seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Mary Lavin, Short Story Writer & Novelist

mary-josephine-lavinMary Josephine Lavin, noted Irish short story writer and novelist, is born in Walpole, Massachusetts on June 10, 1912. She is regarded as a pioneering female author in the traditionally male-dominated world of Irish letters. Her subject matter often deals explicitly with feminist issues and concerns as well as a deep Catholic faith.

Lavin is the only child born to Tom and Nora Lavin, an immigrant Irish couple. She attends primary school in East Walpole until the age of ten, when her mother decides to go back to Ireland. Initially, Mary and Nora live with Nora’s family in Athenry, County Galway. Afterwards, they purchase a house in Dublin, and Mary’s father comes back from the United States to join them.

Lavin attends Loreto College, a convent school in Dublin, before going on to study English and French at University College Dublin (UCD). She teaches French at Loreto College for a while. As a postgraduate student, she publishes her first short story, “Miss Holland,” which appears in the The Dublin Magazine in 1938. Tom Lavin then approaches Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, the well-known Irish writer, on behalf of his daughter and asks him to read some of Mary’s unpublished work. Suitably impressed, Lord Dunsany becomes her literary mentor.

In 1943, Lavin publishes her first book, Tales from Bective Bridge, a volume of ten short stories about life in rural Ireland. It is a critical success and goes on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. That same year, she marries William Walsh, a Dublin lawyer. Over the next decade, the couple has three daughters and moves to “abbey farm” which they purchase in County Meath and includes the land around Bective Abbey. Her literary career flourishes. She publishes several novels and collections of short stories during this period. Her first novel, The House in Clewe Street, is serialised in The Atlantic Monthly before its publication in book form in 1945.

In 1954, William Walsh dies. Lavin, her reputation as a major writer already well-established, is left to confront her responsibilities alone. She raises her three daughters and keeps the family farm going at the same time. She also manages to keep her literary career on track, continuing to publish short stories and winning several awards for her work, including the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1961, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1961, and an honorary doctorate from UCD in 1968. Some of her stories written during this period, dealing with the topic of widowhood, are acknowledged to be among her finest.

Lavin remarries in 1969. Michael Scott is an old friend from her student days in University College. He has been a Jesuit priest in Australia, but has obtained release from his vows from Rome and returned to Ireland. The two remain together until Scott’s death in 1991.

In 1992, Lavin, by now retired, is elected Saoi by the members of Aosdána for achieving “singular and sustained distinction” in literature. Aosdána is an affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, and the title of Saoi one of the highest honours in Irish culture.

Mary Lavin dies at the age of 83 on March 25, 1996.

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Death of Novelist & Playwright Kate O’Brien

Kathleen Mary Louise “Kate” O’Brien, novelist and playwright, dies in Canterbury, England, on August 13, 1974.

O’Brien is born in Limerick, County Limerick on December 3, 1897. Following the death of her mother when she is five years old, she becomes a boarder at Laurel Hill Convent. She graduates in English and French from the newly established University College Dublin, and she then moves to London, where she works as a teacher for a year.

In 1922–1923, O’Brien works as a governess in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, where she begins to write fiction. Upon her return to England, she works at the Manchester Guardian. After the success of her play Distinguished Villa in 1926, she takes to full-time writing and is awarded both the 1931 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for her debut novel Without My Cloak. O’Brien is best known for her 1934 novel The Ante-Room, her 1941 novel The Land of Spices, and the 1946 novel That Lady.

Many of O’Brien’s books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that are new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel, Mary Lavelle, is banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices is banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she writes plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues. Throughout her life, she feels a particular affinity with Spain. While her experiences in the Basque Country inspire Mary Lavelle, she also writes a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila, and she uses the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady.

O’Brien writes a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it has been argued that she is close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promote gender equality and are mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. Several of her books include positive gay/lesbian characters. Her determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity makes her a pioneer in queer literary representation. She is very critical of conservatism in Ireland, and by spearheading a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act, she helps bring to an end the cultural restrictions of the 1930s and 40s in the country.

Kate O’Brien lives much of her life in England and died in Faversham, near Canterbury, on August 13, 1974.


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Birth of Kate O’Brien, Novelist and Playwright

kate-obrienKathleen Mary Louise “Kate” O’Brien, novelist and playwright, is born in Limerick City on December 3, 1897. She becomes best known for her 1934 novel The Ante-Room, her 1941 novel The Land of Spices, and the 1946 novel That Lady.

Following the death of her mother when she is five, O’Brien becomes a boarder at Laurel Hill Convent. She graduates in English and French from the newly established University College Dublin, and then moves to London, where she works as a teacher for a year.

In 1922–23, she works as a governess in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, where she begins to write fiction. Upon her return to England, O’Brien works at the Manchester Guardian. After the success of her play Distinguished Villa in 1926, she takes to full-time writing and is awarded both the 1931 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for her debut novel Without My Cloak.

Many of her books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that are new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel, Mary Lavelle, is banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices is banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she writes plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues.

Throughout her life, O’Brien feels a particular affinity with Spain. While her experiences in the Basque Country inspire Mary Lavelle, she also writes a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila, and she uses the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady.

O’Brien writes a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it is believed that she is close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promote gender equality and are mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. With several of her books including positive gay/lesbian characters, O’Brien’s determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity makes her a pioneer in gay literary representation. She is very critical of conservatism in Ireland, and by spearheading a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act, she helps bring to an end the cultural restrictions of the 1930s and 1940s in the country. She lives much of her life in England and died in Faversham, near Canterbury, on August 13, 1974.

The Glucksman Library at the University of Limerick holds an important collection of O’Brien’s writings. The Limerick Literary Festival in honour of Kate O’Brien, formerly the Kate O’Brien Weekend, takes place in Limerick every year, attracting academic and non-academic audiences.


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Birth of Novelist Liam O’Flaherty

liam-oflahertyLiam O’Flaherty, novelist, short story writer, and a major figure in the Irish literary renaissance, is born on August 28, 1896, in the remote village of Gort na gCapall on Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands of County Galway. He is involved for a time in left-wing politics, as is his brother Tom Maidhc O’Flaherty (also a writer), and their father, Maidhc Ó Flaithearta, before them.

At the age of twelve, O’Flaherty goes to Rockwell College and later University College Dublin and the Dublin Diocesan teacher training college Holy Cross College. It is intended he enter the priesthood, but he joins the Irish Guards in 1917 under the name Bill Ganly. Serving on the Western Front, he finds trench life devastatingly monotonous and is badly injured in September 1917 during the Battle of Langemarck. It is speculated that shell shock is responsible for the mental illness which becomes apparent in 1933.

He returns from the front a socialist. Having become interested in Marxism as a schoolboy, atheistic and communistic beliefs evolve in his 20s and he is a founding member of the Communist Party of Ireland. Two days after the establishment of the Irish Free State, O’Flaherty and other unemployed Dublin workers seize the Rotunda Concert Hall in Dublin and hold it for four days in protest at “the apathy of the authorities.” Free State troops force their surrender.

O’Flaherty then leaves Ireland and moves first to England where, destitute and jobless, he takes to writing. In 1925 he scores immediate success with his best-selling novel The Informer about a rebel with confused ideals in the Irish War of Independence, which wins him the 1925 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Four years later his next short novel Return of the Brute, set in the World War I trenches, proves another success. He then travels to the United States, where he lives in Hollywood for a short time. The well-known director John Ford, a cousin, later makes a film of O’Flaherty’ first novel. The novel is also the source of a 1929 film of the same name directed by Arthur Robison.

Many of his works have the common theme of nature and Ireland. He is a distinguished short story writer, and some of his best work in that genre is in Irish. The collection Dúil, published towards the end of his life, contains Irish language versions of a number of stories published elsewhere in English. This collection, now widely admired, has a poor reception at the time, and this seems to discourage him from proceeding with an Irish language novel he has in hand.

In a letter written to The Sunday Times in later years he confesses to a certain ambivalence regarding his work in Irish, and speaks of other Irish writers who receive little praise for their work in the language. This gives rise to some controversy. His First Flight, a short story which symbolizes the nervousness one experiences before doing something new, is regarded as one of his most famous works. In 1923, O’Flaherty publishes his first novel, Thy Neighbour’s Wife, thought to be one of his best. Over the next couple of years he publishes other novels and short stories. In 1933 he suffers the first of two mental breakdowns.

He travels in the United States and Europe, and the letters he writes while travelling have now been published. He has a love of French and Russian culture. Before his death he leaves the Communist Party and returns to the Roman Catholic faith. O’Flaherty dies in Dublin on September 7, 1984, and many of his works are subsequently republished. He is remembered today as a powerful writer and a strong voice in Irish culture.