCLC
830022803
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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