HER frankly sexual novels made her the High Priestess of Love for a generation of Irish women - but controversial writer Edna OBrien has revealed that she herself has never experienced true love.
The soon-to-be-80-year-old author, who recently signed a deal to pen her long-awaited memoir, is set to detail her encounters with a Whos Who of 20th-century figures including Marlon Brando, Jackie Onassis, Samuel Beckett and Bill Clinton.
But she says: Now I am 79 years of age and I havent met the man with whom my whole being, heart, soul and body would be miraculously entwined. I didnt. My prayer has not been answered in that, nor is it likely to be.
The writer, who scandalised Catholic Ireland with her books in the early 1960s, tells broadcaster Gay Byrne in his Meaning Of Life series tonight that she was unlucky in love - and that she wasnt even sure if she was in love with communist divorcee Ernest Gebler when she married him in a cheerless ceremony at the age of 24.
She says: I had erred and fallen. I had married a divorced man in a very grim little wedding in the sacristy of a Catholic church in Blanchardstown and the witnesses were two builders.
Im not sure if it was love - but I had burned my boats by going with the man I later married. She tells Byrne she felt she had no option but to marry Gebler - himself a bestselling author - after her father and a priest gave him a beating for living with her in sin in the Isle of Man.
She says: My own family pursued us and were violent actually towards my future husband. I wasnt married then, I just was living with him. There was a fight so he was hit or kicked. That evening he had wounds and was livid.
My father came with a priest. It was like something out of the middle ages. It was the same as if I were a witch but, instead of being a witch, I was a fallen woman.
There were fisticuffs with Ernest which, naturally, I was very ashamed of and had no power over or ability to redress.
But by then I knew I had cast my lot. There was no going back. I think he did love me - but he also determined to completely control me. Dubliner Gebler became a bestselling author in 1947 with his book The Plymouth Adventure - later made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy. But despite his Hollywood triumph, he couldnt accept his young wifes success in the 1960s when she burst on to the literary scene.
He married Edna OBrien in 1954 shortly after his first marriage to an American heiress ended. They had two sons, Carlo and Sasha.
When they moved to London in 1960, his career continued to decline while hers took flight. She says: It undermined him. It undermined his own sense of himself, his own gifts. It is very sad for him. Hes dead. But that is the truth. He said, You can do it, meaning write, but I will never forgive you. Her Country Girl trilogy, which exposed female sexuality to an unsuspecting traditional Ireland, was banned - and even publicly burned by a priest in her native Clare.
She says: I was thought by many to have done something treacherous to my own people and my own country. They all thought I fouled girlhood, a smear on Irish womanhood.
Charlie Haughey, who later claimed to like me, and the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, had an exchange of letters about The Country Girls that was laughable - that it shouldnt be let in any decent homestead and that it was filth and so on. And, she reveals, the outraged reaction came even closer to home than that.
After my mothers death, I found The Country Girls outside in a turf house and it was in a bolster case. It was wrapped up, wrapped up, wrapped up. It was secret and sinful.
I had dedicated the book to my mother.
My mother went through the book with black ink and I only found this out after she was dead and, honestly, I could have killed her. In black ink, she had gone through any offensive words.