seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Funeral of Sister Theresa Egan

sister-theresa-eganIrish soil is sprinkled over the casket of Sister Theresa Egan as more than 2,000 mourners attend her funeral on the tiny Caribbean island of Saint Lucia on January 7, 2001. The nun is brutally murdered while attending Mass on New Year’s Eve. She is described as a “cheerful and committed” woman by her colleagues.

Sister Egan, originally from Clonaslee, County Laois, trains as a nun at the order’s convent in Ferbane, County Offaly, and leaves Ireland in her early 20s. She spends the first 20 years on the missions, working for long periods in the West Indies, including Grenada.

Sister Egan lives in Saint Lucia for more than four decades, serving as a teacher and administrator at several Catholic schools. She comes from a religious family and seven of the nine children join orders. She is survived by three elderly sisters, all Presentation nuns, and at least one brother.

When the attack takes place Sister Egan, 73, is serving communion at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Castries. According to local police the attack is carried out by a group of men, dressed in traditional rastafarian clothes, who claim to be opposed to the island’s main churches.

Sister Egan is beaten to death after she tries to escape the attackers. One other person reportedly dies at the hospital after the attack. At least 12 are injured including another Irish nun, Sister Mel Kenny from Clonmacnoise, County Offaly.

Two men who identify themselves as Rastafarians are formally charged with murder and attempted murder among other offences.

Her funeral mass takes place in the same Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where she died. At the front of the basilica, candles are arranged to spell out the words “sister” and “peace.” She is then buried on a hillside overlooking the capital, Castries, where the attack occurred.

The reasons for attack on the Castries cathedral are unknown and lead to much speculation in the Saint Lucian press. Initial reports say the two suspects tell police they are prophets sent by Haile Selassie, the late Ethiopian emperor worshiped as a god by Rastafarians, to combat corruption in the Catholic church. However Rastafarian leader Ras Bongo Isley says the attack is not the work of real rastafarians, since the movement “teaches love and peace.”

There are also reports that the men belong to an anti-Christian organisation, and that “satanic” symbols had been posted on the doors of Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and other churches a week before the attack. The accused, however, are said to deny any knowledge of the symbols.

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Initial Publication of “At Swim-Two-Birds”

at-swim-two-birdsAt Swim-Two-Birds, a novel by Irish writer Brian O’Nolan writing under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien, is published on March 13, 1939. It is widely considered to be O’Brien’s masterpiece, and one of the most sophisticated examples of metafiction.

At Swim-Two-Birds is accepted for publication by Longman on the recommendation of Graham Greene, who is a reader for them at the time. It is published under the pseudonym of Flann O’Brien, a name O’Nolan had already used to write hoax letters to The Irish Times. O’Nolan suggests using “Flann O’Brien” as a pen-name during negotiation with Longman. The novel’s title derives from Snámh dá Én, a ford on the River Shannon, between Clonmacnoise and Shannonbridge, reportedly visited by the legendary King Sweeney, a character in the novel.

The book does not sell well after it is published. By the outbreak of World War II it has sold scarcely more than 240 copies. In 1940, Longman’s London premises are destroyed during a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe and almost all the unsold copies are incinerated. The novel is republished by Pantheon Books in New York City in 1950, on the recommendation of James Johnson Sweeney, but sales remain low. In May 1959 Timothy O’Keeffe, while editorial director of the London publishing house MacGibbon & Kee, persuades O’Nolan to allow him to republish At Swim-Two-Birds. More recently, the novel is republished in the United States by Dalkey Archive Press.

The initial reviews for At Swim-Two-Birds are not enthusiastic. The Times Literary Supplement says that the book’s only notable feature is a “schoolboy brand of mild vulgarity.” The New Statesman complains that “long passages in imitation of the Joycean parody of the early Irish epic are devastatingly dull” and the Irish novelist Seán Ó Faoláin comments in John O’London’s Weekly that although the book had its moments, it “had a general odour of spilt Joyce all over it.”

However, most of the support for At Swim-Two-Birds comes not from newspaper reviewers but from writers. Dylan Thomas, in a remark that would be quoted on dust-jackets in later editions of the book, says “This is just the book to give your sister – if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.” Anthony Burgess considers it one of the ninety-nine greatest novels written between 1939 and 1984. Graham Greene’s enthusiastic reader’s report is instrumental in getting the book published in the first place.

Stephen Fry has declared At Swim-Two-Birds one of his favourite books. In 2011, the book is placed on Time‘s top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923.