Mary Lavin

Mary Josephine Lavin (10 June 1912 – 25 March 1996) wrote short stories and novels. An Irishwoman, she is now regarded as a pioneer in the field of women's writing. The well-known Irish writer Lord Dunsany mentored Lavin after her father approached him on her behalf to discuss with him some stories she had written.

Mary Lavin
Mary Lavin.jpg
Born(1912-06-10)10 June 1912
Walpole, Massachusetts
Died25 March 1996(1996-03-25) (aged 83)
NationalityIrish, American
EducationLoreto College
Alma materUniversity College Dublin
GenreShort story; novel
Notable awardsJames Tait Black Memorial Prize
Saoi of Aosdána, 1993
SpouseWilliam Walsh;
Michael Scott

Her subject matter often dealt explicitly with concerns of women, as well as a deep Catholic faith (she attended a convent school in Dublin). She is particularly noteworthy for her stories on the topic of widowhood, which are acknowledged to be among her finest. Her husband died in 1954, little over a decade into his marriage. She remarried in 1969. Her second husband, who before his marriage to Lavin had been living abroad, died in 1991 and she was once again a widow, remaining so until her death five years later.

Early life and careerEdit

Mary Lavin was born in East Walpole, Massachusetts, in 1912, the only child of Tom and Nora Lavin, an immigrant Irish couple. She attended primary school in East Walpole until the age of nine when her mother decided to go back to Ireland. Initially, Mary and Nora lived with Nora's family in Athenry in County Galway. Afterwards, they bought a house in Dublin, and Mary's father, too, came back from America to join them.

Mary attended Loreto College, a convent school in Dublin, before going on to study English and French at University College Dublin (UCD). She taught French at Loreto College for a while. As a postgraduate student, she published her first short story, "Miss Holland", which appeared in the Dublin Magazine in 1938. Tom Lavin then approached Lord Dunsany, the well-known Irish writer, on behalf of his daughter and asked him to read some of Mary's unpublished work. Suitably impressed, Lord Dunsany became Mary's literary mentor.

In 1943,[1] Mary published her first book; Tales from Bective Bridge, a volume of ten short stories about life in rural Ireland, was a critical success and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. That same year, Lavin married William Walsh, a Dublin lawyer. Over the next decade, the couple had three daughters and moved to "abbey farm" which they purchased in County Meath, and which included the land around Bective Abbey. Lavin's literary career flourished; she published several novels and collections of short stories during this period. Her first novel The House in Clewe Street was serialised in The Atlantic monthly magazine before its publication in book form in 1945.

Widowhood and later careerEdit

In 1954, William Walsh died. Lavin, her reputation as a major writer already well established, was left to confront her responsibilities alone. She raised her three daughters and kept the family farm going at the same time. She also managed to keep her literary career on track, continuing to publish short stories and winning several awards for her work, including the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1961, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1961,[2] and an honorary doctorate from UCD in 1968. Some of her stories written during this period, dealing with the topic of widowhood, are acknowledged to be among her finest.

Lavin remarried in 1969. Michael Scott was an old friend from Mary's student days in University College. He had been a Jesuit priest in Australia, but had obtained release from his vows from Rome and returned to Ireland. The two remained together until Scott's death in 1991.

In 1992, the members of Aosdána elected Lavin - now retired - Saoi for achieving "singular and sustained distinction" in literature. Aosdána is an affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, and the title of Saoi one of the highest honours in Irish culture.

Lavin's granddaughter is the novelist Kathleen MacMahon.

In March 2021 a public square, leading from Lad Lane, where she lived for many years, to Wilton Park, near the Grand Canal, was named Mary Lavin Place. It was the first time an Irish woman writer was so honoured.[3]


  • Tales from Bective Bridge, Little, Brown, 1942; Tales From Bective Bridge. Faber & Faber. 15 May 2012. ISBN 978-0-571-29531-9. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  • The Long Ago, Michael Joseph, 1944
  • The House at Clewe Street, Little, Brown, 1945; Faber & Faber, Limited, 2009, ISBN 9780571256198 (novel)
  • The Becker Wives, Michael Joseph, 1946
  • At Sally Gap
  • Mary O'Grady, Little, Brown, 1950 (novel)
  • A Single Lady, Michael Joseph, 1951
  • The Patriot Son, M. Joseph, 1956
  • A Likely Story, Macmillan, 1957; Literary Licensing, LLC, 2012, ISBN 9781258335496
  • Selected Stories, Macmillan, 1959
  • The Great Wave, Macmillan, 1961
  • The Stories of Mary Lavin (Volume 1)
  • In the Middle of the Fields, Constable, 1967; Macmillan, 1969
  • Happiness, Constable, 1969, New Island Books, 2012, ISBN 9781848401044
  • The Second Best Children in the World, Houghton Mifflin, 1972, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone ISBN 9780395138960
  • Collected stories. Houghton Mifflin. 1971. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  • A memory and other stories. Houghton Mifflin. 1973. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  • The Stories of Mary Lavin (Volume 2)
  • The Shrine and other stories, Houghton Mifflin, 1977, ISBN 9780395257739
  • A family likeness and other stories. Constable. 1985. ISBN 9780094666702. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  • A Cup of Tea[4]
  • In a Cafe: Selected Stories. Penguin. 1999. ISBN 978-0-14-118040-3. Retrieved 7 August 2013.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ [Tales from Bective Bridge, reprinted in paperback, Poolbeg Press 1978]
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 August 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Public space to be named after author Mary Lavin". Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  4. ^ [As listed opposite title page of 'A Family Likeness and other stories', Constable London, 1985, ISBN 0-09-466670-9]


External linksEdit