Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Saturday, 21 February 2009

Whitbread winner Nolan dies at 43

Under The Eye Of The Clock
Under The Eye Of The Clock described Nolan's childhood attempts to come to terms with his "useless body"

Award-winning Irish author Christopher Nolan, who was almost completely paralysed by cerebral palsy, has died at the age of 43.

A family spokesman said he had ingested food into his airway, and died in Dublin's Beaumont hospital on Friday.

The writer was physically disabled at birth. He wrote by tapping a keyboard with a device strapped to his head.

Despite the challenges he faced, Nolan won the Whitbread prize in 1988 for his debut novel Under the Eye of the Clock.

In an acceptance speech read by his mother, the author said: "I want to shout with joy. My heart is full of gratitude."

The then 21-year-old went on: "You all must realise that history is now in the making. Crippled man has taken his place on the world's literary stage."

His prize-winning book told of how he was deprived of oxygen at birth.

Mary McAleese
Christopher's indomitable courage and determination will be remembered along with his literary gifts, inspiring many generations to come
Irish President Mary McAleese
It left him brain damaged, meaning he was unable to talk, walk or use his hands - but his intellect was unharmed.

The story was not told in the first person, but used the character of a young man called Joseph Mehan to present the author's own moving struggles with his disabilities.

Nolan's first book, Dam Burst Of Dreams, was published when he was just 15.

The poetry collection attracted immediate attention, with literary critic John Carey calling it "a jubilant, lawless debut," adding, "he plummeted into language like an avalanche".

'Indomitable courage'

The author was only able to start writing at the age of 11, when a muscle relaxant gave him sufficient control of his neck and head.

His third major work, The Banyan Tree, took 12 years to write, needing half a million strokes with his so-called "unicorn stick". His mother, Bernadette, had to hold his head while he was writing.

Ireland's President, Mary McAleese, led tributes, saying: "Christopher Nolan was a gifted writer who attained deserved success and acclaim throughout the world for his work, his achievements all the more remarkable given his daily battle with cerebral palsy.

"Christopher's indomitable courage and determination will be remembered along with his literary gifts, inspiring many generations to come."

As well as the Whitbread, Nolan was also awarded the Medal of Excellence by the United Nations Society of Writers, and was named Person of the Year in Ireland in 1988.

He is survived by his parents, Joseph and Bernadette, and his sister, Yvonne.

In a statement, the family said; "Despite the severity of his cerebral palsy, Christy's intellectual abilities were unimpaired and, loving words, he set out to become a writer.

"Following the ingestion of some food into his airways yesterday, oxygen deprivation returned to take the life it had damaged more than 40 years ago."

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific