seamus dubhghaill

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

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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 Academy Award Winning Actor Daniel Day-Lewis

Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis, English actor who holds both British and Irish citizenship, is born in Kensington, London, England, on April 29, 1957.

Day-Lewis is the son of poet Cecil Day-Lewis and English actress Jill Balcon. His father, who was born in Ballintubbert, County Laois, was of Protestant Anglo-Irish and English background, lived in England from the age of two, and later became the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. Day-Lewis’s mother was Jewish, and his maternal great-grandparents’ Jewish families emigrated to England from Latvia and Poland. His maternal grandfather, Sir Michael Balcon, was the head of Ealing Studios.

Growing up in London, he excels on stage at the National Youth Theatre, before being accepted at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which he attends for three years. Despite his traditional actor training at the Bristol Old Vic, he is considered to be a method actor, known for his constant devotion to and research of his roles. He often remains completely in character for the duration of the shooting schedules of his films, even to the point of adversely affecting his health. He is one of the most selective actors in the film industry, having starred in only five films since 1998, with as many as five years between roles. Protective of his private life, he rarely gives interviews and makes very few public appearances.

Day-Lewis shifts between theatre and film for most of the early 1980s, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company and playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, before appearing in the 1984 film The Bounty. He stars in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), his first critically acclaimed role, and gains further public notice with A Room with a View (1985). He then assumes leading man status with The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988).

One of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, Day-Lewis has earned numerous awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Actor for his performances in My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Lincoln (2012), making him the only male actor in history to have three wins in the lead actor category and one of only three male actors to win three Oscars. He is also nominated in this category for In the Name of the Father (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002). He has also won four BAFTA Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards. In November 2012, Time names Day-Lewis the “World’s Greatest Actor.”

In 2008, while receiving the Academy Award for Best Actor for There Will Be Blood from Helen Mirren, who presented the award, Day-Lewis kneels before her and she taps him on each shoulder with the Oscar statuette, to which he quips, “That’s the closest I’ll come to ever getting a knighthood.” In November 2014, Day-Lewis is formally knighted by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace for services to drama.

Day-Lewis and his wife, Rebecca Miller, have lived in Annamoe, County Wicklow since 1997.