seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Novelist Pamela Hinkson

Pamela Hinkson, novelist, is born on November 19, 1900, in Ealing, London, England, the only daughter among five children of Katharine Tynan Hinkson, novelist and poet, and Henry Albert Hinkson, a novelist, barrister, and classical scholar.

Married in 1893, Hinkson’s parents initially settle in England, where he studies law and is called to the Inner Temple in 1902. After suffering the loss of their first two sons in infancy, they have two more sons in addition to their daughter, Pamela. During this time her mother earns the main family income, and it is likely that she determines their return to Ireland in 1911. The Hinksons initially settle in Dalkey, County Dublin, before moving to a house called Clarebeg in Shankill. When Henry Hinkson is appointed resident magistrate for south Mayo (Castlebar) in October 1914, the family moves to Claremorris, County Mayo.

Hinkson is educated privately in England and on the Continent, and in Ireland attends a local convent day-school. She is exposed to her mother’s literary milieu which includes prominent writers of the Irish revival, including George William Russell, James Stephens, and Padraic Colum. Her mother’s memoir, The Years of the Shadow (1919), recalls Pamela’s developing talent for writing poetry and her predilection for war themes, as evidenced by The Blind Soldier, one of her first published poems. By the time she turns her hand to short stories, her earnings from writing enable her to buy the latest fashions.

Two key events that consumed Hinkson’s life and later spark her creativity are World War I and the Easter Rising. H. G. Wells describes in the foreword to his war novel Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916) a conversation he had with her when she was 12, recalling how she had boldly set him straight on the “Irish question.” Her parents send her away to boarding school in County Wicklow in the hope that she will be distracted from her gloomy preoccupations, which are accentuated by the absence of her brothers, serving in the British Army. After the war she is deeply concerned by the redundancy experienced by demobilised and often maimed soldiers and contributes to the welfare work of the Irish servicemen’s Shamrock Club in London. These issues inform two early novels, The Victors (1925) and Harvest (1926), both written in the guise of an ex-serviceman under the pseudonym “Peter Deane.” By masking her identity, she avoids the possibility of her works being discredited because of her gender and lack of first-hand experience of war. Subsequently she writes under her own name for thirty years.

In contrast to her close relationship with her mother, Hinkson deeply dislikes her father. With the exception of her beloved brother Giles A. Hinckson, a correspondent for The Times in Buenos Aires and Santiago, she never meets a man who matches her high ideals. Though briefly engaged to be married, she is ultimately disillusioned by all men, dismissing them as she had her father. After his death early in 1919, she and her mother are left in financial difficulties, and have to resort to friends and boarding houses for accommodation. Without the financial means to embark on a university degree, she remains at her mother’s side. Though she continues to write, she leads a somewhat stifled life. From 1922 onwards they spend several years on the Continent.

Hinkson’s first novel, The End of All Dreams (1923), addresses the decline of the “big house” amid the revolutionary upheavals of recent Irish history, a theme to which she returns in later works, such as The Deeply Rooted (1935) and her last book, The Lonely Bride (1951). During the 1920s she writes much girls’ school fiction, while her novel Wind from the West (1930) is informed by a period spent in France, where she works as a governess. Her transcription of the memoirs of Lady Fingall (Elizabeth Burke-Plunkett), published under the title Seventy Years Young (1937), illustrates the decline of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy. Informed by war and the Irish troubles, her novels characteristically are solemn, and reflect her ambivalent relationship with Ireland. Inspired by the Irish landscape, but never an ardent supporter of Irish independence, she maintains an abiding attachment to England.

The death of Hinkson’s mother in 1931 is a devastating blow that triggers her most forceful and first truly successful novel, The Ladies’ Road (1932). Documenting the lives of the Irish and English ascendancies before, during, and after World War I, this novel, without being explicitly autobiographical, contains many motifs that resonate with her own life story. When published in the United States in 1946 it proves a massive success, selling 100,000 copies in the Penguin Books edition, a rare feat for a World War I novel appearing immediately after World War II. Other notable works are The Light on Ireland (1935) and her sketches of Irish life, Irish Gold (1939), written while she lodges with friends near Lough Derg, County Tipperary.

Hinkson’s visit to India in the late 1930s as a guest of the viceroy, which she recounts in Indian Harvest (1941), results in her appointment to the Ministry of Information in London (1939–45). She lectures on India in the United States during World War II, and also lectures to British troops and local audiences in Germany (1946–47), broadcasts on radio, and contributes to The Observer, The Spectator, New Statesman, The Manchester Guardian, and Time and Tide. Her novel Golden Rose (1944), written in London during The Blitz, romanticises the British colonial presence in India. Forthright in the expression of her numerous strongly held opinions, she argues ardently and controversially for women’s rights, animal welfare, and retention of Northern Ireland in the UK. Devout in her Catholicism, she is none the less critical of certain Catholic precepts.

Hinkson returns to Ireland in 1959 where she suffers poor health for twenty years until her death in Dublin on May 26, 1982.

(From: “Hinkson, Pamela” by Jessica March, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Robert Wilson Lynd, Writer & Irish Nationalist

robert-wilson-lyndRobert Wilson Lynd, Irish writer, editor of poetry, urbane literary essayist and strong Irish nationalist, is born in Belfast on April 20, 1879.

Lynd is born to Robert John Lynd, a Presbyterian minister, and Sarah Rentoul Lynd, the second of seven children. His paternal great-grandfather emigrated from Scotland to Ireland. He is educated at Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen’s University Belfast. His father serves a term as Presbyterian Church Moderator but he is just one of a long line of Presbyterian clergy in the family.

Lynd begins as a journalist with The Northern Whig in Belfast. He moves to London in 1901, via Manchester, sharing accommodation with his friend the artist Paul Henry. Initially he writes drama criticism for Today, edited by Jerome K. Jerome. He also writes for The Daily News (later the News Chronicle), being its literary editor from 1912 until 1947.

Lynd marries the writer Sylvia Dryhurst on April 21, 1909. They meet at Gaelic League meetings in London. Their daughters Máire and Sigle become close friends of Isaiah Berlin. Sigle’s son, born in 1941, is artist Tim Wheeler. In March 1924, they move to what is to be their long-term married home, the elegant Regency house of 5 Keats Grove in the leafy suburb of Hampstead in northwest London. The house had been lived in by various members of Sylvia’s family.

The Lynds are literary hosts, in the group including J. B. Priestley. They are on good terms also with Hugh Walpole. Priestley, Walpole and Sylvia Lynd are founding committee members of the Book Society. Irish guests include James Joyce and James Stephens. On one occasion reported by Victor Gollancz in Reminiscences of Affection, Joyce intones Anna Livia Plurabelle to his own piano accompaniment. Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle hold their wedding lunch at the Lynds’ house after getting married at Hampstead Town Hall on July 4, 1931.

Lynd uses the pseudonym Y.Y. in writing for the New Statesman. According to C. H. Rolph‘s Kingsley, Lynd’s weekly essay, which runs from 1913 to 1945, is “irreplaceable.” In 1941, editor Kingsley Martin decides to alternate it with pieces by James Bridie on Ireland, but the experiment is not at all a success.

Lynd’s political views are at a certain point radicalised by his experience of how Ulster and Home Rule develops in the 1912–1914 period. He is appalled at the threat of the use of violence to deliver Ulster from Home Rule and the later decision to postpone the implementation of the Third Home Rule Bill. He later writes, “Then came August 1914 and England began a war for the freedom of small nations by postponing the freedom of the only small nation in Europe which it was within her power to liberate with the stroke of a pen.”

Lynd becomes fluent in the Irish language and is a Gaelic League member. As a Sinn Féin activist, he uses the name Robiard Ó Flionn/Roibeard Ua Flionn. He dies in Hampstead, London on October 6, 1949. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.


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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.