JP DonleavyImage copyright RTE

The writer, J P Donleavy, has died at his home in Mullingar in the Republic of Ireland. He was 91.

He was most well known for his 1955 novel, The Ginger Man, which became a cult classic.

It chronicles the drunken exploits of a young American studying at Trinity College, Dublin, after World War Two.

It was banned in Ireland until the 1970s but it became a word-of-mouth success. Worldwide, it sold more than 40 million copies.

JP Donleavy was born in New York, the son of Irish immigrant parents.

He was already a skilled boxer when he arrived in Ireland and found that street fighting was almost a form of public entertainment in the city – and one in which he excelled.

His student life at Trinity College, evolved around drinking, partying, writing and painting. All of that inspired his first and most famous novel.

He was also a friend of writer Brendan Behan who was the first person to read the completed script of The Ginger Man.

‘Fairytale of New York’

In a profile in the Guardian, in 2004, Donleavy is quoted: “I knew I had to write a book that was the best in the world. It was as simple as that. Brendan Behan told me, ‘This book is gonna beat the Bible’.”

Donleavy lived in London and the Isle of Man in the 1950s and 1960s. He later moved to a farm in Westmeath in the Republic of Ireland.

For company on his farm he had, at one stage, a herd of Hereford cattle, a pair of cheeky farm cats, a man to help with the cows and a secretary to sort the rest.

Among his many admirers was the actor, Johnny Depp, who was interested in making a film of The Ginger Man.

His friends included comedian Billy Connolly and Pogues front man Shane McGowan who visited him to ask for his blessing to borrow the name of his novel for a song.

That song was “A Fairy Tale of New York” – a huge hit. Years later, Donleavy told the BBC that he loved the song but “realised straight away that it didn’t really have anything to do with my book”.

His other novels include The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, The Onion Eaters, A Singular Man and The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms.

He was also an accomplished artist.

Donleavy was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2007 when he chose, as his luxury desert island item, a long-handled spoon to make dressings.

In 2015, he received a Bord Gáis Energy Lifetime Achievement Award at the Irish Book Awards.

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