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


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.

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Birth of Novelist & Critic John Broderick

Irish novelist and critic John Broderick is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on July 30, 1924.

Broderick is the only child of the proprietors of a thriving local business, Broderick’s Bakery. His father dies when he is just three years old. He begins his secondary education at the Marist Brothers’ School but, at the age of 12, on his mother’s remarriage to the bakery manager in 1936, he is sent to board at St. Joseph’s College, Garbally Ballinasloe. He leaves in 1941 without sitting the Leaving Certificate and is expected to take over the bakery business, but always intends to write.

From 1951 he lives for a time in Paris where he knows some of the French and expatriate literary community, among them Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, James Baldwin and most importantly Julien Green. Green is a French Academician and highly respected novelist and diarist, who becomes a mentor and personal friend. He visits Broderick in Athlone in 1974 and 1975.

The Irish Times accepts a travel article from Broderick in 1956. In the same year, the paper publishes the first of his book reviews. He continues to review widely and to write general articles for The Irish Times and Hibernia magazine, among others, until shortly before his death. As a critic he is frequently controversial being dismissive of a number of established writers including Heinrich Boll, Seamus Heaney and most notably Edna O’Brien while he is extremely generous and encouraging to a host of young Irish writers. His first novel, The Pilgrimage (1961) is banned by the Irish Censorship of Publications Board. Broderick is elected to membership of the Irish Academy of Letters in 1968, and in 1975 receives the Academy’s Annual Award for Literature.

Broderick lives most of his life in Athlone, with his mother until her death in 1974, and alone until he moves to Bath, England in 1981. He dies in Bath in 1989. The Westmeath County Library system has a collection of his papers, manuscripts and other materials.

Most of Broderick’s family are born and reared in Athlone, and many still live there today. John Broderick is third cousins to Shauna, Cliodhna and Aisling Golden, three sisters who perform together as a singing act called “The Golden Sisters” who are quarter finalists on the RTÉ prime-time show “The All Ireland Talent Show.”