J. P. Donleavy

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J. P. Donleavy
Donleavy appearing on After Dark in 1991
James Patrick Donleavy

(1926-04-23)23 April 1926
Died11 September 2017(2017-09-11) (aged 91)
Alma materTrinity College Dublin
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
  • playwright
Known forThe Ginger Man
A Fairy Tale of New York
  • Valerie Heron
    (m. 1946⁠–⁠1969)
  • Mary Wilson Price
    (m. 1970⁠–⁠1989)
Children2 children, 2 stepchildren
AwardsBord Gáis Lifetime Achievement Award

James Patrick Donleavy (23 April 1926 – 11 September 2017) was an American-Irish novelist, short story writer and playwright.[1] His best-known work is the novel The Ginger Man, which was initially banned for obscenity.

Early life[edit]

Donleavy was born in Brooklyn, to Irish immigrants Margaret and Patrick Donleavy, and grew up in the Bronx. His father was a firefighter, and his mother came from a wealthy background.[2][3] He had a sister, Mary Rita, and a younger brother.[4][5] He received his education at various schools in the United States, then served in the US Navy during World War II.[1] After the war ended, he moved to Ireland. In 1946 he began studying bacteriology at Trinity College Dublin, but left in 1949 before taking a degree.


Donleavy's first published work was a short story entitled A Party on Saturday Afternoon, which appeared in the Dublin literary periodical Envoy in 1950.[4] He gained critical acclaim with his first novel, The Ginger Man (1955), which is one of the Modern Library 100 best novels.[6] The novel, of which Donleavy's friend and fellow writer Brendan Behan was the first person to read the completed manuscript,[5][7] was banned in Ireland and the United States by reason of obscenity. Lead character Sebastian Dangerfield was in part based on Trinity College companion Gainor Crist, an American Navy veteran also studying at Trinity College on the G.I. Bill, whom Donleavy once described in an interview as a "saint", though of a Rabelaisian kind.[8]

Correctly or incorrectly, his initial works are sometimes grouped with the kitchen sink artists as well as the "Angry Young Men".[7] Another novel, A Fairy Tale of New York, provided the title of the song "Fairytale of New York".

In March 2007, Donleavy was the castaway on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.[9]

In 2015, Donleavy was the recipient of the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.[10]

In 2016, Trinity College Dublin awarded him with an honorary doctorate.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Donleavy declared himself to be an atheist at the age of 14.[12] In 1946, he married Valerie Heron; the couple had two children: Philip (born 1951) and Karen (born 1955). They divorced in 1969 and he remarried in 1970 to Mary Wilson Price; that union ended in divorce in 1989.[7] In 2011, it was reported that Donleavy had not fathered his two children with Price. A DNA test in the early 1990s had confirmed that Rebecca was the daughter of brewing scion Kieran Guinness, and Rory was the son of Kieran's older brother Finn, whom Price married after her divorce from Donleavy. "My interest is only to look after the welfare of the child," Donleavy told The Times, "and after a certain stage, you can't worry about their parentage".[13]

He lived at Levington Park, a country house on 200 acres (0.81 km2) directly on Lough Owel, near Mullingar, County Westmeath, from 1972.[7] Throughout much of his life, he was known as Mike by close friends, though the origins of this nickname are unclear.[14]

Donleavy died on 11 September 2017, aged 91.[15]

List of works[edit]

  • The Ginger Man (novel) Olympia Press, Paris 1955
  • What They Did in Dublin, with The Ginger Man (a play) MacGibbon & Kee, London 1961
  • The Ginger Man (play) Random House, New York 1961
  • Fairy Tales of New York (play), Penguin, UK 1961 Random House, New York 1961
  • A Singular Man Atlantic-Little, Brown, Boston 1963
  • Meet My Maker the Mad Molecule (stories/sketches) Atlantic-Little, Brown, Boston 1964
  • A Singular Man (play) The Bodley Head, UK 1965
  • The Saddest Summer of Samuel S (novella) Delacorte Press, New York 1966
  • The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B (novel) Delacorte Press, New York 1968
  • The Onion Eaters (novel) Delacorte Press, New York 1971
  • The Plays of JP Donleavy Delacorte Press, New York 1972
  • A Fairy Tale of New York (novel) Delacorte Press, New York 1973
  • J.P. Donleavy: The Plays Penguin, UK 1974
  • The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival & Manners (non-fiction) Delacorte Press, New York 1975
  • The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman. Atlantic Monthly Press. 1991. ISBN 978-0-87113-289-5. (novel) Franklin Library, Franklin Center, Pennsylvania 1977
  • Schultz (novel) Delacorte Press, New York 1979
  • Leila. Atlantic Monthly Press. 1994. ISBN 978-0-87113-288-8. (novel) Franklin Library, Franklin Center, Pennsylvania 1983
  • De Alfonce Tennis... (novel) Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1984
  • J. P. Donleavy's Ireland... (non-fiction) Viking, New York, 1986 (Michael Joseph, London 1986)
  • Are You Listening Rabbi Löw (novel), Viking, London 1987
  • A Singular Country (nonfiction) Ryan, Peterborough, UK 1989
  • That Darcy, That Dancer, That Gentleman (novel) Viking, London 1990
  • The History of the Ginger Man (nonfiction) Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1994|Viking, London 1994
  • The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms. Macmillan. 1998. ISBN 978-0-312-18734-7. (novella) Thornwillow Press, US 1995
  • An Author and His Image (collected short pieces – nonfiction) Viking, London 1997
  • Wrong Information is Being Given Out at Princeton (novel) Thomas Dunn-St. Martins Press, New York (Viking, London) 1998
  • A Letter Marked Personal (novel) The Lilliput Press, Arbour Hill, Dublin 2019


  1. ^ a b "JP Donleavy obituary: acclaimed author of 'a bawled-out comic song of sex'". The Irish Times. Dublin. 14 September 2017. Retrieved 16 September 2017.
  2. ^ "J.P. Donleavy: Irish-American, American in Ireland, or Irish?". 17 June 2021.
  3. ^ "Author of the Ginger Man JP Donleavy - an obituary".
  4. ^ a b Campbell, James (14 September 2017). "JP Donleavy obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  5. ^ a b "JP Donleavey, author of The Ginger Man, dies". BBC News Online. BBC. 14 September 2017. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  6. ^ Gussow, Mel (28 June 2000). "The Classic With a Pornographic Pedigree". The New York Times.
  7. ^ a b c d Campbell, James (26 June 2004). "The spice of life". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  8. ^ 'An Interview with J. P. Donleavy' Journal of Irish Literature January 1978
  9. ^ Presenter: Kirsty Young (4 March 2007). "Desert Island Discs: JP Donleavy". Desert Island Discs. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  10. ^ "Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2015 winning authors revealed". Irish Book Awards. 25 November 2015. Archived from the original on 1 January 2017. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  11. ^ "Registrar : Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin, Ireland". www.tcd.ie. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  12. ^ Welch, Frances (11 April 1998). "Me and My God J. P. Donleavy Talks to Frances Welch". jpdonleavy-compendium.org. Opinions Electronic Telegraph. He became an atheist aged 13 or 14.
  13. ^ Smith, Harrison (15 September 2017). "JP Donleavy, author whose debut novel The Ginger Man shocked society". The Independent. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  14. ^ "A singular man: J P Donleavy on his fascinating life since The Ginger". The Independent. 5 August 2010.
  15. ^ Gates, Anita (13 September 2017). "J.P. Donleavy, Acclaimed Author of 'The Ginger Man,' Dies at 91". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 14 September 2017.

External links[edit]