Author of The Ginger Man JP Donleavy - An obituary
Life & Style

Author of The Ginger Man JP Donleavy - An obituary

JP DONLEAVY once said: “When I die I want to decompose in a barrel of porter and have it served in all the pubs in Dublin.”

But the Irish-American playwright, who has died of a stroke aged 91, is unlikely to be granted his wish due to health and safety considerations.

The writer knew the Irish capital well, having studied there and becoming part of the city's literati.

From 1972 Donleavy lived near Mullingar in Westmeath until his death, although he never really forgave the Irish authorities for banning his best-known work The Ginger Man for reasons of obscenity.

Donleavy, who was also an accomplished artist, wrote several novels but will always be associated with The Ginger Man.


The novel chronicled the boozing and sexual exploits of one Sebastian Dangerfield, a young American studying in repressive, post-war Dublin.

Brendan Behan, the first to read it, said: “This book is going to go around the world and beat the bejaysus out of the Bible.”

The Ginger Man eventually won critical acclaim and wide popularity; it is now considered a contemporary classic, selling more than 45million copies worldwide.

Donleavy also achieved something approaching immortality in popular culture being the author of the 1973 book A Fairytale of New York.

Shane MacGowan used the name after fellow Pogue and co-writer of the Christmas song Jem Finer left the book lying around the recording studio.

James Patrick Donleavy Jr. was born in Brooklyn on April 23, 1926, the son of James and Margaret Donleavy, Irish immigrants.

He grew up in the northwest Bronx, where his father was a firefighter.


It was a tough upbringing — the young Donleavy began boxing at the New York Athletic Club in his teens and had prospects of becoming, a national middleweight champion.

World War II intervened, and Donleavy served in the US Navy. In 1946, still only 21, the young man arrived in Dublin to study bacteriology at Trinity College.

Following his studies, he headed for London with the early drafts of The Ginger Man in his suitcase.

Finding a publisher in England was difficult. His friend Brendan Behan suggested the Olympia Press in Paris.

Olympia accepted — which was a mixed blessing. The book was published, but as part of the Traveller’s Companion series, whose USP was dealing in erotica.

Donleavy was fearful that he would forever be associated with having written a ‘dirty book’.

The writer eventually fell out with Olympia, but in a strange turn of fortune, after pursuing the publisher through the courts to regain the book’s copyright, he ended up owning the Paris company.


His wife slipped into an auction and bought the company for a relatively small sum in 1970 after it went bankrupt.

Donleavy was married and divorced twice: to Valerie Heron with whom he had two children: Philip (born 1951) and Karen (born 1955); and to actress Mary Wilson Price.

This second marriage ended in 1989.

The writer made the news in 2011 when Mary Wilson Price revealed that her two grown children, born during a 19-year marriage to Donleavy, were not his.

DNA tests established that Rebecca Donleavy was the daughter of Kieran Guinness, of the brewing dynasty, and Rory Donleavy was the son of Finn Guinness, Kieran’s brother, whom Ms. Price later married.

It was a plot twist which could have come from one of Donleavy’s own books.

James Patrick Donleavy, writer, born April 23, 1926; died September 11, 2017