Publisher Antony Farrell recollects introducing the late John O’Brien to J.P. Donleavy


In 1961 J.P. Donleavy published a stage play called Fairytales of New York; this mutated into a 341-page novel released in September 1973 titled A Fairy Tale of New York. On 17 November 1987 Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl, with Steve Lillywhite, produced a single that was to became the most celebrated Christmas song on the planet. In December 2020 a cancel culture, combatted by Nick Cave, bowdlerised its lyrics while Johnny Depp’s documentary film on MacGowan is also being screened.
If you google A Fairy Tale of New York, you will find Donleavy’s comically anarchic original novel available as an ebook on the website hosted by The Lilliput Press. When MacGowan visited J.P. Donleavy in Westmeath to ask permission to adopt and adapt his title during the summer of 1987, they each walked into history.
In June 2016 Lilliput publisher Antony Farrell drove John O’Brien of Dalkey Archive down to Westmeath to meet Donleavy in Levington Hall. Both Irish American, both singular geniuses. We mourn their passing: John O’Brien, d. 21 November 2020 in Illinois; J.P. Donleavy, d. 11 September 2017 in Mullingar. R.I.P.
Happy days, and happy Christmas every one.