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Maeve Binchy – Irish national treasure

Maeve Binchy was born 28 May 1940 in Dalkey, Co Dublin. She was born and brought up ten miles from Dublin City.

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She was the eldest of four children, and had a happy, loving childhood. She says like most children she dreamed of being famous. She stayed close to home and even went to Dublin University.Maeve Binchy. Photo copyright Jon Kay CC3
She qualified as a teacher and taught in a Dublin school, which led to her travelling and discovering her gift for writing. She told ‘Vulture’:

‘In 1963, I worked in a Jewish school in Dublin, teaching French with an Irish accent to kids, primarily Lithuanians. The parents there gave me a trip to Israel as a present. I had no money, so I went and worked in a kibbutz — plucking chickens, picking oranges. My parents were very nervous; here I was going out to the Middle East by myself. I wrote to them regularly, telling them about the kibbutz. My father and mother sent my letters to a newspaper, which published them. So I thought, It’s not so hard to be a writer. Just write a letter home. After that, I started writing other travel articles.’

In a vote for World Book Day, in 2000, Maeve Binchy came 3rd, beating Stephen King and Charles Dickens.

She worked as a journalist on The Irish Times, and wrote her first novel ‘Light a Penny Candle’ in her spare time, and she later became a fiction writer.

Binchy was primarily a novelist, but also a playwright, short story writer and columnist. Her writing was full of humour about life in small-town Ireland and its dramatic changes between World War II and the present day.

Her characters lived with the common stresses of everyday life that her readers could relate to.

She said that her secret was to write the way she spoke.

“I don’t say I was ‘proceeding down a thoroughfare’, I say I ‘walked down the road’. I don’t say I ‘passed a hallowed institute of learning’, I say I ‘passed a school’.”

A long and happy marriage

In 1977, she married Gordon Snell, a children’s author, and they lived in Dalkey, just a few hundred yards from where she was brought up, until she died. They had a long and happy marriage.

Light a Penny Candle was, initially, rejected by five publishers.

Binchy wrote 16 novels, four short-story collections and a play. Her first novel Light a Penny Candle was published in 1982, and in 1983, it sold for £52,000 – the largest sum ever paid for a first novel. This couldn’t have come at a better time for Binchy and her husband as they were then two months behind with their mortgage.

Maeve Binchy eventually became one of Ireland’s richest women.

In 2002, she wrote ‘Heart and Soul’, after she suffered from a heart condition – it is set in a ‘heart failure clinic’ in Dublin and tells the story of the people and experiences she had there.
Maeve Binchy quote. Everybody has always loved eating in Ireland. Image copyright Ireland Calling

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Ireland’s best known novelist

Maeve died 30 July 2012 (aged 72). Some of the tributes in the newspapers were “Ireland’s most well-known novelist” and best-loved writer of her generation”. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “Today we have lost a national treasure.”

She is fondly remembered as one of Ireland’s best-loved and most recognisable writers – tributes continue to be sent to her website by her huge following of fans.
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