Wondering how exactly to start this piece, I found myself recalling the opening line of one of my favourite Robert W. Service poems:
A group of the boys where whooping it up in the Malemute Saloon…
Well, we weren’t a group of boys, and we were a long way from the Malemute Saloon, which happened to be in faraway Alaska.

No, we were in a favourite Oriental restaurant in an East Galway town. We were a small gathering of three men and two women, all writers. And you couldn’t say we were whooping it up.

We were celebrating a birthday, thinking back on Ballina Joe Biden’s wonderfully memorable visit to our small country, and in general chewing the fat, or the rags, depending upon which branch of society you sprang from, and which seat of learning you attended.

We swapped our own favourite snippets about America’s president, the things he said, the things he said his forebears said, his shedding of tears, the two poets he most frequently quoted (Yeats and Heaney), and his own way with words — “the Irish are the only people who can be nostalgic about the future.”
It was significant that in Leo Varadker’s eloquent farewell speech in Ballina, the Taoiseach referred to Maya Angelou as “my favourite American poet”, and quoted some of her words.

WHILE ENJOYING such as Malaysian Skewer, Sesame Prawn Toast, Meat Sung, Crispy Aromatic Duck with Hoi Sin Sauce, Panang Curried Prawns, and Fillet Beef Chow Mein, we sipped a sweet white wine.
We spoke of writing and writers, trends and styles, and favourite books, and we had a little competition to see which one of us would talk about his or her favourite writer. I drew the short straw, and decide to speak about the Irish novelist, playwright and one of the greatest short story writers of his generation — William Trevor (full original name William Trevor Cox.)

It was as a short story writer that my awareness of him took root. I have vivid memories of two collections in particular — “The Day We Got Drunk on Cake”, and “The Ballroom of Romance”.
William’s father, James Cox, was a bank manager; his mother, Gertrude, came from Ulster. William was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork. His mother and father’s marriage was an unhappy one, and the three offspring agreed that theirs was “a chilly home.”

IT WAS said of William Trevor that he was “a product of that extraordinary pool of talent, the Anglo-Irish Protestants. But he was not of the Protestant Ascendancy, and resembled George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey more than he did W.B. Yeats.”

He held that the novelist is first and foremost a storyteller, but he wasn’t primarily an autobiographical writer. However, he was obviously influenced by personal experiences, and had a sardonic vision of provincial towns and seedy private schools.

In 1950 he graduated in history — Trinity College, Dublin, where he met Jane Ryan, daughter of an officer in the British army. William married Jane in 1952.

A Guardian obituary said that Trevor’s first reputation came as a wood carver, and that in 1953 he jointly won the Irish section of the international Unknown Political Prisoner competition.
After a few spells as a teacher he headed for London and got a copywriter’s job at Notley Advertising. One of his colleagues revealed, “As we all managed to do, he composed some of his literary work in the boss’s time… The closed circuit nature of advertising life exactly fitted Trevor’s natural gift for delineating claustrophobic personalities.”

BY 1966, with highly successful novels and short story collections under his belt, he left advertising and moved to the West Country. He became a towering success as a writer who, in his later years, made more of his Irishness, and came to be regarded as characteristically Irish. The inexorable increase in his literary fame led to a plethora of honorary degrees from academic institutions in this country, in Britain, and in the USA.
In 2002 he was given an honorary knighthood.

A very private person, he had, as a colleague said, “a genius for friendship.” Peter Porter said, “I have never met a writer more loved and courted by his acquaintances… Every sentence he wrote was perfectly crafted, yet he had a natural love of storytelling; his first loyalty was always to the reader’s desire to find out what was going to happen next. It is hard to conceive of an English-speaking literary landscape without him.

Born in 1928, William Trevor died on the 20th of November 2016.

Read Dan Conway’s Corner every week in Ireland’s Own