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


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Birth of León Ó Broin, Civil Servant, Historian & Author

León Ó Broin, senior civil servant, historian, and author, is born Leo Byrne on November 10, 1902 at 21 Aungier Street, Dublin, the second of four sons of James P. Byrne, a potato factor’s bookkeeper, and Mary Byrne (née Killeen), daughter of a seaman who abandoned his family.

After early education in convent school, Ó Broin attends Synge Street CBS, where he is especially adept at languages. After working in several minor clerical employments, he becomes a clerk in the Kingsbridge headquarters of the Great Southern Railway. Joining a local Sinn Féin club, he canvasses for the party in the College Green ward during the 1918 Irish general election. Sent from an early age to Irish language classes by his father, he attends the Irish summer college in Spiddal, County Galway, and joins the Gaelic League, becoming by early 1921 secretary of central branch. He writes articles for the league’s successive weekly organs, each in its turn suppressed by the authorities. Despite regarding such writing as practice work within a language he is yet learning, he is selected best writer of Irish at the 1920 Dublin feis.

Arrested with his father and two brothers just before Christmas 1920 when Black and Tans discover a letter in Irish on his person during a house raid, Ó Broin is imprisoned for several weeks in Wellington Barracks. Leaving his railway job, he works as a clerk in the clandestine office of the Dáil Éireann Department of Agriculture (1921–22). During the Irish Civil War, with departmental work at a standstill, he joins the National Army as a commissioned officer assigned to general headquarters staff at Portobello Barracks. Having recently commenced legal studies at the King’s Inns and University College Dublin (UCD), he handles army legal matters, such as compensation claims for damage to property.

Called to the bar in 1924, Ó Broin enters the civil service. Assigned to the Department of Education (1925–27), he was involved in launching the Irish language publishing imprint An Gúm, intended to redress the paucity of reading material, apart from school texts, in the language. Transferred to the Department of Finance (1927), he serves as estimates officer and parliamentary clerk, and is assistant secretary of the economy committee established by the Cumann na nGaedheal government to make recommendations on reductions in current expenditure. Appointed private secretary to the Minister for Finance (1931–32), he serves both Ernest Blythe and the first Fianna Fáil minister, Seán MacEntee. Promoted to assistant principal (1932), and to principal officer (1939), he represents the department on the Irish Folklore Commission, and serves on the interdepartmental committee that, after the disastrous Kirkintilloch bothy fire in 1937, investigates seasonal migration to Scotland. During the emergency he is regional commissioner for Galway and Mayo (1940–45), one of eight such officers charged with organising contingency preparations for dealing with the likely collapse of central administration in the event of invasion by any of the wartime belligerents.

Transferred out of Finance, Ó Broin becomes assistant secretary (1945–48) and secretary (1948–67) of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, administering both the postal service and telecommunications. He works closely with Fianna Fáil minister Patrick Little to improve the range and quality of music offered by the broadcasting service, playing a large part in the decision to form and adequately staff a full Radio Éireann symphony orchestra. He represents Ireland in several post-war conferences in Europe and America that reorganise the international regulation of broadcasting activities. He is elected to the European Broadcasting Union‘s administrative council (1953). He establishes and serves on a departmental committee in 1953 that studies all facets of launching a television service.

A devout but liberal Catholic, Ó Broin is prominent for many years in the Legion of Mary, founded by his close friend and civil-service colleague Frank Duff. President of a legion presidium of writers, actors, and artists, he is first editor (1937–47) of the quarterly organ Maria Legionis. Sharing Duff’s ecumenism, he belongs to the Mercier Society, the Pillar of Fire Society, and Common Ground, groups organised by Duff in the early 1940s to facilitate discussion between Catholics and, respectively, protestants, Jews, and secular intellectuals. The first two are suspended amid disapproval by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

On retirement from the civil service in 1967, Ó Broin concentrates on the parallel career of research and writing that he had cultivated over many years. Having begun writing articles and short stories in Irish from his earliest years in the Gaelic League, he publishes his first collection of short stories, Árus na ngábhad, in 1923. With the establishment of An Gúm, he publishes three more collections of original short stories and translations of such masters of the genre as Alexander Pushkin, Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, and Jerome K. Jerome. He translates several popular modern novels, including Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped and H. G. Wells‘s The War of the Worlds. Active as secretary, actor, and writer with the state-subsidised Gaelic Drama League (An Comhar Drámaíochta), which produces Irish language plays, he publishes many plays in Irish, both original and translated. His best-selling book in Irish is Miss Crookshank agus coirp eile (1951), about the mummified corpses in the vaults of St. Michan’s Church, Dublin.

Ó Broin writes prolifically on modern Irish history and biography. His Irish language biography of Charles Stewart Parnell (1937), the first full-scale study of its kind in Irish since the commencement of the language revival, is a landmark publication, praised for the quality of its prose by such critics as Frank O’Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin. His biography of Robert Emmet, published in Irish in 1954, and awarded the Douglas Hyde prize, pioneers the scholarly subversion of the romantic myth surrounding its subject, and includes consideration of the political and social context. The subjects of subsequent biographies include Richard Robert Madden, Charles Gavan Duffy, Joseph Brenan, Michael Collins, and Frank Duff.

Ó Broin takes a largely biographical approach to historical writing, researching neglected aspects of pivotal historical events, and basing his studies on previously unexploited primary sources, often the papers of a single individual, whose career serves as the linchpin of his narrative, filtering events through the perspective of that person. Another vein of his scholarship is his primary research into the history of Irish separatism, especially with sources in the Irish State Paper Office.

Ó Broin receives an honorary LL.D from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in 1967. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in 1971, he is a council member (1974–76) and senior vice-president (1976–77), and chairs the group whose recommendations results in the academy’s establishment of the National Committee on International Affairs. He is president of the Irish Historical Society (1973–74), and a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

In 1925 Ó Broin marries Cait Ní Raghallaigh, an office assistant reared in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, whom he met in the Gaelic League. They have two sons and three daughters. After residing in the south city suburbs, they move to Booterstown, County Dublin in the 1930s, and from there to the Stillorgan Road in the 1950s.

Ó Broin dies February 26, 1990 in Dublin, and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). His eldest son, Eimear Ó Broin, is an accomplished musicologist and assistant conductor of the several Radio Éireann orchestras (1953–89).

(From: “Ó Broin, León” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Elizabeth Bowen, Novelist & Short Story Writer

Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen CBE, Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer notable for her fiction about life in wartime London, is born at 15 Herbert Place in Dublin on June 7, 1899.

Bowen is baptised in St. Stephen’s Church on Upper Mount Street. Her parents, Henry Charles Cole Bowen and Florence (née Colley) Bowen, later bring her to Bowen’s Court at Farahy, near Kildorrery, County Cork, where she spends her summers. When her father becomes mentally ill in 1907, she and her mother move to England, eventually settling in Hythe. After her mother dies in 1912 she is raised by her aunts. She is educated at Downe House School under the headship of Olive Willis. After some time at art school in London she decides that her talent lay in writing. She mixes with the Bloomsbury Group, becoming good friends with Rose Macaulay who helps her seek out a publisher for her first book, a collection of short stories entitled Encounters (1923).

In 1923 Bowen marries Alan Cameron, an educational administrator who subsequently works for the BBC. The marriage has been described as “a sexless but contented union.” She has various extra-marital relationships, including one with Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat seven years her junior, which lasts over thirty years. She also has an affair with the Irish writer Seán Ó Faoláin and a relationship with the American poet May Sarton. She and her husband first live near Oxford, where they socialize with Maurice Bowra, John Buchan and Susan Buchan, and where she writes her early novels, including The Last September (1929). Following the publication of To the North (1932) they move to 2 Clarence Terrace, Regent’s Park, London, where she writes The House in Paris (1935) and The Death of the Heart (1938). In 1937, she becomes a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.[3]

In 1930 Bowen becomes the first (and only) woman to inherit Bowen’s Court, but remains based in England, making frequent visits to Ireland. During World War II she works for the British Ministry of Information, reporting on Irish opinion, particularly on the issue of neutrality. Her political views tend towards Burkean conservatism. During and after the war she writes among the greatest expressions of life in wartime London, The Demon Lover and Other Stories (1945) and The Heat of the Day (1948). She is awarded the CBE the same year.

Bowen’s husband retires in 1952 and they settle in Bowen’s Court, where he dies a few months later. Many writers visit her at Bowen’s Court from 1930 onwards, including Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Iris Murdoch, and the historian Veronica Wedgwood. For years Bowen struggles to keep the house going, lecturing in the United States to earn money. In 1957 her portrait is painted at Bowen’s Court by her friend, painter Patrick Hennessy. She travels to Italy in 1958 to research and prepare A Time in Rome (1960), but by the following year she is forced to sell her beloved Bowen’s Court, which is demolished in 1960. In the following months, she writes for CBS the narrative of the documentary titled Ireland the Tear and the Smile which is realized in collaboration with Robert Monks as cameraman and associate producer. After spending some years without a permanent home, she finally settles at “Carbery”, Church Hill, Hythe, in 1965.

Bowen’s final novel, Eva Trout, or Changing Scenes (1968), wins the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1969 and is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 1970. Subsequently, she is a judge that awards the 1972 Man Booker Prize to John Berger for G. She spends Christmas 1972 at Kinsale, County Cork with her friends, Major Stephen Vernon and his wife, Lady Ursula, daughter of Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, but is hospitalised upon her return. Here she is visited by Cyril Connolly, Lady Ursula Vernon, Isaiah Berlin, Rosamund Lehmann, and her literary agent, Spencer Curtis Brown, among others.

In 1972 Bowen develops lung cancer. She dies at the age of 73 in University College Hospital in London on February 22, 1973. She is buried with her husband in St. Colman’s churchyard in Farahy, close to the gates of Bowen’s Court, where there is a memorial plaque to the author at the entrance to St. Colman’s Church, where a commemoration of her life is held annually.


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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.


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Birth of Short Story Writer Seán Ó Faoláin

sean-ofaolainSeán Proinsias Ó Faoláin, Irish short story writer, is born as John Francis Whelan on February 22, 1900 in Cork, County Cork.

Ó Faoláin is educated at the Presentation Brothers Secondary School in Cork. He comes under the influence of Daniel Corkery, joining the Cork Dramatic Society and increasing his knowledge of the Irish language, which he had begun in school. Shortly after entering University College Cork, he joins the Irish Volunteers and fights in the Irish War of Independence. During the Irish Civil War he serves as Censor for The Cork Examiner and as publicity director for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After the Republican loss, he receives M.A. degrees from the National University of Ireland and from Harvard University where he studies for three years. He is a Commonwealth Fellow from 1926 to 1928 and is a Harvard Fellow from 1928 to 1929.

Ó Faoláin writes his first stories in the 1920s, eventually completing 90 stories over a period of 60 years. From 1929 to 1933 he lectures at the Catholic college, St. Mary’s College, at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, England, during which period he writes his first two books. His first book, Midsummer Night Madness, is published in 1932. It is a collection of stories partly based on his Civil War experiences. He afterwards returns to his native Ireland. He publishes novels, short stories, biographies, travel books, translations, and literary criticism – including one of the rare full-length studies of the short story, The Short Story (1948). He also writes a cultural history, The Irish, in 1947.

Ó Faoláin serves as director of the Arts Council of Ireland from 1956 to 1959, and from 1940 to 1990 is a founder member and editor of the Irish literary periodical The Bell. The list of contributors to The Bell include many of Ireland’s foremost writers, among them Patrick Kavanagh, Patrick Swift, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor and Brendan Behan. His Collected Stories are published in 1983. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1986.

Seán Proinsias Ó Faoláin dies after a short illness on April 20, 1991 in the Dublin nursing home where he had lived for two years.


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Birth of Daniel Corkery, Writer & Academic

daniel-corkeryDaniel Corkery, Irish politician, writer and academic, is born in Cork, County Cork on February 14, 1878. He is unquestionably best known as the author of The Hidden Ireland, his 1924 study of the poetry of eighteenth-century Irish Language poets in Munster.

Corkery is educated at the Presentation Brothers and St. Patrick’s College of Education, Dublin where he trains as a teacher. He teaches at Saint Patrick’s School in Cork but resigns in 1921 when he is refused the headmastership. Among his students are the writer Frank O’Connor and the sculptor Seamus Murphy.

After leaving St. Patrick’s, Corkery teaches art for the local technical education committee, before becoming inspector of Irish in 1925, and later Professor of English at University College Cork in 1930. Among his students in UCC are Seán Ó Faoláin and Seán Ó Tuama. He is often a controversial figure in academia for his “nativist” views on Irish literature, views which result in conflict with many Irish Language scholars, most notably Pádraig de Brún and his niece Máire Mhac an tSaoi. Ó Tuama, however, is frequently a staunch defender of Corkery’s reputation.

In his late twenties Corkery learns Irish and this brings him into contact with leading members of the Irish Language revival movement, including Terence MacSwiney, T. C. Murray and Con O’Leary, with whom he founds the Cork Dramatic Society in 1908. His plays Embers and The Hermit and the King are performed by the society. Later plays are staged at the famous Abbey Theatre, including The Labour Leader (1919) and The Yellow Bittern (1920).

Corkery is also a writer of short stories, including the collections A Munster Twilight (1916), The Hounds of Banba (1920), The Stormy Hills (1929), and Earth Out of Earth (1939), and a novel, The Threshold of Quiet (1917).

Corkery also writes non-fiction works, including The Hidden Ireland (1924), a highly influential work about the riches of eighteenth-century Irish poetry. In this he attempts to reconstruct a worldview preserved by Gaelic poets amongst the poor and oppressed Catholic peasantry of the Penal Laws era, virtually invisible in the Anglo-Irish tradition that has dominated the writing of Irish history. “An instant, influential classic,” writes Patrick Walsh, “its version of the past provided powerful cultural underpinning to the traditional nationalist history that became, in the 1930s, the educational orthodoxy of the new state.”

Corkery serves as a member of Seanad Éireann from 1951 to 1954 when he is nominated by the Taoiseach.

Daniel Corkery dies on December 31, 1964. His papers are held in the Boole Library of University College Cork.


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The Censorship of Publications Act

The Censorship of Publications Act is passed on July 16, 1929. The laws enacted by the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 are introduced in an era of political isolationism and cultural and economic protectionism. Ireland’s culture is very moral and religious. Catholicism, the religion of 93% of the population, is the fundamental philosophy behind the censorship laws.

A main aim of the new legislation is to prevent the introduction of unwholesome foreign influences like materialism, consumerism and immorality from abroad. Specifically, this means works that are considered to be indecent or obscene, newspapers whose content relies too much on crime, and works that promote the “unnatural” prevention of conception or that advocate abortion. Irish writers who are found offensive are officially regarded as agents of decadence and social disintegration who are striking at the roots of family life and moral decency. For example, Father P.J. Gannon thinks that the Act is “but a simple measure of moral hygiene, forced upon the Irish public by a veritable spate of filth never surpassed.” He thinks that all literature must provide “noble ground for noble emotion.” President Éamon de Valera feels that the arts in Ireland are to be encouraged when they observe the “holiest traditions,” but should be censored when they fail to live up to this ideal.

Although the new laws are typical of censorship laws in many other countries in the 1920s and 1930s, they are implemented with an eagerness which gradually alienates and embitters many Irish writers. It causes some writers to leave the country. The author Mervyn Wall explains that during the 1930s there is “a general intolerant attitude to writing, painting and sculpture. These were thought dangerous, likely to corrupt faith and morals…One encountered frequently among ordinary people bitter hostility to writers…Obscurantism had settled on the country like a fog, so of course anyone who had eyes to see and the heart to feel, was rebellious.”

The Academy of Letters established by William Butler Yeats attempts to fight censorship with solidarity among writers, but it achieves little in this field. The fight against literary censorship is fought mainly by isolated figures. Seán Ó Faoláin, perhaps the most vociferous critic of the censorship laws, writes, “Our Censorship…tries to keep the mind in a state of perpetual adolescence in the midst of all the influences that must, in spite of it, pour in from the adult world.”

Among the first thirteen books to be banned, announced in the Iris Oifigúil in May 1930, are Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall and several books on sex and marriage by Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes. Surprisingly, none of James Joyce‘s writings are ever banned by the Board, while copies of his works are burned by the British Customs, and Ulysses is banned in the United States for several years.