seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Brian O’Nolan, Novelist & Playwright

brian-o-nolanBrian O’Nolan, Irish novelist, playwright and satirist considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature, is born in Strabane, County Tyrone on October 5, 1911.

O’Nolan attends Blackrock College where he is taught English by President of the College, and future Archbishop, John Charles McQuaid. He also spends part of his schooling years in Synge Street Christian Brothers School. His novel The Hard Life is a semi autobiographical depiction of his experience with the Christian Brothers.

O’Nolan writes prodigiously during his years as a student at University College, Dublin (UCD), where he is an active, and controversial, member of the well known Literary and Historical Society. He contributes to the student magazine Comhthrom Féinne (Fair Play) under various guises, in particular the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. Significantly, he composes a story during this same period titled “Scenes in a Novel (probably posthumous) by Brother Barnabas”, which anticipates many of the ideas and themes later to be found in his novel At Swim-Two-Birds.

In 1934 O’Nolan and his student friends found a short-lived magazine called Blather. The writing here, though clearly bearing the marks of youthful bravado, again somewhat anticipates O’Nolan’s later work, in this case his Cruiskeen Lawn column as Myles na gCopaleen. Having studied the German language in Dublin, he may have spent at least parts of 1933 and 1934 in Germany, namely in Cologne and Bonn, although details are uncertain and contested.

A key feature of O’Nolan’s personal situation is his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father’s relatively early death, is obliged to support ten siblings, including an elder brother who is an unsuccessful writer. Given the desperate poverty of Ireland in the 1930s to 1960s, a job as a civil servant is considered prestigious, being both secure and pensionable with a reliable cash income in a largely agrarian economy. The Irish civil service is fairly strictly apolitical, prohibiting Civil Servants above the level of clerical officer from publicly expressing political views. This fact alone contributes to his use of pseudonyms, though he had started to create character-authors even in his pre-civil service writings. He rises to be quite senior, serving as private secretary to Seán T. O’Kelly and Seán McEntee.

Although O’Nolan is a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. On December 2, 1948 he marries Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moves from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Street, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple has no children.

O’Nolan is an alcoholic for much of his life and suffers from ill health in his later years. He suffers from throat cancer and dies from a heart attack in Dublin on the morning of April 1, 1966.

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Death of Brian Merriman, Poet & Teacher

brian-merrimanBrian Merriman, Irish language poet and teacher, dies in County Limerick on July 27, 1805. His single surviving work of substance, the 1000-line long Cúirt An Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court) is widely regarded as the greatest comic poem in the history of Irish literature.

Merriman ius born at Ennistymon, County Clare, the son of a journeyman stonemason, about 1747. He spends his childhood in the district of Lough Graney, near Killanena, Feakle. Some years later he is known to own a 20-acre farm near Lough Graney.

Merriman teaches at various schools in the area for about twenty years, first at Kilclaran and later in a school near his farm. The teaching profession in those days attracts those with a taste for literature. Many of the Irish poets of the 18th and 19th centuries are school teachers. It allows them to exist while they write. Later on he becomes resident tutor to the families of the local gentry.

This may be where Merriman gets the subject matter for his poem Cúirt an Mhéan Óiche. It is likely that he has access to books of European literature which give him ideas for the theme. His famous poem, written in his native Irish language, has well over a thousand lines. It has been translated into English as The Midnight Court by many translators. The principal themes are the plight of young women who lack husbands, clerical celibacy, free love, and the misery of a young woman married to a withered old man. It is written in the form of a vision or aisling. Merriman falls asleep on the shores of Lough Graney near Feakle in East Clare and finds himself present at a fairy court where the women of Ireland are discussing their great problems. It is believed that he writes the poem as a result of certain frustrations he has or of some complex he suffers from. His vigour, fluency and earthy humour make his poem widely popular and while he is still alive numerous manuscript copies are circulated.

Merriman marries around 1787 and has two daughters. In 1797, the Royal Dublin Society awards him two prizes for his flax crop. Around 1800 he moves to County Limerick, where he runs a school until his death on July 27, 1805. He is buried in Feakle. His grave has not been located but a plaque honouring his memory has been erected in Feakle churchyard.

In commemoration of Merriman’s poetic works an Annual Merriman Summer School is held each year in County Clare.