Posts Tagged ‘Aodhan Madden’

Aodhan Madden (1947-2015)

14th January 2015

Playwright and author. An Appreciation by John Lynch.

Aodhan Madden. Image source

Aodhan was a little drunk and uninhibited the first time I met him. It was in the early 1970s at a performance of Ulick O’Connor’s one man show on Brendan Behan.  “Hey! Show us your Equity Card”, he shouted as poor Ulick was endeavouring to strike a poetic pose ala Micheál Mac Liammóir.  His review of the performance led to some legal business as Aodhan was then a theatre critic for the Sunday/Irish Press.  He told me a sub-editor, without his knowledge, had entitled his review “Ulick Who?” and this caused more offence than the review itself.  Ten years later in the 1980s he was on the other side as he had become a playwright and enjoyed success with his plays for stage and radio.  Needless to say he developed a healthy dislike for all critics, remembering only the bad reviews in spite of the generous and kind encouragement he received from many of them.  

He was an active member of The Society of Irish Playwrights (now The Writers Guild of Ireland) and an enthusiastic tutor and contributor to an extensive six month Fás/Anco course which Michael Judge and I ran for emerging writers in 1985.  The 1980s was his golden time as a writer with numerous productions of his plays at the Abbey Theatre and The Dublin Theatre Festival.  We collaborated on many writing projects, most notably the screenplay for the feature film Night Train (1998).  At the time of his death we were to meet in the New Year to resurrect a completed screenplay we had already spent two years on developing and to see what we could do with a couple of stage plays we had worked on.  Getting together with him became more and more difficult over the past ten years as he was in poor health and his own worst enemy.

I got a text from a friend early on Saturday week last which read: “Sorry to hear about Aodhan Madden.”  That was all it said, but I knew it could only mean one thing.  I checked the Irish Times online and yes it was true, my dear friend Aodhan had died.  This was not unexpected as had been consumed by his demons in recent years and lived in semi-isolation, seldom venturing into town or making contact.  Yet we always spoke by telephone around this time of year, mainly on Christmas day or in the New Year.  He didn’t ring at Christmas and I fully intended to call him but didn’t get around to it, I regret to say.

The Irish Times report by Patsy McGarry is a fitting record of many of Aodhan’s achievements:

A member of Aosdána he was born and raised in Dublin’s North Circular Rd, the third youngest of seven children.  His stage plays, almost all of which were produced at the Abbey and/or Peacock theatres in Dublin, included The Midnight Door (1983), The Dosshouse Waltz (1985),Sensations (1986), Private Death of a Queen (1986), Sea Urchins (1988), Remember Mauritania (1987), Josephine in the Night (1988), Candlemas Night (1991).

His plays for radio included RememberMauritania (RTÉ, 1985) and Obituaries (RTÉ, 1992). A collection of short stories Mad Angels of Paxenau Street was published in 1991 and Demons, a collection of poems, was published in 1978.

He twice won the Oz Whitehead award for drama in 1984 for Remember Mauritania and in 1985 for Private Death of a Queen. In 1985 he won the Herald Tribune Award for Best Play in the Dublin Theatre Festival of that year for Dosshouse Waltz.

His screenplay Night Train (1998), directed by John Lynch, won the best actor award for Sir John Hurt at the Verona Film Festival in 1999 and was nominated as best European feature at the Brussels Film Festival that same year.

His memoir Fear and Loathing in Dublin was published in 2009. It details his struggles with depression, alcoholism, acceptance of his homosexuality and his close relationship with his father Jim.1

Aodhan told me he spent years trying to pick up the courage to tell his father that he was a homosexual.  When he did his father sought the advice of the Parish Priest who assured him that the condition could be cured and that he would send his young curate to have a word with his son.  Aodhan’s account of this interview was hilarious because the curate turned out to be more obviously gay than he was.  I recalled this story at the funeral when talking to Aodhan’s sister, Carmel, and his brother Jim.  They both dissolved into helpless laughter, telling me that Aodhan would never let the facts get in the way of a good story.  The story was not true at all and Aodhan had never told his father who was well aware of the situation anyway.

I read his book Fear and Loathing in Dublin again yesterday.  It is a wonderfully true representation of Aodhan’s spirit, his tortured life, his humour and compassion.  It is confessional and a successful attempt to set the spiritual record straight.  His dependence on alcohol, the death of his mother, confronting his sexuality in an atmosphere of ignorance led him to severe paranoid delusions and suicide attempts.  Above all Fear and Loathing in Dublin tells of Aodhan’s survival through his love of the written word, and of his dear loving father, Jim Madden, who never ceased to encourage and support his deeply troubled son.

Remembering Jim at the time of his death, Aodhan wrote the following passage, which gives the last words to both of them on the nature of the deep love which bound them:

He was always a shy man, but he did express his feelings, often in a bizarre and humorous way.  Here was a man who had buried a young wife and had to endure a son’s madness.  Yet he coped.  Unlike all the wounded, disappointed losers in my plays, in the Press and in the hospital, he was a winner.  His quiet, humdrum life was a small triumph.2

Aodhan Madden had a fine artistic sensibility.  He was a wonderful writer, a flawed and vulnerable human being, and in my dealings with him, a consummate professional.   I will miss him always.

John Lynch (14/1/2015).

[1] Patsy McGarry, Playwright, author and Aosdana Member Aodhan Madden dies (Dublin: The Irish Times, January 3rd 2015), 4.

[2] Aodhan Madden, Fear and Loathing in Dublin (Dublin: Liberties Press, 2009), 183.