Nepalese gay sex scandal may push poet off Irish syllabus

One of the foremost Irish-language poets is expected to have his work removed from the school curriculum in the wake of a tangled sexual controversy.

Until recently, Cathal O'Searcaigh, whose work has been described as "exquisitely beautiful", and has been translated by the Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, was regarded as a gentle, eccentric soul devoting much energy to charity work in poor regions of Nepal.

But a television documentary, made with his co-operation in Nepal and screened this week, has divided opinion on his behaviour.

O'Searcaigh has provided substantial funds in Nepal, where he spends three months a year, to improve the education and life-chances of teenage boys. He also says that he has had sex with some of them, seeing nothing wrong with enjoying sexual favours from those he helps.

Aged 52, he is openly gay and has been going regularly to Nepal for more than a decade. He seems genuinely hurt at accusations that he is practising a form of predatory sex tourism, saying the youths involved are over the Nepalese age of consent, which is 16.

He said: "Boys came to my room. Certainly I had sex with some of them, yes, yes, yes. But it wasn't coercing them into having sex with me. That door was open all the time." Irish police say they are investigating, but police in Nepal are less concerned, saying no complaints have been made.

Irish intellectual and cultural opinion is divided, with some critics branding the poet's behaviour opportunistic and morally unacceptable. Ciaran Byrne, a journalist, said: "At worst it shows he exploited his relative wealth in a country where poverty is rife, using his cash to satisfy his sexual desires among highly vulnerable young men."

The Irish Times said that the episode was "in danger of fuelling a modern-day literary witch hunt", asking whether the work of Oscar Wilde should also be removed from the school syllabus.

Ireland's Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, said she was shocked and appalled, declaring: "There might be questions about the character of many people whose literature has been on courses for the past hundred years. This is different, however, because it is a current case involving a person living in this country. Students must answer one question about the poet [in examinations], which could cause difficulty."

The saga came to light when an admirer of O'Searcaigh travelled with him to Nepal to make a film, and became aware that he had sex with young men whom he helped. She said he set himself up as a benefactor to students "but somewhere along the line the boundaries get blurred".

The poet responded that the documentary, called Fairytale of Kathmandu and which aired this week, was "very salacious, distorted and inaccurate". He has engaged a PR adviser to mount an aggressive defence of his behaviour which has included accusations of bias, dishonesty, homophobia and entrapment.

Support for O'Searcaigh has come from the cultural community. Senator David Norris, a gay rights campaigner and Oscar Wilde scholar, spoke of "ignorant vindictiveness, sensationally presented", and the organisers of an international literature festival said they would be "proud" to showcase the poet's work at their annual event in Galway next month. A playwright and rights activist, Margaretta D'Arcy, said that, if O'Searcaigh was forced to sever his links with Nepal, "his friends are bound to suffer desperate hurt to their self-esteem, a sense of deepest betrayal, irreparable emotional damage; and this will be the real abuse."

Geraldine Sheridan, a professor of languages at the University of Limerick, responded: "Many of us denounced the Catholic Church establishment for closing ranks in the face of the indefensible: the abuse of innocence. Let us be spared a similar reaction on the part of our intellectual and artistic elite."

'Innocent and vulnerable' poetry

Cathal O'Searcaigh has been acclaimed by writers and critics in Ireland. The poet Michael Longley wrote that "in his loveliest poems there rings out most spontaneously a note that is innocent and vulnerable". The author Dermot Bolger wrote of him: "Playful, open, ebullient, unafraid of the colours of language, shockingly honest and raw when necessary, he has transfixed the landscape of his native Donegal." The following is an extract from O'Searcaigh's poem, "Here At Caiseal na gcorr Station", translated by Gabriel Fitzmaurice:

Above and below, I see the holdings

farmed from the mouth of wilderness.

This is the poem-book of my people,

the manuscript they toiled at

with the ink of their sweat.

Here every enclosed field is like a verse

in the great poem of land reclamation.

I now read this epic of diligence

in the green dialect of the holdings,

understand that I'm only fulfilling my duty

when I challenge the void

exactly as my people challenged the wilderness

with diligence and devotion

till they earned their prize.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones