Friday, October 15, 1993

John MacKenna

In my articles I have always written of the past. In a sense these are like acts of atonement for lives and experiences spent without recognition. Forgotten and unacknowledged the events and people, the subject of my articles, tend to have slipped from our memory.

How nice then to remember and to pay tribute to someone who has embarked on a literary career which will undoubtedly bring him and his native Castledermot, and by association the town of Athy, fame, and for him, I hope, fortune. For today I write of a man whose literary talents are emerging into the glare of national and international recognition. In years to come as someone else writes of Athy's past no doubt John MacKenna will figure prominently as a writer famous for many works as yet unwritten.

In his short literary career to date, which commenced with the South Leinster Literary Group based in Clancys Pub, MacKenna has produced a book of poetry, short stories and a number of plays in which he has continuously sharpened and honed his literary imagery. Not everything he produced was of the finest quality but within his early work there was a clear indication of an improving style which would soon bring him into the first ranks of emerging Irish writers.
Winner of a Hennessy Award in 1983 he won Cecil Day Lewis Awards for works of fiction in literary competitions run by Athy Urban Council's Cultural Sub-Committee in 1989 and 1990. During that time he was and still remains a radio producer in RTE.

His love for and involvement in theatre gave rise to his founding The Mend and Makedo Theatre Company in 1988. Using the Company as a vehicle for his plays, he wrote, produced and acted in six original works over the last three years.

His substantial literary output during that period owed as much to his astute reworking of material for play and short story as to his quite prodigious energy. "The Fallen" a voice play first produced in November 1989 was later broadcast on Radio Eireann as play of the week before subsequently emerging under MacKenna's skilful hands as a novella. As the title story in his first book of short stories "The Fallen" was published in 1992 by Blackstaff Press to great critical acclaim. Those of you who visit the local Library in the Town Hall will no doubt have seen the review his first book received in the London Times which is pinned to one of the bookstands. The Glasgow Herald reviewing the same book of short stories placed the author "in the forefront of Irish fiction". Strong praise indeed for a writer with his first book of short stories.

John MacKenna has now won the 1993 Irish Times Literary Award, the most prestigious prize in Irish Literature, for his first book "The Fallen". Last week he gave a reading of his work in the Royal Festival Hall, London, sharing a platform with the famous Authoress, Beryl Bainbridge. He has been featured on BBC Radio and no doubt you will have seen his recent appearance on the Pat Kenny -j.'V Show.

How nice then to pay a tribute to one of our own and to acknowledge a man who in time can be one of Ireland's literary greats. This week in the Community Library, Town Hall, Athy, John MacKenna's first novel "Clare" will be launched. Already critically acclaimed in England and Ireland his new work is an extraordinarily intimate and lyrical exploration of John Clare, the English Poet who died in 1864.

The launch will take place on Thursday October 14th at 8.00 p.m. and gives all of us in Athy and surrounding district an opportunity to acknowledge the success of a local man and to pay tribute to a talent which developed in Athy and which now reaches out beyond our borders to touch the lives of people we can never expect to know.

Well done John MacKenna. It is nice to look back on the past while at the same time looking to the future for a new and exceptional talent.

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