From: The Pen of....

Myles Na Gopaleen

Flan O'Brien

Flann O'Brien was also known as the Count O'Blather, George Knowall, Peter the Painter , Brother Barnabus, John James Doe , Winnie Wedge, An Broc, and most famously as 
Myles na gCopaleen. His Real Name was Brian O'Nuallain (Gaelic spelling)

Flann O'Brien was born Brian O'Nolan in County Tyrone, on 5 October 1911, and grew up in Dublin. He was a civil servant for eighteen years, but in the 1930s began writing a bi-lingual column for The Irish Times under the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen (Myles of the Small Horses). He also wrote a column for The Nationalist and Leinster Times under the pseudonym George Knowall. His fiction includes At Swim-Two-Birds (London, Longman-Green, 1939/republished, London, MacGibbon & Kee, 1960); An Béal Bocht, Dublin, The Dolmen Press, 1941); The Dalkey Archive (MacGibbon & Kee, 1964); The Third Policeman (MacGibbon & Kee, 1967); The Hard Life ( by Patrick C.Power, London, Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1973). In addition many of his satirical and surrealist non-fiction columnns for The Irish Times have been published as The Best of Myles (available in Picador paperback). He also wrote a play, Faustus Kelly. He died in Dublin on April 1, 1966.

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A little something to shorten the road!!!

The Third Policeman, Chapter 4

'Policeman MacCruiskeen put the lamp on the table, shook hands with me and gave me the time of day with great gravity. His voice was high, almost feminine, and he spoke with delicate careful intonation. Then he put the lamp on the counter and surveyed the two of us.

    'Is it about a bicycle?' he asked.

 'Not that' said the Sergeant. 'This is a private visitor who says he did not arrive in the townland upon a bicycle. He has no personal name at all. His dadda is in far Amurikey.'

'Which of the two Amurikeys?' asked MacCruiskeen.

'The Unified Stations,' said the Sergeant.

'Likely he is rich by now if he is in that quarter,' said MacCruiskeen, 'because there's dollars there, dollars and bucks and nuggets in the ground and any amount of rackets and golf games and musical instruments. It is a free country too by all accounts.'

'Free for all,' said the Sergeant. 'Tell me this,' he said to the policeman, 'Did you take any readings today?'

'I did,' said MacCruiskeen.

'Take out your black book and tell me what it was like a good man,' said the Sergeant. Give me the gist of it till I see what I see,' he added.

MacCruiskeen fished a small black book from his breast pocket. 
'Ten point six,' he said.

'Ten point six,' said the Sergeant. 'And what reading did you notice on the beam?'

'Seven point four.'

'How much on the lever?'

'One point five'

There was a pause here. The Sergeant put on an expression of great intricacy as if he were doing far-from-simple sums and calculations in his head. After a time his face cleared and he spoke again to his companion.

'Was there a fall?'

'A heavy fall at half-past three.'

'Very Understandable and commendably satisfactory,' said the Sergeant. 'Your supper is on the hob inside and be sure to stir the milk before you take any of it, the way the rest of us after you will have our share of the fats of it, the health of it.

Policeman MacCruiskeen smiled at the mention of food and went into the back room loosening his belt as he went; after a moment we heard the sounds of coarse slobbering as if he was eating porridge without the assistance of spoon or hand. The Sergeant invited me to sit at the fire in his company and gave me a wrinkled cigarette from his pocket.

'It is a lucky thing for your pop that is situated in Amurikey,' he remarked, 'if it is a thing that he is having trouble with the old teeth. It is very few sicknesses that are not from the teeth.' 'Yes,' I said. I was determined to say as little as possible and these unusual policeman first show their hand. Then I would know how to deal with them.

'Because a man can have more disease and germination in his gob than you'll find in a rat's coat and Amurikey is a country where the population do have grand teeth like shaving lather or like bits of delph when you break a plate.'

'Quite true,' I said.

'Or like eggs under a black crow.'

'Like eggs,' I said.

'Did you ever happen to visit the cinematograph in your travels?'

'Never' I answered humbly, but I believe it is a dark quarter and little can be seen at all except the photographs on the wall'.

'Well it is there you see the fine teeth they do have in Amurikey,' said the Sergeant.

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The Gaelic
 'Irish and Related Matters'- 'The Best of Myles' 

Cur, g. curtha and cuirthe, m. - act of putting, sending, sowing, raining discussing, burying, vomiting, hammering into the ground, throwing through the air, rejecting, shooting, the setting or clamp in a rick of turf, selling,addressing, the crown of cast iron buttons which have been made bright by contact with cliff faces, the stench of congealing badgers suet, the luminence of glue-lice, a noise made in a house by an unauthorised person, a heron's boil, a leprachauns denture, a sheep biscuit, the act of inflating hare's offal with a bicycle pump, a leak in a spirit level, the whine of a sewage farm windmill, a corncrakes clapper, the scum on the eye of a senile ram, a dustmans dumpling, a beetles faggot, the act of loading ever rift with ore, a dumb man's curse, a blasket, a 'kur', a fiddlers occupational disease, a fairy godmothers father, a hawks vertigo, the art of predicting past events, a wooden coat, a custard-mincer, a blue-bottles 'farm', a gravy flask, a timber-mine, a toy craw, a porridge mill, a fair day donnybrook with nothing barred, a stoats stomach-pump, a broken-

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Three Beginnings

Excerpt from Flann O'Brien's 
At Swim-Two-Birds
Brian O'Nolan

HAVING placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes' chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression. I reflected on the subject of my spare-time literary activities. One Beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with. A good book may have three openings entirely dissimiliar and inter-related only in the prescience of the author, or for that matter one hundred times as many endings.

Examples of three separate openings - the first:

The Pooka MacPhellimey, a member of the devil class, sat in his hut in the middle of a firwood meditating on the nature of numerals and segregating in his mind the odd ones from the even. He was seated at his diptych or ancient two-leaved writing-table with inner sides waxed. His rough long-nailed fingers toyed with a snuff-box of perfect rotundity and through a gap in his teeth he whistled a civil cavatina. He was a courtly man and received honour by reason of the generous treatment he gave his wife, one of the Corrigans of Carlow.

The second opening:

There was nothing unusual in the appearance of Mr John Furriskey but actually he has one distinction that is rarely encountered - he was born at the age of twenty-five and entered the world with a memory but without personal experience to account for it. His teeth were well formed but stained by tabacco, with two molars filled and a cavity threatened in the left canine. His knowledge of physics was moderate and extended to Boyle's Law and the Parallelogram of Forces.

The third opening:

Finn Mac Cool was a legendary hero of old Ireland. Though not mentally robust, he was a man of superb physique and development. Each of his thighs was as thick as a horses belly, narrowing to a calf as thick as the belly of a foal. Three fifties of fosterlings could engage with handball against the wideness of his backside, which was large enough to halt the march of men through a mountain-pass

From At Swim-Two-Birds

Flann O'Brien

It was stated that while the novel and the play were both pleasing intellectual exercises, the novel was inferior to the play inasmuch as it lacked the outward accidents of illusion, frequently inducing the reader to be outwitted in a shabby fashion and caused to experience a real concern for the fortunes of illusory characters. The play was consumed in wholesome fashion by large masses in places of public resort; the novel was self-administered in private. The novel, in the hands of an unscrupulous writer, could be despotic. In reply to an inquiry, it was explained that a satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity. It was undemocratic to compel characters to be uniformly good or bad or poor or rich. Each should be allowed a private life, self-determination and a decent standard of living. This would make for self-respect, contentment and better service. It would be incorrect to say that it would lead to chaos. Characters should be interchangeable as between one book and another. The entire corpus of existing literature should be regarded as a limbo from which discerning authors could draw their characters as required, creating only when they failed to find a suitable existing puppet. The modern novel should be largely a work of reference. Most authors spend their time saying what has been said before--usually said much better. A wealth of references to existing works would acquaint the reader instantaneously with the nature of each character, would obviate tiresome explanations and would effectively preclude mountebanks, upstarts, thimbleriggers and persons of inferior education from an understanding of contemporary literature.

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The Workman's Friend

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night-

When Money's tight and is hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt--

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say that you need a change,

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare--

In time of trouble and lousy strife,
You have still got a darlint plan,
You still can turn to a brighter life-

From: At Swim Two Birds,cited in: A Flan O' Brien Reader ed., Stephen Jones, The Viking Press,New York,1978,p.250.

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St. Patricks Day

SIGNAL BOX SCENE:Jimmy is sitting down, engrossed in a newspaper. Ignatius is lolling on another chair, smoking. Jimmy shakes head and gestures at paper. He looks up, frowning.

JIMMY: Yiss. Saint Patrick's Day. Dya know, we might all be makin a mistake, a HIDYUS mistake. The brother says there was never anny such man as Saint Patrick.

 IGNATIUS:Ah come here now,Jimmy, the national Apostle. That's no sort of talk to be givin out of you.

 JIMMY: I'm oney tellin ya what the brother says. So far as I'm consairned, I have always been all FOR St. Patrick's Day. I think I've seen more Patrick's Dayu processions than anny man alive. What am I talkin about--didn't I walk in TWO of them. Th'oul fella was an Irish Forester with a green clawhammer on him and in nineteen and O twelve he med me step out in the brigade of the Glasnevin Branch of the Gaelic League with A KILT ON ME, man yiss, and a pipe band in front of us playing the Rakes of Malla.

 IGN: That must have ben a great sight--yerself in kilts and a plaad over yer shoulder and the big knobbly knees on full display for all to see.

 JIMMY: Oh now I looked damm well in them days. But th'oul fella would do yer heart good. There was no half measure there. He was a Forester, a Parnelite,a Votes-for Wimmin man, a Larkinite and a Gaelic Leaguer. Oh by gob yiss, guramahagut and beedahusht for further orders. Wan St. Patrick's Day when a gurrier of a parade sergeant barked out "Eyes Right Passin the Parnell Monument" th'oul fella turns a hard eye on him and says he, "Are ya Irishman at all?" Parnell didn't know Irish," says yer other man "Well be the powers," says th'oul fella, "if ya gev Parnell a glass of Scotch he'd soon let ya know whether he know Irish or not." Wasn't it good? If ya gev Parnell a glass of Scotch, ah?

 IGN:That was a proper choke off, and good enough for him. How much Irish did Wolfe Tone know?

 JIMMY: In the St. Patrick's procession of nine teen aught six th'oul fella, clawhammer an'all, wheeled the oney Irish-made bike in the world, a grand machine with bars of solid iron mad be Pierce of Wexford. In them days, of course, there was none of this jazz that was to come later about all the boozers been shut and refreshments for man and baste totally prohibited.

 IGN: Yiss. That's changed now. Here's what I want to know. What's going to happen the Dog Show at Balle's Bridge, the oney place where ya CUD get a drink. Shure there won't be a soul there now bar the boulers an' the judges.

 JIMMY: You're right there, Ignatius. In th'oul days it wasn't a mortal sin to swally a glass of malt to keep the cold out on the seventeenth of March, nwa,nor a pint either. That was a new sin invented by the politicians when we got the Free State, as a result of all them processions. Ah. God look down on us all but it takes time to learn a bit of sense.

 IGN: Shure in Brian Beru's time thre was no licensing laws of anny description AT ALL. JIMMY: But O're here till I tell ya. The brother was on to me a couple of weeks ago about all this St. Patrick's Day turn out. First of all he wass complainin about the shenanigans that goes on in America on the seventeenth of March. It was as bad this year as anny year. They dyed the Ohio River and the Mississippi green. Walk into a pub in New York and order a glass of HARP--and that's the right name for a drink on St. Patrick's day. What happened? You get it all right but it's coloured green. Hah? HAH? That night ya go to a hop or a hooley or anny class of a dance,there's great gas and grand music on the fiddles and the bagpipes, a good time is had be all, but all the gerrls' HAIR IS GREEN. Do ya folly me?

 IGN: That's saintintly carryin things a bit far. Green libstick too, I'll go bail.

 JIMMY: Suppose you go in somewhere for a cuppa tay. Ya get it O.K. but what about the milk? GREEN! If a cop writes you a ticket for parkin yer car in the wrong place on that day, you're supposed to be pleased about it because th'ink in his fountain pen is green. A grurrier out of Synapore might offer ya a black cigarette anny time but on St. Patrick's Day a fella from Boston would be sure to give ya a GREEN cigarette. You see so much green over there that ya get green in the face and if ya get a pain in yer leg you're sure it's gangrene. Isn't it the limit? Don't be talkin man.

 IGN: The green eye of the little yalla god.

 JIMMY: But to come back to the brother. He says there's a whole crowd of people goin, some of them clever wans that writes books that say there was never anny Saint Patrick that it's all a yarn and a cock and bull story. There's another crowd that says that St. Patrick was a Protestant and thought nuthin of atin' half a sheep for his dinner of a Frida. Hah? But listen here, Ignatius. There's a couple of fellas in th'university that says all the dates about St. Patrick is wrong and furthermore--FURTHRTMORE--that ther was TWO Saint Patricks. Can ya bate that? TWO of yer holy men from across the say!

 IGN. Well, I suppose that means that we should havbe two St. Patrick's Days, two processions and two shell-outs of a tanner for a bit of shamrock. If y'ask me ya can have too much of a good thing.

 JIMMY: And here's a good wan. The brother met an oul fella below in Wiekla town and yer man said straight out of that there was no Saint Patrick and that the whole yarn was invented be Strongbow or somebody. The brothe asked him, if that was true, how come thre was no snakes in Ireland? Know what th'oul fella done? Laughed in the the brother's face. Me dear man, says he when I was a young man settin out to make me fortune, I first emiograted to Australia. There was work to be had there but it was too hard and the grub was something fierce. With the result was I continued me travels to New Zealand. Ever heard tell of New Zealand? Right. I'll tell ya wan thing about New Zealand. There isn't a single snake in the whole place.

 IGN: Is that a fact? Don't tell me there was a third St. Patrick that went out there? In a currach?

 JIMMY: Well the brother checked on that in the National Museum and he gob th'oul fella was dead right. There's not wan snake in all New Zealand.

 IGN; Well, that seems to be a vote against a genuine Saint Patrick in Ireland.

 JIMMY: Now looks here, Ignatius. If there was no Saint Patrick, how do we know we're Christians at all? If there was no Saint Patrick we might be no different than the heathen Chinee.

 IGN: Shure the rale oul Irish were eye-dolitors, with witch doctors and fellas with rings on their noses.

 JIMMY: I don't think this is a situation we can afford to take lyin down. The Gov'ment will have to step in. There's nuthin for it but to set up a Commission embracin all Parties and churches and interests to find out (A) was there a Saint Patrick, (B) if there was how manny was there, and (C) recommend penalties against people who are caught sayin that there was no Saint Patrick or allegin that there was five or six or too manny. Dya folly me?

 IGN: I think you 've put yer finger on the proper remed-yial measure, Jimmy,

 JIMMY: So far as I'm concerned, Ignatius I take this thing dead serious. I'm not goin to have some damn tinker or a smart-alec of a bowsie from God-knows where tellin me to me face that I'm nuthin oney a pagan. ME A PAGAN? What's the world comin to atchall?

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Flann O'Brien takes a Humorous look at the process....

The Poor Mouth 

Chapter 6 

"After pondering the matter(marriage) for another year, I approached the Old-Fellow once more. 

-Honest fellow! Said I, I'm two years waiting now without a wife and I don't think I'll ever do any good without one. I'm afraid the neighbors are mocking me. Do you think is there any help for the fix I'm in or will I be all alone until the day of my death and everlasting burial? 

Boy! Said the Old-Fellow. 'Twould be necessary for you to know some girl. 

If that's the way, I replied, where do you think the best girls are to be got? 

In the Rosses without a doubt! 

The Sea-cat entered my mind and I became a little worried. However, there is little use denying the truth and I trusted the Old-fellow. 

If 'tis that way, said I in a bold voice. I'll go to the Rosses tomorrow to get a woman. 

The Old-Fellow was dissatisfied with this kind of thing and endeavored for a while to coax me from the marriage-fever that had come upon me but, of course, I had no desire to break the resolution which was fixed for a year in my mind. He yielded finally and informed my mother of the news. 

-Wisha! Said she, the poor creature! 

If he manages to get a woman out of the Rosses, said the Old-Grey Fello, how do we know but that she'll have a dowry? 

Wouldn't the likes of that be a great help to us at present in this house when the spuds are nearly finished and the last drop reached in the end of he bottle with us? 

I wouldn't say that you haven't the truth of it! Said my mother. 

They decided at last to yield completely to me. The Old Fellow said that he was acquainted with a man in Wweedore who had a nice curly-headed daughter who was as yet, unmarried although the young men from the two sandbanks were all about her, frenzied with eagerness to mary. Her father was name d Jams O'Donnell and Mabel was the maiden's name. I said that I would be satisfied to accept her.

The following day the Old-Fellow put a five noggin bottle in his pocket and both of us set out in the direction of Gweedore. IN the middle of the afternoon we reached that townland after a good walk while the daylight was still in the heavens. Suddenly the Old-fellow halted and sat down by the roadside. 

Are we yet near the habitation and enduring home of the gentleman, Jams O'Donnell? Asked I softly and quietly, querying the Old-Fellow. 

-We are! Said he. There is his house over yonder. 

Fair enough, said I. Come on till we settle the deal and get our evening spuds. There's a sharp hunger on my hunger. 

Little son! Said the Old-fellow sorrowfully, I'm afraid that you don't understand the world. T'is said in the good books that describe the affairs of the Gaelic paupers that its in the middle of the night that two men come visiting if they have a five-noggin bottle and are looking for a woman. Therefore we must sit here until the middle of the night comes. 

But 'twill be wet tonight. The skies above are full. 

Never mind! There's no use for us trying to escape from fate, oh, bosom friend! 

We did not succeed in escaping that night either from fate or the rain. We were drenched into the skin and to the bones. When we reached Jams O'Donnell's floor finally, we were completely saturated, water running from us freely, wetting both Jams and his house as well as everything and living creature present. We quenched the fire and it had to be rekindled nine times. 

Mabel was in bed(or had gone to her bed) but there is no necessity for me to describe the stupid conversation carried on by the Old-Fellow and Jams when they were discussing the question of the match. All the talk is available in the books which I have mentioned previously. When we left Jams at the bright dawn of day, the girl was betrothed to me and the Old Fellow was drunk. We reached Corkadoragha at the midhour of the day and were well satisfied with the night's business....."---From:The Poor Mouth.Flann O'Brien,Trans Patrck Power,Viking,New York,1973.pp.79-84 

From: A Flan O' Brien Reader.,Stephen Jones,ed.,Viking Press,New York,1978,pp.302-305

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The Catechism of Cliche

Yes,More of It

What happens to blows at a council meeting?
It looks as if they might be exchanged!
What does pandemonium do?
It breaks loose,
Describe its subsequent dominion,
It reigns,
How are allegations dealt with?
What is the mean temperature of an altercation,therefore?
What is the behaviour of a heated altercation?
It follows.
What happens to order?
It is restored,
Alternatively, in what does the meeting break up?
What does the meeting do in disorder?
Breaks up,
In the what direction does the meeting break in disorder?
In what direction should I shut?

The Myles Na Gcopaleen Catechism of Cliché,

The Myles na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliché.  In 356 tri-weekly parts.  A unique compendium of all that is nauseating in contemporary writing.  Compiled without regard to expense or the feelings of the public.  A harrowing survey of sub-literature and all that is pseudo, mal-dicted and calloused in the underworld of print.  Given free with the Irish Times.  Must not be sold separately or exported without a license.  Copyright, Printed on re-pulped sutmonger's aprons. Irish labour, Irish ink.  Part one. Section one. Let her out, Mike! Lights! O.K., Sullivan, let her ride!

Is man ever hurt in a motor crash?
No. He sustains an injury.
Does such a man ever die from his injuries?
No. He succumbs to them.
Correct. But supposing an ambulance is sent for.  He is put into the ambulance and rushed to hospital. Is he dead when he gets there, assuming he is not alive?
No, he is not dead. Life is found to be extinct.
Correct again.  A final question.  Did he go into the hospital, or enter it, or be brought to it?
He did not.  He was admitted to it.
Good. That will do for today.


A cliché is a phrase that has become fossilized, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage.  Thus it appears that clichés reflect somewhat the frequency of the incidence of the same situations in life.  If this be so, a sociological commentary could be compiled from these items of mortified language.

Is not the gun-history of modern Ireland to be verified by the inflexible terminology attached to it?  A man may be shot dead but if he survives a shot, he is not shot but sustains gun-shot wounds.  The man who fires the shot is always his assailant, never his attacker or merely the gun-man.  The injured party is never taken to hospital but is removed there (in a critical condition).  The gun-man does not escape, even if he is not caught; he makes good his escape. 

Oddly enough--unnecessary phrase--a plurality of lawbreakers behave differently; they are never assailants but armed men.  When they are not caught, they do not make good their escape; they decamp.  If there be defenders on the scene, shots are exchanged. And the whole affair is, of course, a shooting affray.  You see, there is no other kind of affray.  If it is not a shooting affray, it is not an affray at all. But it might be a fracas.


For Your Cliché Album

In what can no man tell the future has for us?
With what do certain belligerents make their military disposition?
Typical Teutonic thoroughness.
In what manner do wishful thinkers imagine that the war will be over this year?
Take the word, "relegate". To what must a person be relegated?
That obscurity from which he should never have been permitted to emerge.
What may one do with a guess, provided one is permitted?
And what is comment?


There is an Interval Here

An interval is right.  What we all want is a good long walk in the country, plenty of fresh air and good wholesome food.  This murder of my beloved English language is getting under my nails.  There are, of course, other branches of charnel-house fun into which I have not yet had the courage to lead my readers.  Not quite clichés but things that smell the same and worse.  Far worse.  Things like this, I mean: 
Of course, gin is a very depressing drink.
The air in Bundoran is very bracing.
You'll see the whole lot of us traveling by air before you're much older.
Your man is an extraordinary genius.
Of course, the most depressing drink of the lot is gin.

Did you get what I'm driving at? Can you visualize the list of dirty pale goading phrases with which I may--yes--"regale" you next week? What?
I beg your pardon?
Well that isn't my fault.  I merely record what goes on around me.  I just write down what goes on.


More of It
The Myles na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliché, part two. Copyright of course.  What's more, all rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part, etc, etc.

Is treatment, particularly bad treatment, ever given to a person?
No. It is always meted out.
Is anything else ever meted out?
No. The only thing that is ever meted out is treatment.
And what does the meting out of treatment evoke?
The strongest protest against the treatment meted out.
Correct. Mention another particularly revolting locution.
"The matter will fall to be dealt with by so-and-so."
Good. Are you sufficiently astute to invent a sentence where this absurd jargon will be admissible?

Next speech. Hurry please, Get this thing over. A drunk on our left trying to heckle. A rossiner wouldn't be bad, have a double on after this.  Next please.

Much pleasure rise speak today this distinguished gathering, particularly on same platform last speaker.  Last time we spoke together great Longford Rally 1829; doubtless he's forgotten.  We've gone our different ways since then.  Suppose no two men in this country more representative divergent poles political thought.  Not what came here to say. Came say few words present crisis dark clouds lowering over fair face this country never greater danger. But spirit Irish people will prevail as ever, come to top.  Only solution to problems before us is serious interest revival tongue our fathers spoke.  Great revival work must go on.  National heritage, nothing worth having left if not saved, receding rapidly in west. Save ere it is too late, only badge of true nationhood.
(Loud mad frenzied cheering.)

A few weeks ago I was interrupted when about to give the public my long-awaited description of my own face.  Several anxious readers have written in asking when they might expect it.  My answer is that they may expect it to-day.  Let us take the features one by one and then stand back, as one stands back from a majestic Titian or Van Gogh, and view the whole magnificent-
The Plain People of Ireland: Is this going to be long?
Myself: Not very.
The Plain People of Ireland: How long roughly?
Myself: Well, say ten lines for the vast Homeric brow, the kingly brow that is yet human wise and mild. Then the eyes, peerless wine-green opal of rare hue, brittle and ebullient against the whiteness of Himalayan snow--
The Plain People of Ireland: Another ten lines?
Myself: Say seven each. That's fourteen altogether.

Me and My Soul
This dripped off my assembly belt the other night (when I could have sworn I had the machines turned off for the night). Print it on barley-fudged crème-primed Hungarian sub-paper in good, old 12- point Gracatia Sancta and next thing you know I will have hair on my face and I will perceive indubitably Marxian strata in the subconscious, suggesting that all irrational impulses etc. etc. etc.

The antic soul
rides the wry, red brain;
horses know horses know
what they're thinking about
(you might say curse that alien corn),
the bloody heart
lusts in its foul tenement
o blow, viaticum pump, blow
on your last glazed fruit-valves.


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You've got in Flann O'Brien himself some nice material to avoid long explanations about Irish pronunciation, for example : 


Loc : Bothán ar Bhán-chnuic Éireann ó.
Am : An t-am go raibh Gaoidhil i nÉirinn beo.
Pearsain i láthair : Sur Tharbhaigh Baiginal, an óifisear obh de Cbhín, in ful réidiméinteals; Tadhg agus Thadhgín; Éamon a'Chnuic; Seán Ó Duibhir a' Ghleanna; Séadna; agus Bran. - Sur Tharbhaigh : Aigh airéist iú, Éadbhart Hill, in de néam obh de Cbhín ! Aigh bhas reidhding baigh -
- Bran : Bhuf, bhuf !
- Sur Tharbhaigh : Damhn, iú réibeal cur ! Aigh bhas reidhding baigh ond théard iú méic fbhait samhndad leidhc a seidisius spíts. Thú ios dios péarson iú méintiond Shawn Brogue ?
- Seán Ó Duibhir : Cad é seo atá á rádh aige inonimadeel ?
- Éamon a'Chnuic : Is follus gur chualaidh an phiast mise ag aithris mo chuid filíochta. "Sasanaigh do réabfainn mar do réabfainn sean-bhróg." - Taidhgín : Thí bhas tócuing abamht boots, Sur.
- Sur Tharbhaigh : Iú cean téil dat tú de Diuids. éabharaighbodaigh thiar ios indar airéist. Aigh bhil títs iú tú bí dioslóigheal. Cbhuic meairts ! (Ecseunt go dubhach)

Said a Sassenach back in Dun Laoghaire
"I pay homage to nationalist thaoghaire,
But wherever I drobh
I found signposts that strobh
To make touring in Ireland so draoghaire."

There was an old man of the Isles
Who suffered severely from pisles.
He couldn't sit down
Without a deep frown,
So he had to row standing for misles.

An insoluble question

by Flann O'Brien

Once upon a time there was an old fellow, who was honest, charitable, wide-girdled and even-tempered - in short, an exceedingly good person. He was so ancient that he was well able to remember the great historical events which came to pass in Ireland a hundred years before, and he spoke Irish of a strange and awkward sort - the amount of it that he had - whose like is not to be encountered outside the Book of the Dun Cow, and often not in that book either. He had a stoop in his back and he always used to carry a blackthorn stick in his claw; he was stout, well-nourished, with two eyes twinkling lively beneath his white brows, and he wore neither collar nor tie but had a monstrous long white beard flowing down from his two ears on to his breast - enough fine fur to stuff a pair of pillows! The person who would understand the nobility of the elderly and the respect to which they are entitled would take a second look at this specimen. He was too good.

The old fellow lived with his son in a house, and (since we are telling a story in Irish), it was a small whitewashed house in the corner of the glen. Not far from his house was another in which a growing young lad lived with this family. The youngster was increasing in wisdom every day, and becoming astute and inquisitive.

One day he took his father aside and asked him a question - a great question that had been lying heavily on his mind for a long time.

'When this old fellow is in bed,' said the lad, 'does his beard be under the bedclothes, or does it be out in the open with the blankets tucked in underneath it?'

'That's a big question,' said the father, 'and I haven't got its solution. But go and ask your mother.'

This the lad did.

'I couldn't tell you that,' said the mother, 'but I have an idea that his son will know. Go over and put the question to him.'

This was done. The son was an affable fellow, who hadn't any guile in him, no more than his father. He reflected.

'I have slept in the same bed as him,' said he, 'from the time I was as small as yourself, and if I were to be flayed alive on this spot I couldn't answer that question - but here he is coming in now. Ask him yourself.'

The question was put. The Oldfellow contemplated deep and hard. He scourged his sluggish languid mind, and twisted and shook his memory. He closed his eyes and visualised himself lying in his bed. He tried his utmost, but, alas, it was no use.

'I don't know,' he said simply. He felt sad and ashamed that he could solve such an easy question, after all he had seen of the world.

'Come back tomorrow, little man,' said he, 'and I'll have the answer to your question.'

'Thank you,' said the youngster.

The day departed and the night arrived. The Oldfellow headed for bed. He put on his nightshirt and his sleeping bonnet, he snuggled himself down cosily, put his head on the pillow, arranged the bedclothes compactly and carefully under his beard, and lay there trying to sleep. But he did not lie there for long. His chinbone began to itch, with a a firm fiery itch. His neck began to get sore and his ears warm; the bedclothes were irritating his beard. Isn't it foolish my old head is tonight, he thought, and me without my beard under the blankets as it has been for forty years. Angrily he put the clothes over the beard and again tried to sleep. Within a minute, however, he was again at a loss; he was truly wretched, in pain and torment. Had twenty crows been attempting to build nests in that beard, they wouldn't have caused him more distress.

'Damn!' said the Oldfellow.

He controlled the fit of anger that was coming over him, and made an attempt to remedy the situation. He placed half the beard inside and half the beard outside; he lay on his face; he lay on the hair itself; and he put his head completely under the bedclothes. But each solution was worse than the previous one...

The Oldfellow sat up and pondered gloomily to himself. Then he decided that it would be a good idea to get up and make a strong cup of tea, and to put the boy's question completely out of his mind; afterwards he would go back to bed, and only just when he had almost fallen asleep, would recall the question.

'I will make a cup of dark, mysterious, uncharted tea,' said the Oldfellow.

He rose and located the dark stairway leading down to the kitchen. Thus it happened that he continued walking the floor without the floor being there: the beginning of the stairs and the conclusion of the floor was in that place. He descended like a sack of flour. He broke his neck and split open his skull, and his soul sundered from his body.

That youngster is still living. He goes to school, acquiring education, and that question still remains in his heart, unsolved. He will presently understand that all knowledge is not to be found in the books, and he will put the question to some other old fellow; and if the worst comes to the worst he can wait until the arrival of his own beard (if such is destined to him) and banish the deadly doubt from him for ever.

But maybe God will give him sense.



I was a day in Dingle and Paddy James, my sister's man, in company with me and us in the direction of each other in the running of the day.

 A man he was that would not have a glass of whiskey long between the hands, or a pint of black porter either, without shooting them backwards; but he got no sweet taste ever on the one he would buy himself, and great would be the pleasure with him that another man should nudge him in the back to ask him to have one with him.

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Story of an octopus 

A deep-sea diver, exploring the situation of a torpedoed man-of-war, was about to come to the surface when he noticed a young octopus in trouble. This not unhandy citizen -denizen of what but the deep ?- had managed to get one of his 'feet' caught in the wreck, and was writhing in great agony. The diver, a kind-hearted man - albeit one crossed in love - decided to go to the succour of his fellow sub-acquate. Seizing a piece of steel wreckage, he prized away one of the baulks imprisoning the octopus's tentacle and thus released the unhappy sufferer.

 The diver then, rejoicing in a good deed well done, turned to the ladder and gave his mate on the surface the signal to hoist. To his surprise, however, the young octopus began to accompany him upwards, paddling with great respect beside him. The look of gratitude on the large face of the octopus much moved the diver. Nevertheless, he made a deprecatory gesture and pushed the octopus away.
"Please go home, " he said.
"But sir," the octopus cried, "you have been so kind, so considerate, so helpful - I crave from you only the boon of accompanying you to your home, there to dwell with you for aye...!"
"Don't be a sucker," the diver growled, "where I live I haven't room for myself. You'll have to stay here in the sea. Anyway, I don't like that fancy inflated talk."
"Kind sir, " the octopus implored, I will gladly live in your garden, or up a tree, or sit at night on the roof of your house. I will take up no room at all, sir. In the morning I will clean your boots. I will take the sea-weed out of your diving boots. As well as that I will polish the floors. I have eight hands, you might say, sir, and would be very useful about the house and the yard."

 "Oh, don't be trying to plámás me, " the diver muttered.
"And I can go down into the sea with you," the octopus besought
. "And get yourself caught in wreckage ?"
"No sir, never again will I suffer that to occur. I will be most careful, sir. I will do anything you say if you permit me to live with you and repay your kindness."
"Oh... very well," the diver snapped. "Swim over to that ship where you won't be seen coming out of the sea and I'll collect you in my van in an hour's time."

 "Oh, thank you, sir," the octopus said, making what seemed to be a smile.
In due course the diver collected the octopus in his van, brought him home and lodged him in the dustbin until the following day, when he would have an opportunity of assigning him simple household tasks, so that his bona fides could be tested.

 The octopus proved to be ever better than his word. He proved expert at scrubbing and polishing floors, cleaned windows, made beds, lit fires and even learned to make tea. He also managed to dig the garden after a fashion and never asked for a day off from his manifold duties.

 After a year the diver had to admit that the octopus was a dear friend, and felt that some little token of esteem was called for. He therefore said to him one day :

 "In another week it will be exactly a year since you came to this house. I feel I would like to give you a present to mark the occasion. Would you please tell me what you would like ?"
The octopus blushed with pleasure.
"It is so terribly handsome of you," he said, "it is more than kind. And to answer your question, there is only one thing I would really like."
"And what is that ?"
"A bagpipes, sir."
"A bagpipes it shall be," the diver said, "and the best that money can buy."
On the day appointed the octopus was presented with his bagpipes. With cries of delight, he ran up with it to the attic where he customarily lodged. And after an interval the diver was horrified to hear blood-curdling screams, squeaks, roars, wails and general din descending from the octopus's quarters.
What... on earth ?
Rushing up to investigate, he was startled to find the bagpipes playing the octopus !

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 Myles na gCopaleen

From His Newspaper writings...
Most of you will know that Dinneen is held up as the ultimate dictionary ...
"The Irish lexicographer Dinneen considered in vacuo is, heaven knows, funny enough. He just keeps on standing on his head, denying stoutly that pile/ar means bullet and asserting that it means 'an inert thing or person'. Nothing stumps him. He will promise the sun, moon and stars to anybody who will catch him out. And well he may. Just take the sun, moon and stars for a moment. Sun, you say, is grian. Not at all. Dinneen shouts that grian means 'the bottom (of a lake, well)'. You are a bit nettled and mutter that, anyway, gealach means moon. Wrong again. Gealach means 'the white circle in a slice of a half-boiled potato, turnip, etc'. In a bored voice he adds that re/alta (of course) means 'a mark on the forehead of a beast'. Most remarkable man. Eclectic I think is the word.

"That, of course, is why I no longer write Irish. No damn fear. I didn't come down in the last shower. Call me a bit fastidious if you like but I like to have some idea of what I'm writing. Libel, you know. One must be careful. If I write in Irish what I conceive to be 'Last Tuesday was very wet,' I like to feel reasonably sure that what I've written does not in fact mean 'Mr So-and-so is a thief and a drunkard.

-from:The Best of Myles,ed. Kevin O' Nolan,Hart-Davis,London,1975.

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De Selby
Beginning of Excerpt: Footnote (1)
From chapter 8 of The Third Policeman

Not excepting even the credulous Kraus (see his Do Selby's Leben), all the commentators have treated de Selby's disquisitions on night and sleep with considerable reserve. This is hardly to be wondered at since he held (a) that darkness was simply an accretion of 'black air', i.e., a staining of the atmosphere due to volcanic eruptions too fine to be seen with the naked eye and also to certain 'regrettable' industrial activities involving coal-tar by-products and vegetable dyes; and (b) that sleep was simply a succession of fainting-fits brought on by semi-asphyxiation due to (a). Hatchjaw brings forward his rather facile and ever-ready theory of forgery, pointing to certain unfamiliar syntactical constructions in the first part of the third so called 'prosecanto' in Golden Hours. He does not, however, suggest that there is anything spurious in de Selby's equally damaging rhodomontade in the Layman's Atlas where he inveighs savagely against 'the insanitary conditions prevailing everywhere after six o'clock' and makes the famous gaffe that death is merely 'the collapse of the heart from the strain of a lifetime of fits and fainting'. Bassett (in Lux Mundi) has gone to considerable pains to establish the date of these passages and shows that de Selby was hors de combat from his long-standing gall-bladder disorders at least immediately before the passages were composed. One cannot lightly set aside Bassett's formidable table of dates and his corroborative extracts from contemporary newspapers which treat of an unnamed 'elderly man' being assisted into private houses after having fits in the street. For those who wish to hold the balance for themselves, Henderson's Hatchjaw and Bassett is not unuseful. Kraus, usually unscientific and unreliable, is worth reading on this point. (Leben, pp. 17-37.) 

As in many other of de Selby's concepts, it is difficult to get to grips with his process of reasoning or to refute his curious conclusions. The 'volcanic eruptions', which we may for convenience compare to the infra-visual activity of such substances as radium, take place usually in the 'evening' are stimulated by the smoke and industrial combustions of the 'day' and are intensified in certain places which may, for the want of a better term, be called 'dark places'. One difficulty is precisely this question of terms. A 'dark place' is dark merely because it is a place where darkness 'germinates' and 'evening' is a time of twilight merely because the 'day' deteriorates owing to the stimulating effect of smuts on the volcanic processes. De Selby makes no attempt to explain why a 'dark place' such as a cellar need be dark and does not define the atmospheric, physical or mineral conditions which must prevail uniformly in all such places if the theory is to stand. The 'only straw offered', to use Bassett's wry phrase, is the statement that 'black air' is highly combustible, enormous masses of it being instantly consumed by the smallest flame, even an electrical luminance isolated in a vacuum. 'This,' Bassett observes, 'seems to be an attempt to protect the theory from the shock it can be dealt by simply striking matches and may be taken as the final proof that the great brain was out of gear.' 

A significant feature of the matter is the absence of any authoritative record of those experiments with which de Selby always sought to support his ideas. It is true that Kraus (ace below) gives a forty-page account of certain experiments, mostly concerned with attempts to bottle quantities of 'night' and endless sessions in locked and shuttered bedrooms from which bursts of loud hammering could be heard. He explains that the bottling operations were carried out with bottles which were, 'for obvious reasons', made of black glass. Opaque porcelain jars are also stated to have been used ,with some success'. To use the frigid words of Bassett, such information, it is to be feared, makes little contribution to serious deselbiana (sic).' Very little is known of Kraus or his life. A brief biographical note appears in the obsolete Bibliographie de de Selby. He is stated to have been born in Ahrensburg, near Hamburg, and to have worked as a young man in the office of his father, who had extensive jam interests in North Germany. He is said to have disappeared completely from human ken after Hatchjaw had been arrested in a Sheephaven hotel following the unmasking of the de Selby letter scandal by The Times, which made scathing references to Kraus's 'discreditable' machinations in Hamburg and clearly suggested his complicity. If it is remembered that these events occurred in the fateful June when the County Album was beginning to appear in fortnightly parts, the significance of the whole affair becomes apparent. The subsequent exoneration of Hatchjaw served only to throw further suspicion on the shadowy Kraus. 

Recent research has not thrown much light on Kraus's identity or his ultimate fate. Bassett's posthumous Recollections contains the interesting suggestion that Kraus did not exist at all, the name being one of the pseudonyms adopted by the egregious du Garbandier to further his 'campaign of calumny'. The Leben, however, seems too friendly In tone to encourage such a speculation.

Du Garbandier himself, possibly pretending to confuse the characteristics of the English and French languages, persistently uses 'black hair' for 'black air', and makes extremely elaborate fun of the raven-headed lady of the skies who deluged the world with her tresses every night when retiring. The wisest course on this question is probably that taken by the little known Swiss writer, Le Clerque. 'This matter,' he says, 'is outside the true province of the conscientious commentator inasmuch as being unable to say aught that is charitable or useful, he must preserve silence.' 

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Memoir on the Pooka's father,
the Crack Mac Phellimey

  • Fergus ('The Pooka') MacPhellimey, a species of rural demon, was born of respectable but poor parents in the county Cork, in 1876, a year memorable for the ravages of potato scale and shepherd's scurvy. His father, known far and wide as The Crack MacPhellimey, was a hard working devil-tinker who attended fairs for the purpose of seducing farmers' boys from righteousness by offering them spurious coins of his own manufacture which (by means of a secret chemical process) had the effect of rotting the pocket or mattress which contained them and imparting a contagious dry tetter to the human body-the object of the traffic being to make the afflicted boys utter curses and ungodly maledictions.

  • He also retailed a line of magic shoddy of grey herringbone pattern with a faint red check, the peculiar quality of the fabric being that it dissolved into an evil smelling grey slime on coming into contact with water. This material he sold chiefly to the farming class in the west of Ireland, a district subject to incessant rain.

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    Irish Poplin

    The Crack was a familiar figure in his green coat of Irish poplin reaching from his neck to his heels and was welcome at any gathering on account of his sober and industrious habits, his skill as a fiddler, and his inexhaustable stock of anecdotes, rebuses and topographical poems, not a few of the latter being in the Gaelic language, an idiom he commanded with sweet charm. 

    What brought him to his greatest fame, however, was his skill as a dancer. His long poplin coat (was) worn chiefly to hide his slightly clubbed foot and consequently his feet were not to be seen when he danced, but their clump on the flags of a kitchen floor (was) so true and rhythmic that it was an unfailing delight to all present, and his easy accomplishment of the most intricate steps gave rise on more than one occasion to the opinion that he had three feet at least beneath the coat or maybe four. 

    Even his spurious coins, distributed unobtrusively when the night was far advanced, did little to reduce his welcome when he appeared on his travels at the end of the year, for the full course of the tetter (provided the rashes were not treated with brown-bread poultices), was only six months and ten days. He also received honour by reason of the generous treatment he gave his wife, one of the Brannigans of Rush. 

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    The Birth of Fergus

    It happened that Fergus was born in a deserted piggery early in the morning. A country gentleman, passing by on horse-back, chanced to look into the piggery and noticed a hoof and a hair-tail protruding from a heap of soiled straw. Dismounting, he approached and woke the Crack MacPhellimey, who was asleep in an upright posture at a nearby wall, the back of his head being towards the east. The gentleman, who was one of a far-seeing and provident disposition, produced his costly wash-leather purse and offered two and fourpence for the foal, explaining at the same time that his wife was with child and that he would require a horse for his son in about six or seven years time. 

    Perceiving that the offer was a generous one inasmuch as he did not own a foal, the Crack accepted it courteously. It was only when he withdrew the straw that he discovered that his wife had given him a son: a creature of human form covered with a soft yellowish down similar to that worn by chickens of the Rhode Island breed. The Crack then became subject to the pangs and pride of parenthood. 

    Conclusion of memoir. 

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    Booze the Trade in Dublin 

  • In the last ten years there has been a marked change in the decor of boozing in Dublin.

  • The old-time pub was something in the nature of an Augean stable (it is true that Pegasus was often tethered there) with liberal lashings of sawdust and mopping-rags to prevent the customers from perishing in their own spillings and spewings. No genuine Irishman could relax in comfort and feel at home in a pub unless he was sitting in deep gloom on a hard seat with a very sad expression on his face, listening to the drone of bluebottle squadrons carrying out a raid on the yellow sandwich cheese.

    In those days a definite social stigma attached to drinking. It was exclusively a male occupation and on that account (and apart from anything temperence advocates had to say) it could not be regarded as respectable by any reasonable woman. Demon rum was a pal of the kind one is ashamed to be seen with. Even moderate drinkers accepted themselves as genteel degenerates and could slink into a pub with as much feline hug-the-wall as any cirrhotic whiskey-addict, there to hide even from each other in dim secret snugs. A pub without a side-door up a lane would have been as well off with no door at all

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    Drink and Time in Dublin I

    After Hours

    At ten o' clock on week nights, at half-nine on Saturday the tide ebbs suddenly, leaving the city high and dry.  Unless you are staying at a hotel or visiting a theatre, you may not lawfully consume excisable liquors within the confines of the country borough.  The city has entered that solemn hiatus, that almost sublime eclipse known as The Closed Hours.  Here the law, as if with true Select Lounge mentality, discriminates sharply against the poor man at the pint counter by allowing those who can command transport and can embark upon a journey to drink elsewhere till morning.  The theory is that all travelers still proceed by stage-coach and that those who travel outside become blue with cold after five miles and must be thawed out with hot rum at the first hostelry they encounter, by night or day.  In practice, people who are in the first twilight of inebriation are transported from the urban to the rural pub so swiftly by the internal combustion engine that they need not necessarily be aware that they have moved at all, still less comprehend that their legal personalities have undergone a mystical transfiguration.  Whether this system is to be regarded as a scandal or a godsend depends largely on whether one owns a car.  At present the city is ringed around with these "bona-fide" pubs, many of them well run modern houses, and a considerable amount of the stock-in-trade is transferred to the stomachs of the customers at a time every night when the sensible and just are in their second sleeps…

    To go back to the city: it appears that the poor man does not always go straight home at ten o' clock.  If his thirst is big enough and he knows the knocking-formula, he may possibly visit some house where the Demand Note of the Corporation has stampeded the owner into a bout of illicit after-hour trading.  For trader and customer alike, such a life is one of excitement, tiptoe and hush.  The boss's ear, refined to shades of perception far beyond the sensitiveness of any modern aircraft detector, can tell almost the inner thoughts of any policeman in the next street.  At the first breath of danger all lights are suddenly doused and conversation toned down, as with a knob, to vanishing point.  Drinkers reared in such schools will tell you that in inky blackness stout cannot be distinguished in taste from Bass and that no satisfaction whatever can be extracted from a cigarette unless the smoke is seen.  Sometimes the police make a catch.  Here is the sort of thing that is continually appearing in the papers:

    "Guard--said that accompanied by Guard--he visited the premises at 11:45 p.m. and noticed a light at the side door.  When he knocked the light was extinguished but he was not admitted for six minutes.  When defendant opened eventually, he appeared to be in an excited condition and used bad language.  There was nobody in the bar but there were two empty pint measures containing traces of fresh porter on the counter.  He found a man crouching in a small press containing switches and a gas-meter.  When he attempted to enter the yard to carry out a search, he was obstructed by the defendant, who used an improper expression.  He arrested him, but owing to the illness of his wife, he was later released.

    Defendant-- Did you give me an unmerciful box in the mouth?
    Defendant-- Did you say that you would put me and my gawm of a brother through the back wall with one good haymaker of a clout the next time I didn't open when you knocked?
    Justice--You look a fine block of a man yourself.  How old are you? 
    Defendant--I'm as grey as a badger, but I'm not long past forty.
    Justice-- Was the brother there at all?
    Defendant-- He was away in Kells, your worship, seeing about getting a girl for himself. (Laughter.)
    Justice-- Well, I think you could give a good account of yourself.
    Witness-- He was very obstreperous, your worship.
    Witness, continuing, said that he found two men standing in the dark in an outhouse.  They said they were there "for a joke." Witness also found an empty pint measure in an outdoor lavatory and two empty bottles of Cairnes.
    Defendant said that two of the men were personal friends and were being treated. There was no question of taking money.  He did not know who the man in the press was and did not recall having seen him before.  He had given strict instructions to his assistant to allow nobody to remain on after hours.  There was nobody in the press the previous day as the gas-man had called to inspect the meter.  The two Guards had given him an unmerciful hammering in the hall. His wife was in ill-health, necessitating his doing without sleep for three weeks.  A week previously he was compelled to send for the Guards to assist in clearing the house at ten o'clock.  He was conducting the house to the best of his ability and was very strict about the hours.
    Guard-- said that the defendant was a decent hard-working type but was of an excitable nature.  The house had a good record.
    Remarking that the defendant seemed a decent sort and that the case was distinguished by the absence of perjury, the Justice said he would impose a fine of twenty shillings, the offence not to be endorsed. Were it not for extenuating circumstances he would have no hesitation in sending the defendant to Mountjoy for six months.  He commanded Guards for smart police work.

    Not many publicans, however, will take the risk.  If the were as careful of their souls as they are of their licenses, heaven would be packed with those confidential and solicitous profit-takers and, to please them, it might be necessary to provide an inferior annex to paradise to house such porter-drinkers as would make the grade.

    (The Bell, Vol. 1, No. 2)


    …this portrait of undead human decomposition, not peculiar to Christmas but most frequently encountered about that time.
    (Enters public house on St. Stephen's Day, obviously shattered with alcohol.  Lowers self into seat with great care, grips table to arrest devastating shake in hands.  Calls for glass of malt.  Spills water all over table.  Swallows drink with great clatter of teeth against glass. Shakily lights cigarette.  Exhales.  Begins to look around.  Fixes on adjacent acquaintance.  Begins peroration. )

    'Bedam but you know, people talk a lot about drink, Whiskey and all the rest of it.  There's always a story, the whiskey was bad, the stomach was out of order and so on.  Do you know what I'm going to tell you…?
    (Pauses impressively. The eye-pupils, almost dissolved in their watery lake, rove about with sickly inquiry.  Accepts silence as evidence of intense interest.)
    "Do you know what it is?"
    (Changes cigarette from normal inter-digital position, holds it aloft vertical; taps it solemnly with index finger of free hand.)
    "Do you see that? That thing there? Cigarettes.  Them lads.  Do you know what I'm going to tell you…?"
    (Is suddenly overcome by paroxysm of coughing; roots benightedly for handkerchief as tears of pure alcohol course down the ruby cheeks, Recovers.)
    "Them fellas there. Them fellas has me destroyed…"
    (Collapses into fresh paroxysm Emerges again):
    'I wouldn't mind that at all (indicates glass). I know what I have there.  There's eatin' an' drinkin' in that.  Damn the harm that done annywan, bar been taken to excess. But this…"
    (Again points to cigarette, looks of sorrow and horror mingling on 'face'.)
    "Them lads has me destroyed."


    On a recent Thursday I went to the pictures and saw a tall gentleman called Randolph Scott in a film called "The Spoilers". At the end of the picture Randolph gets into a fight with another man in a pub.  At the end of the fight there is no pub.  The fight is so fierce that it is reduced to smithereens. Randolph, being the bad lot, gets a frightful thrashing, a a frtfull throshou, a frajfyl tromaking, a fruitful…
    The Plain People of Ireland: Whatsamatter?
    Myself: Feel queer…dark…nase blooding…giddy…where am I?
    The Plain People of Ireland: Ah sure you often meet that in the pictures, too--that's altitude.  You're too high up.  No oxygen.  The pilots do often have a black out.  Come on down lower on the page and you'll be game ball.
    Myself: All right. Thanks.
    The Plain People of Ireland: Are you OK now?
    Myself: Yes, thanks, I'm feeling all right now.  Well, as I was saying.  Randolph gets a frightful hiding, he is a terrible mess when the picture ends.  But the following night I happened to see the same Randolph in another picture called, I think "The Texan". All I can say is, fit and well he was looking after the hammering he got the night before.

    The Plain People of Ireland: Will you have a bit of sense man.  "The Texan" is an old picture.  A real ould stager man.  But "The Spoilers" is a new picture.  It doesn't say because you see the one on wan night and then d'other on another--
    Myself: Say no more.  I realize I have been hasty.  I will think before I shoot my mouth off next time.


    It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch , a more delightful vision.  I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere which she just began to move in; glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendour, and joy--
    The Plain People of Ireland: Sure that wan went to the wall years ago, you must be mixin' her up with some other party.
    Myself: For me the Queen of France never died.
    The Plain People of Ireland: And if it's above the horizon you seen her, that's fair enough, many's a man seen more than the queen of France and him out in a boat fishin', coopers of stout and sandwiches, half fallin' out of the boat rotten fluthery-eyed drunk on porter and whiskey, sure is it any wonder you’re seein' visions man?  Sure Lord save us you'll be Napolean Boneypart himself next above in the Grange weedin' turnips.
    Myself: I was at a wake the other night and every man jack was drunk--including the corpse.
    The Plain People of Ireland: O faith now never mind the wakes, many's a better man than you was happy enough at home be the fire with Knocknagow or a good American cowboy story, there's a very bad type of person goin' around now that wasn't known in our father's day.


    Do not for that singular interval, one moment, think that I have been overlooking this new Intoxicating Liquor Bill.  I am arranging to have an amendment tabled because it appears that there is absolutely nothing else you can do with an amendment.

    My idea is to have the hours altered so that public houses will be permitted to open only between two and five in the morning.  This means that if you are a drinking man you'll have to be in earnest about it.

    Picture the result.  A rustle is heard in the warm dark bedroom that has been lulled for hours with gentle breathing.  Two naked feet are tenderly lowered to the floor and a shaky hand starts foraging blindly for matches.  Then there is a further sleepy noise as another person half-wakens and rolls around.

    "John! What's the matter?"
    "But where are you going?"
    "Out for a pint."
    "But John! It's half two."
    'Don’t care what time it is."
    "But it's pouring rain. You'll get your death of cold."
    "I tell you I'm going out for a pint.  Don't be trying to make a ridiculous scene.  All over Dublin thousands of men are getting up just now.  I haven't had a drink for twenty-four-hours."
    "But John, there are four stouts in the scullery.  Beside the oat-meal bag."
    "Don't care what's in the scullery behind the oat-meal bag."
    "O, John."
    And then dirty theatrical sniveling sobbing begins as the piqued and perished pint-lover draws dressing gowns and coats over his shivering body and passes out gingerly to the stairs.

    Then the scene in the pub.  Visibility is poor because a large quantity of poisonous fog has been let in by somebody and is lying on the air like layers of brawn.  Standing at the counter is a row of disheveled and shivering customers, drawn of face, quaking with the cold.  Into their unlaced shoes is draped, concertina-wise, pyjama in all its striped variety.  Here and there you can discern the raw wind-whipped shanks of the inveterate night-shirt wearer.  And the curate behind the bar has opened his face into so enormous a yawn that the tears can be heard dripping into the pint he is pulling. Not a word is heard, nothing but chilly savage silence.  The sullen clock ticks on.  Then "Time, please, time.  Time for bed, gentlemen." And as you well know, by five in the morning, the heavy rain of two-thirty has managed to grow into a roaring downpour.

    The Plain People of Ireland: Is all this serious?
    Myself: Certainly it's serious,  why wouldn't it be serious,  you don’t think I'd try to make jokes about anything so funny as the licensing laws, why would I bring turf to Newcastlewest?
    The Plain People of Ireland: If you're serious so, it's only a trick to get more drink for newspapermen.
    Myself: Nonsense. Newspapermen couldn't hold any more than they have at present.
    The Plain People of Ireland: O faith now, that's enough.  That's enough about that crowd.  Remember well, many's a county council meeting, fluther-eyed note-takers couldn't get the half of it, stuff that days was spent thinkin' out.
    Myself: Hic!
    The Plain People of Ireland: Faith indeed that was loud enough, well you may talk about putting down drink.  Putting down is right.
    Myself: Ut's only mey undajaschin, d'yeh ondherstawnd.

    I can see even another domestic aspect of this new order.  It is after midnight.  The man of the house is crouched miserably over the dying fire. 
    "John! Look at the time! Are you not coming to bed?"
    "No. I'm waiting for the pubs to open."


    Magnum est veritas et in vino praevalebit! Some things are better but if they be true, should they then be suppressed?  A thousand times no, nor do I count the cost to purse, fair name or honour, least of all my own.  I say this with reluctance but say it I must:

    Last night I was drunk!

    (Sensation.) No, no (makes nervous gestures), do not think I exaggerate, do not whisper that fumes of deadliest spirits were held to my nostrils as I slept.  It is absolutely true and I blame nobody but myself. I was simply caught off my guard.  There can be no excuses.  From myself I demand the high standards I prescribe for others.

    Tell you how it happened.  Sitting in my offices last night as Regional Commissioner for the Towneships of Geashill and Philipstown Daingean, ss servitor enters and hands me a document.  You would never--nor did I-- guess what it was.  A sealed order from the Department of Local Governments…dissolving me! Me! Wellll…!

    Extraordinary sensation.  First to go is the head, the whole thing falling away into blobs of yellow liquid running down and messing into the liquefacting chest, then the whole immense superstructure seeping down the decomposing legs to the floor…a…most…frightful business, nothing left of me after three minutes only a big puddle on the floor!

    Happily my secretary rushed in, guessed what had happened and had the presence of mind to get most of me into an empty champagne bottle I had in my desk.  Have you ever, reader, looked at the world from inside a bottle? Found yourself laboriously reversing a word like TOUQCILC? Phew! Have you ever, possessing the boast that not once did breath of intoxicating liquor defile your lips, literally found yourself a one-bottle-man?  Ever had to console yourself with a bitter jest about your "bottle-dress"? Ever found what seemed to be your head being hurt by…a cork?  As for the curse of bottle-shoulders, is there any use in talking? Here, though, is a hint.  The curvature of the bottle causes violent refraction and if you have any fear that my own fate could one day be yours, be counseled by what I say: always carry special spectacles. It pays in the long run!

    Let me continue.  My secretary, when leaving to go home, placed me for some reason on the mantelpiece in a rather prominent position but first typed out a little label marked POISON- NOT TO BE TAKEN and stuck it on the bottle.  A stupid business, really-whence comes this idea that everybody can read or that those who can always believe what they see?  Actually I should have been locked away in the bottom drawer of my desk or put into the big press I have marked "MAPS." What I feared happened, though it could have been worse.  After an hour or so a charlady arrived and began to clean the place up, having first put some of my valuable documents in her bin.  She was later joined by an unusual character, a chargentleman, apparently her husband.  I do not suppose he was three seconds in the room when he was conscious of myself, on the mantelpiece in the bottle.  He calls the wife's attention, then over, whips me down, takes out the cork and begins to sniff at me.
    "Portuguese, begob," he mutters.
    "You'll put that bottle down that's what you'll do," the charlady says severely.
    '"I'll go bail it's that Portuguese shandy that carried Harry off around the Christmas," the ruffian mutters.

    Next thing…I'm at his head! Phewwww! It seems, however, that I tasted rather worse than he was prepared to endure because he took only a few sips of me, then bashed the cork back in disgust.
    Well, what…an…incredible…experience!  I managed to get back next day, but it took me all my time and was a most dangerous business.  My sole consolation? That if it was I who was drunk, it was the chargentleman who had the hangover!

    (The Best of Myles)

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    Recent Times:
    Up to recent times the only improvement was the bar parlour, a dark privacy at the rear where any respectable bowler-hatted gentleman from the countinghouse of a large drapery concern could tinkle in peace at his hot mid-day whiskey.

    Such places were clean and comfortable enough, though often equipped with forbidding furniture of the marble-topped and iron-legged variety usually found in morgues and fish-shops. Latterly, however, we have had the Lounge, the Oak Lounge, and the Octagonal Lounge, and still more refined booze shops called brasseries and butteries where obsequious servers in white coats will refuse point-blank to give you beer, even if your doctor has certified under his own hand that you will drop dead after one glass of spirits.

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    Brother Barnabus 

    The numerous friends and admireres of Brother Barnabus will be glad to hear that he is still alive and well; though convulsions, teething, whooping-cough, mumps, rickets and a host of other infantile complaints which have assailed the great man in his old age tend to make his public appearance, which in print and in person become rarer and rarer with the passing years, a ludicrous farce.

    He now lives in retirement in a rustic bog-farm in the County Meath, where the cultivation of bog-oak orchards and peat parking-poles has become the sole anchor that chains his feeble wits to earth.

    He is attended day and night by a buxom nurse, provided by the Board of Works, and the giggles and hoarse chuckling that can be heard at dusk from the density of the turf-trollops bespeak a waggish vitality that is reluctant to yield the palm to Father Time.

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    Mr Eamon de Valera arrived.
    Mr Eamon de Valera arrived, accompanied by his son, Vivion
    Mr Eamon de Valera arrived, accompanied by Mr Vivion de

    Messrs Eamon and Vivion de Valera arrived.
    Messrs Vivion and Eamon de Valera arrived.
    Mr Vivion de Valera arrived, accompanied by Mr Eamon de Valera.

    Mr Vivion de Valera arrived, accompanied by his father,

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    Sgíth mo chrob ón sgríbinn 

    My hand has a pain from writing,
    Not steady the sharp tool of my craft
    Its slender beak spews bright ink -
    A beetle-dark shining draught. 

    Streams of the wisdom of white God
    From my fair-brown, fine hand sally,
    On the page they splash their flood
    In ink of the green-skinned holly. 

    My little dribbly pen stretches
    Across the white paper plain,
    Insatiable for splendid riches -
    That is why my hand has a pain.

    -translation of ancient irish poem

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    "A Bash in the Tunnel"

    Flann O'Brien

    In this astonishing commentary on James Joyce, Flann O'Brien reveals what it was that "stately plump Buck Mulligan" saw in the cracked looking glass of Irish art.

    James Joyce was an artist. He has said so himself. His was a case of Ars gratia Artist. He declared that he would pursue his artistic mission even if the penalty was as long as eternity itself. This seems to be an affirmation of belief in Hell, therefore of belief in Heaven and God.

    A better title of this piece might be: Was Joyce Mad? by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Yet there is a reason for the present title.

    Some thinkers--all Irish, all Catholic, some unlay--have confessed to discerning a resemblance between Joyce and Satan. True, resemblances there are. Both had other names, the one Stephen Dedalus, the other Lucifer; the latter name, meaning 'Maker of Light,' was to attract later the ironical gloss 'Prince of Darkness'! Both started off very well under unfaultable teachers, both were very proud, both had a fall. But they differed on one big, critical issue. Satan never denied the existence of the Almighty; indeed he acknowledged it by challenging merely His primacy. Joyce said there was no God, proving this by uttering various blasphemies and obscenities and not being instantly struck dead.

    A man once said to me that he hated blasphemy, but on purely rational grounds. If there is no God, he said, the thing is stupid and unnecessary. If there is, it's dangerous.

    Anatole France says this better. He relates how, one morning, a notorious agnostic called on a friend who was a devout Catholic. The devout Catholic was drunk and began to pour forth appalling blasphemies. Pale and shocked, the agnostic rushed from the house. Later, a third party challenged him on this incident.

    You have been saying for years that there is no God. Why then should you be so frightened at somebody else insulting this God who doesn't exist?'

    I still say there is no God. But that fellow thinks there is. Suppose a thunderbolt was sent down to strike him dead. How did I know I wouldn't get killed as well? Wasn't I standing beside him?'

    Another blasphemy, perhaps--doubting the Almighty's aim. Yet it is still true that all true blasphemers must be believers.

    What is the position of the artist in Ireland?

    Just after the editors had asked me to try to assemble material for this issue of Envoy, I went into the Scotch House in Dublin to drink a bottle of stout and do some solitary thinking. Before any considerable thought had formed itself, a man--then a complete stranger--came, accompanied by his drink, and stood beside me: addressing me by name, he said he was surprised to see a man like myself drinking in a pub.

    My pub radar screen showed up the word 'TOUCHER.' I was instantly on my guard.

    'And where do you think I should drink?' I asked. 'Pay fancy prices in a hotel?'

    'Ah, no,' he said, 'I didn't mean that. But any time I feel like a good bash myself, I have it in the cars. What will you have?'

    I said I would have a large one, knowing that his mysterious reply would entail lengthy elucidation.

    'I needn't tell you that that crowd is a crowd of bastards,' was his prefatory exegesis.

    Then he told me all. At one time his father had a pub and grocery business, situated near a large Dublin railway terminus. Every year the railway company invited tenders for the provisioning of its dining cars, and every year the father got the contract. (The narrator said he thought this was due to the territorial proximity of the house, with diminished handling and cartage charges.)

    The dining cars (hereinafter known as 'the cars') were customarily parked in remote sidings. It was the father's job to load them from time to time with costly victuals--eggs, rashers, cold turkey and whiskey. These cars, bulging in their lonely sidings, with such fabulous fare, had special locks. The father had the key, and nobody else in the world had authority to open the doors until the car was part of a train. But my informant had made it his business, he told me, to have a key, too.

    'At that time,' he told me, 'I had a bash once a week in the cars.'

    One must here record two peculiarities of Irish railway practice. The first is a chronic inability to 'make up' trains in advance, i.e., to estimate expected passenger traffic accurately. Week after week a long-distance train is scheduled to be five passenger coaches and a car. Perpetually, an extra 150 passengers arrive on the departure platform unexpectedly. This means that the car must be detached, a passenger coach substituted, and the train dispatched foodless and drinkless on its way.

    The second peculiarity--not exclusively Irish--is the inability of personnel in charge of shunting engines to leave coaches, parked in far sidings, alone. At all costs they must be shifted.

    That was the situation as my friend in the Scotch House described it. The loaded dining cars never went anywhere, in the long-distance sense. He approved of that. But they were subject to endless enshuntment. That, he said, was a bloody scandal and a waste of the taxpayers' money.

    When the urge for a 'bash' came upon him his routine was simple. Using his secret key, he secretly got into a parked and laden car very early in the morning, penetrated to the pantry, grabbed a jug of water, a glass and a bottle of whiskey and, with this assortment of material and utensil, locked himself in the lavatory.

    Reflect on that locking. So far as the whole world was concerned, the car was utterly empty. It was locked with special, unprecedented locks. Yet this man locked himself securely within those locks.

    Came the dawn--and the shunters. They espied, as doth the greyhound the hare, the lonely dining car, mute, immobile, deserted. So they couple it up and drag it to another siding at Liffey Junction. It is there for five hours but it is discovered (by 'that crowd of bastards,' i.e. other shunters) and towed over to the yards behind Westland Row Station.

    Many hours later it is shunted on to the tail of the Wexford Express but later angrily detached owing to the unexpected arrival of extra passengers.

    'And are you sitting in the lavatory drinking whiskey all the time?' I asked.

    'Certainly I am,' he answered. 'What the hell do you think lavatories in trains is for? And with the knees of me trousers wet with me own whiskey from the jerks of them shunter bastards!'

    His resentment was enormous. Be it noted that the whiskey was not in fact his own whiskey, that he was that oddity, an unauthorised person.

    'How long does a bash in the cars last?' I asked him.

    'Ah, that depends on a lot of things,' he said. 'As you know, I never carry a watch.' (Exhibits cuffless, hairy wrist in proof.) 'Did I ever tell you about the time I had a bash in the tunnel?'

    He has not--for the good reason that I had never met him before.

    'I seen meself,' he said, 'once upon a time on a three-day bash. The bastards took me out of Liffey Junction down to Hazelhatch. Another crowd shifted me into Harcourt Street yards. I was having a good bash at this time, but I always try to see, for the good of me health, that a bash doesn't last more than a day and a night. I know it's night outside when it's dark. If it's bright, it's day. Do you follow me?'

    'I think I do.'

    'Well, I was about on the third bottle when this other shunter crowd come along--it was dark, about eight in the evening--and nothing would do them only bring me into the Liffey Tunnel under the Phoenix Park and park me there. As you know I never use a watch. If it's bright, it's day. If it's dark, it's night. Here was meself parked in the tunnel, opening bottle after bottle in the dark, thinking the night was a very long one, stuck there, in the tunnel. I was three-quarters way into the jigs when they pulled me out of the tunnel into Kingsbridge. I was in bed for a week. Did you ever in your life hear of a greater crowd of bastards?'


    'That was the first and last time I ever had a bash in the tunnel.'

    Funny? But surely there you have the Irish artist? Sitting fully dressed, innerly locked in the toilet of a locked coach where he has no right to be, resentfully drinking somebody else's whiskey, being whisked hither and thither by anonymous shunters, keeping fastidiously the while on the outer face of his door the simple word, ENGAGED?

    I think the image fits Joyce: but particularly in his manifestation of a most Irish characteristic--the transgressor's resentment with the nongressor.

    A friend of mine found himself next door at dinner to a well-known savant who appears in Ulysses. (He shall be nameless, for he still lives.) My friend, making dutiful conversation, made mention of Joyce. The savant said that Ireland was under a deep obligation to the author of Joyce's Irish Names of Places. My friend lengthily explained that his reference had been to a different Joyce. The savant did not quite understand, but ultimately confessed that he had heard certain rumours about the other man. It seemed that he had written some dirty books, published in Paris.

    'But you are a character in one of them,' my friend incautiously remarked.

    The next two hours, to the neglect of wine and cigars, were occupied with a heated statement by the savant that he was by no means a character in fiction, he was a man, furthermore he was alive and he had published books of his own.

    'How can I be a character in fiction,' he demanded, 'if I am here talking to you?'

    That incident may be funny, too, but its curiosity is this: Joyce spent a lifetime establishing himself as a character in fiction. Joyce created, in narcissus fascination, the ageless Stephen. Beginning with importing real characters into his books, he achieves the magnificent inversion of making them legendary and fictional. It is quite preposterous. Thousands of people believe that there once lived a man named Sherlock Holmes.

    Joyce went further than Satan in rebellion.

    Two characters who confess themselves based on Aquinas: Joyce and Maritain.

    In Finnegans Wake, Joyce appears to favour the Vico theory of inevitable human and recurring evolution--theocracy: aristocracy: democracy: chaos.

    'A.E.' referred to the chaos of Joyce's mind.

    That was wrong, for Joyce's mind was indeed very orderly. In composition he used coloured pencils to keep himself right. All his works, not excluding Finnegans Wake, have a rigid classic pattern. His personal moral and family behaviours were impossible. He seems to have deserved equally with George Moore the sneer about the latter--he never kissed, but told.

    What was really abnormal about Joyce? At Clongowes he had his dose of Jesuit casuistry. Why did he substitute his home-made chaosistry?

    It seems to me that Joyce emerges, through curtains of salacity and blasphemy, as a truly fear-shaken Irish Catholic, rebelling not so much against the Church but against its near-schism Irish eccentricities, its pretence that there is only one Commandment, the vulgarity of its edifices, the shallowness and stupidity of many of its ministers. His revolt, noble in itself, carried him away. He could not see the tree for the woods. But I think he meant well. We all do, anyway.

    What is Finnegans Wake? A treatise on the incommunicable night-mind? Or merely an example of silence, and punning?

    I doubt whether the contents of this issue will get many of us any forrarder.

    A certain commentator seeks to establish that Joyce was at heart an Irish dawn-bursting romantic, an admirer of de Valera, and one who dearly wished to be recalled to Dublin as an aging man to be crowned with a D.Litt. from the National and priest-haunted University. This is at least possible, if only because it explains the preposterous 'esthetic' affectations of his youth, which included the necessity for being rude to his dying mother. The theme here is that a heart of gold was beating under the artificial waistcoat. Amen.

    The number of people invited to contribute to this issue has necessarily been limited. Yet it is curious that none makes mention of Joyce's superber quality: his capacity for humour. Humour, the handmaid of sorrow and fear, creeps out endlessly in all Joyce's works. He uses the thing, in the same way as Shakespeare does but less formally, to attenuate the fear of those who have belief and who genuinely think that they will be in hell or in heaven shortly, and possibly very shortly. With laughs he palliates the sense of doom that is the heritage of the Irish Catholic. True humour needs this background urgency: Rabelais is funny, but his stuff cloys. His stuff lacks tragedy.

    Perhaps the true fascination of Joyce lies in his secretiveness, his ambiguity (his polyguity, perhaps?), his leg-pulling, his dishonesties, his technical skill, his attraction for Americans. His works are a garden in which some of us may play. This issue of Envoy claims to be merely a small bit of that garden.

    But at the end, Joyce will still be in his tunnel, unabashed.

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    From:  The Poor Mouth

    (An B/eal Bocht)

    A bad Story about the hard life

    Edited by

    Myles na Gopaleen

    (Flann O'Brien

    Trans. Patrick C. Power



    Chapter 2


    A bad smell in our house…the pigs…the coming of Ambrose…the hard life…my mother in danger of death…Martin's plan…we are saved and are safe…the death of Ambrose


    In my youth we always had a bad smell in our house.  Sometimes it was so bad that I asked my mother to send me to school, even though I could not walk correctly.  Passers-by neither stopped nor even walked when in the vicinity of our house but raced past the door and never ceased until they were half a mile from the bad smell.  There was another house two hundred yards down the road from us and one day when our smell was extremely bad the folks there cleared out, went to America and never returned.  It was stated that they told people in that place that Ireland was a fine country but that the air was too strong there.  Alas! There was never any air in our house.


    A member of our household was guilty of this stench.  Ambrose was his name.  The Old-Fellow was very attached to him.  Ambrose was Sarah's son.  Sarah was a sow which we possessed and when progeny was bestowed on her, it was bestowed plentifully.  In spite of her numerous breasts, there was none for Ambrose when the piglets were suckling their nourishment from her.  Ambrose was shy and when hunger struck the piglets (it strikes their likes suddenly and all at the same moment) he was left at the end without a breast.  When the Old-Fellow realized that this little piglet was becoming feeble and losing his vigour, he brought him into the house, settled a bed of rushes for him by the fireside and fed him from time to time with cow's milk out of an old bottle.  Ambrose recovered without delay, grew strongly and became fine and fat.  But alas! God has permitted every creature to possess its own smell and the pig's inherited aroma was not pleasant.  When Ambrose was little, he had a little smell.  When his size increased, his smell grew accordingly.  When he was big, the smell was likewise big.  At first, the situation was not too bad for us throughout the day, because we left all the windows open, the door unshut and great gales of wind swept through the house.  But when darkness fell and Sarah came in with the piglets to sleep, that indeed was the situation which defies both oral and written description.  Often in the middle of the night it seemed to us that we could never see the morning alive.  My mother and the Old-Fellow often arose and went outside to walk ten miles in the rain trying to escape from the stench.  After about a month of Ambrose in our house, the horse, Charlie, refused to come in at night and was found every morning drenched and wet (there was never a night without a downpour upon us).  But he was, nevertheless, in good humour despite all he had suffered from the inclemency of the weather.  Indeed, it was I who bore the hardship without a doubt because I could not walk nor find any means of self-locomotion.


    Matters continued thus for a little while.  Ambrose was swelling rapidly and the Old-Grey-Fellow said that shortly he would be strong enough to be out in the air with the other pigs.  He was the Old-Fellow's pet and that is why my mother could not drive out the unfragrant pig from the house by cudgeling, although her health was failing due to the putrid stench.


    We noticed suddenly that Ambrose, all in one night it seemed, had increased to a fearful size. He was as tall as his mother but much wider.  His belly reached the ground and his flanks were so swollen that they would frighten you.  One day the Old-Grey-Fellow was putting down a large pot of potatoes for the pig's dinner when he noticed that all was neither good nor natural.


     - Upon me soul! Said he, this one here is about to burst! When we scrutinized Ambrose sharply, it was evident that the poor creature was almost completely cylindrical. I do not know whether it due to over-eating or whether dropsy or some other fell disease struck him. I have not, however, narrated all.  The smell was now almost insufferable for us and my mother fainted in the end of the house, her health having failed due to this new stench.


     - If this pig is not put out of the house at once, said she feebly from the bed in the end of the house, I'll set these rushes on fire and then an end will be put to the hard life in this house of ours and even if we finish up later in hell, I've never heard there are pigs there anyway!


    The Old-Fellow was puffing at the pipe strenuously in an attempt to fill the house with smoke as a defence against the stench.  He replied to her:


     - Woman! said he, the poor creature is sick and I'm slow to push him out and he without his health. 'Tis true that this stench is beyond all but don't you see that the pig himself is making no complaint, although he has a snout on him just like yourself there.


     - He’s dumb from the stench, said I.


     - If that's the way it is, said my mother to the Old-Fellow, I'll put the rushes in flames!


    The two of them continued nagging at one another for a long while but at last the Old-Fellow agreed to eject Ambrose.  He went forward coaxing the pig to the door with whistling, nonsensical talk and pet-words but the beast stayed as he was, unmoved.  It must have been that the pig's senses were deadened by the smell and that they failed to hear all the Old-Fellow had to say.  At any rate, the Old-Fellow took a cudgel and drove the pig to the door- lifting him, beating him and pushing him with the weapon.  When he reached the door it appeared to us that he was too fat to go out between the jambs.  He was released and he returned to his fireside bed whence he fell asleep.

     - Upon me soul! said the Old-Grey-Fellow, but the creature is too well-fed and the doorway is too narrow although there is room in it for the horse himself.


     - If that's the way it is, said my mother from the bed then 'tis that way and it is hard to get away from what's in store for us.


    Her voice was weak and low and I was certain that she was now willing to bow to fate, to the rottenness of the pig, and to face heaven.  But suddenly a smothering fire arose in the end of the house-- my mother burning the place.  Back went the Old-Fellow in one leap, threw a couple of old sacks on the smoke and beat them with a big stick until the fire was quenched.  He then beat my mother and gave her beneficial advice while doing so.


    God bless us and save us! There was never as hard a life as that which Ambrose gave us for a fortnight after this.  There is no describing the smell in our house.  The pig was doubtlessly ill and vapour arose from him reminiscent of a corpse unburied for a month.  The house was rotten and putrid from top to bottom as a result of him.  During that time my mother was in the end of the house unable to stand or speak.  At the end of the fortnight, she bade us adieu and goodbye quietly and feebly and set her face towards eternity. The Old-Fellow was in the bed, smoking his pipe energetically during the night as a shield against the stench.  He leapt up and dragged my mother out to the roadside, thus saving her from death that night although both of them were drenched to the skin. The following day the beds were put out by the road and the Old-Fellow said that there we would remain henceforth because, said he, it is better to be without house than life and even if we are drowned in the rain at night, that death itself is better than the other one within.


    Martin O'Bannassa was going along the road that day and when he saw the unfragrant beds outside beneath the sky and our deserted house, he stopped and struck up a conversation with the Old-Fellow.


     - 'Tis true that I don't understand life and the reason that the beds are outside, but look at the house on fire!


    The Old-Fellow gazed at the house and shook his head.

     - That's no fire, said he, but a rotten pig in our house. That's not smoke that's drifting from the house, as you think, Martin, but pig-steam.

     - That steam is not pleasing to me, said Martin.

     - There's no health in it! retorted the Old-Fellow.

    Martin pondered the question for a while.

     - It must be the way, said he, that this pig of yours is a pet and that you wouldn't want to cut his throat and bury him?

     - 'Tis true indeed for you, Martin, said he.

     - If that’s the way, said Martin, I'll give ye help!

    He went up on the roof of the house and put scraws of grass on the chimney-opening.  He then closed the door and blocked the windows with mud and rags to keep air from going in or coming out.

     - Now, said he, we must be quiet for an hour.

     - Upon me soul, said the Old-Grey-Fellow, I don't understand this work but it's a wonderful world that's there today and if you're pleased with what you've done, I won't go against you.


    At the end of that hour, Martin O' Bannassa opened the door and we all went in except my mother who was still weak and feeble on the damp rushes.  Ambrose was stretched, cold and dead, on the hearth-stone.  He had died of his own stench and a black cloud of smoke almost smothered us.  The Old-Fellow was very sad but gave heartfelt thanks to Martin and ceased puffing his pipe for the first time in three months.  Ambrose was buried in an honourable and becoming manner and we were all once more very well in that house.  My mother recovered fast from her ill-health and was once more energetic, boiling large pots of potatoes for the other pigs.


    Ambrose was an odd pig and I do not think that his like will be there again.  Good luck to him if he be alive in another world today!


    Chapter 3

    I go to school - "Jams O'Donnell" - the two pound grant-pigs again in our house - the Old-Grey-Fellow's plan - one of our pigs missing - the shanachee and the gramophone


    I was seven years old when I was sent to school.  I was tough, small and thin, wearing grey-wool breeches 1 but other wise unclothed above and below.  Many other children besides me were going to school that morning with the stain of the ashes still on the breeches of many of them.  Some of them were crawling along the road, unable to walk.  Many were from Dingle, some from Gweedore, another group floated in from Aran.  All of us were strong and hearty on our first school day.  A sod of turf was under the armpit of each one of us.  Hearty and strong were we!


    The master was named Osborne O'Loonassa. He was dark, spare and tall and unhealthy with a sharp, sour look on his face where the bones were protruding through the yellow skin.  A ferocity of anger stood on his forehead as permanent as his hair and he cared not a whit for anyone.


    We all gathered into the schoolhouse, a small unlovely hut where the rain ran down the walls and everything was soft and damp.  We all sat on benches, without a word or a sound for fear of the master.  He cast his venomous eyes over the room and they alighted on me where they stopped.  By Jove! I did not find his look pleasant while these two eyes were sifting me.  After a while he directed a long yellow finger at me and said:

     - Phwat is yer nam?


    I did not understand what he said nor any other type of speech which is practiced in foreign parts because I had only Gaelic as a mode of expression and as a protection against the difficulties of life.  I could only stare at him, dumb for fear.  I then saw a great fit of rage come over him and gradually increase exactly like a rain-cloud.  I looked around timidly at the other boys.  I head a whisper at my back:


    -         Your name he wants!


    My heart leaped with joy at this assistance and I was grateful to him who prompted me.  I looked politely at the master and replied to him:


     - Bonaparte, son of Michelangelo, son of Peter, son of Owen, son of Thomas's Sarah, grand-daughter of John's Mary, grand-daughter of James, son of Dermot…2


    Before I had uttered or half-uttered my name, a rabid bark issued from the master and he beckoned to me with his finger.  By the time I had reached him, he had an oar in his grasp.  Anger had come over him in a flood-tied at this stage and he had a businesslike grip on the oar in his two hands.  He drew it over his shoulder and brought it down hard upon me with a swish of air, dealing me a destructive blow on the skull.  I fainted from that blow but before I became totally unconscious I heard him scream:


     - Yer nam, said he, is Jams O' Donnell!"


    Jams O' Donnell? These two words were singing in my ears when feeling returned to me, I found that I was lying on my side on the floor, my breeches, hair and all my person saturated with the streams of blood which flowed from the split caused by the oar in my skull .When my eyes were in operation again, there was another youngster on his feet being asked his name.  It was apparent that this child lacked shrewdness completely and had not drawn good beneficial lessons for himself from the beating which I had received because he replied to the master, giving his common name as I had.  The master again brandished the oar which was in his grasp and did not cease until he was shedding blood plentifully, the youngster being left unconscious and stretched out on the floor, a bloodied bundle. And during the beating the master screamed once more:


     - Yer nam is Jams O'Donnell!


    He continued in this manner until every creature in the school had been struck down by him and all had been named Jams O' Donnell.  No young skull in the countryside that day remained unsplit.  Of course, there were many unable to walk by the afternoon and were transported home by relatives.  It was a pitiable thing for those who had to swim back to Aran that evening and were without a bite of food or a sup of milk since morning.


    When I myself reached home, my mother was there boiling potatoes for the pigs and I asked her for a couple for lunch.  I received them and ate them with only a little pinch of salt.  The bad situation in the school was bothering me all this time and I decided to question my mother.


     - Woman, said I, I've heard that every fellow in this place is called Jams O' Donnell.  If that's the way it is, it's a wonderful world we have and isn't O' Donnell the wonderful man and the number of children he has?


     - Tis true for you, said she.

     - If 'tis true itself, said I, I've no understanding of that same truth.

     - If that's the way, said she, don't you understand that it's Gaels that live in this side of the country and that they can't escape from fate? It was always said and written that every Gaelic youngster is hit on his first school day because he doesn't understand English and the foreign form of his name and that no one has any respect for him because he's Gaelic to the marrow.  There's no other business going on in school that day but punishment and revenge and the same fooling about Jams O' Donnell.  Alas! I don't think that there'll ever be any good settlement for the Gaels but only hardship for them always.  The Old-Grey-Fellow was also hit one day of his life and called Jams O'Donnell as well.


     - Woman, said I, what you say is amazing and I don't think I'll ever go back to that school but it's now the end of my learning!


     - You're shrewd, said she, in your early youth.


    I had no other connection with education from that day onwards and therefore my Gaelic skull has not been split since.  But seven years afterwards (when I was seven years older), it came to pass that wonderful things happened in our neighbourhood, things connected with the question of  learning and, for this reason, I must present some little account of them here.


    The Old-Fellow was one day in Dingle buying tobacco and tasting spirits, when he head news which amazed him.  He did not believe it because he never trusted the people of that town.  The next day he was selling herrings in the Rosses and had the same news from them there; he then half-accepted the story but did not altogether swallow it.  The third day he was in Galway city and the story was there likewise.  At last he believed it believingly and when he returned, drenched and wet (the downpour comes heavily on us unfailingly each night), he informed my mother of the matter (and me also who was eavesdropping in the end of the house!)


     - Upon me soul, said he, I hear that the English Government is going to do great work for the good of the paupers here in this place, safe and saved may everyone be in this house! It is fixed to pay the likes of us two pounds a skull for every child of ours that speaks English instead of this thieving Gaelic.  Trying to separate us from the Gaelic they are, praise be to them sempiternally!  I don't think there'll ever be good conditions for the Gaels while  having small houses in the corner of the glen, going about in the dirty ashes, constantly fishing in the constant storm, telling  stories at night about the hardships and hard times of the Gaels in sweet words of Gaelic is natural to them.


     - Woe is me! exclaimed my mother, and I with only the one son; this dying example here that's on his backside over on the floor there.


     - If that's the way, said the Old-Fellow, you'll have more children or else you're without resource!


    During the following week, a staunch black gloom came over the Old-Grey-Fellow, a portent that his mind was filled with difficult complicated thoughts while he endeavored to solve the question of the want of children. One day, while in Cahirciveen, he heard that the new scheme was under way; that the good foreign money had been received already in many houses in that district and that an inspector was going about through the countryside counting the children and testing the quality of English they had.  He also heard that this inspector was an aged crippled man without good sight and that he lacked enthusiasm for his work as well.  The Old-Fellow pondered all that he heard and when he returned at night (drenched and wet), he informed us that there is no cow unmilkable, no hound untraceable and, also, no money which cannot be stolen.


     - Upon me soul, said he, we'll have the full of the house before morning and every one of them earning two pounds for us.


     - It's a wonderful world, said my mother, but I'm not expecting anything of that kind and neither did I hear that a house could be filled in one night.


     - Don't forget, said he, that Sarah is here.


     - Sarah, indeed! said my startled mother.


    Amazement leaped up and down through me when I heard the mention of the sow's name.


     - The same lady exactly, said he. She has a great crowd of a family at present and they have vigorous voices, even though their dialect is unintelligible to us.  How do we know but that their conversation isn't in English.  Of course, youngsters and piglets have the same habits and take notice that there's a close likeness between their skins.


    -You're reflective, replied my mother, but they must have suits of clothes made for them before the inspector comes to look at them.


     - They must indeed, said the Old-Grey-Fellow.


     - It's a wonderful world these days, said I from the back bed at the end of the house.


     - Upon me soul, but 'tis wonderful, said the Old-Fellow, but in spite of the payment of this English money for the good of our likes, I don't think there'll ever be good conditions for the Gaels.


    The following day we had these particular residents within, each one wearing a grey-wool clothing while squealing, rooting, grunting and snoring in the rushes in the back of the house.  A blind man would know of their presence from the stench there.  Whatever the condition of the Gaels was at that time, our own condition was not all good while these fellows were our constant company.


    We kept a good vigil for the inspector's arrival.  We were obliged to wait quite a while for him but, as the Old-Fellow said, whatever is coming will come.  The inspector approached us on a rainy day when there was bad light everywhere and a heavy twilight in the end of our house where the pigs were.  Whoever said that the inspector was old and feeble, told the truth.  He was English and had little health, the poor fellow! He was thin, stooped and sour-faced.  He cared not a whit for the Gaels-- no wonder! -and never had any desire to go into the cabins where they lived.  When he came to us, he stopped at the threshold and peered short-sightedly into the house.  He was startled when he noticed the smell we had but did not depart because he had much experience of the habitations of the true Gaels.  The Old-Grey-Fellow stood respectfully and politely near the door in front of the gentleman, I beside him and my mother was in the back of the house caring and petting the piglets.  Occasionally, a piglet jumped into the centre of the floor and without delay returned to the twilight.  One might have thought that he was a strong male youngster, crawling through the house because of the breeches which he wore.  A murmur of talk arose all this time from my mother and the piglets; it was difficult to understand because of the noise of wind and rain outside. The gentleman looked sharply about him, deriving but little pleasure from the stench.  At last he spoke:

     - How many?

     - Twalf, sor! said the Old-Grey-Fellow courteously.

     - Twalf?


    The other man threw another quick glance at the back of the house while he considered and attempted to find some explanation for the speech he heard.


     - All spik Inglish?

     - All spik, sor, said the Old-Fellow.


    Then the gentleman noticed me sanding behind the Old-Grey-Fellow and he spoke gruffly to me:

     - Phwat is yer nam? said he.


    -         Jams O' Donnell, sor!


    It was apparent that neither I nor my like appealed to his elegant stranger but this answer delighted him because he could now declare that he questioned the young folk and was answered in sweet English; the last of his labours was completed and he might now escape freely from the stench.  He departed amid the rain-showers without word or blessing for us.  The Old-Grey-Fellow was well satisfied with what we had accomplished and I had a fine meal of potatoes as a reward from him.  The pigs were driven out and we were all quiet and happy for the day.  Some days afterwards the Old-Grey-Fellow received a yellow letter, and there was a big currency note within it.  That is another story and I shall narrate it at another time in this volume.


    When the inspector had gone and the pigs' odour cleared from the house, it appeared to us that the end of that work was done and the termination of that course reached by us.  But alas! things are not what they seem and if a stone be cast, there is no foreknowledge of where it may land.  On the following day, when we counted the pigs while divesting them of their breeches, it appeared that we were missing one.  Great was the lamentation of the Old-Grey-Fellow when he noticed that both pig and suit of clothes had been snatched privily from him in the quiet of the night.  It is true that he often stole a neighbour's pig and he often stated that he never slaughtered one of his own but sold them all, although we always had half-sides of bacon in our house.  Night and day there was constant thieving in progress in the parish-- paupers impoverishing each other-- but no one stole a pig except the Old-Fellow.  Of course, it was not joy which flooded his heart when he found another person playing his one tune.


     - Upon me soul, said he to me, I'm afraid they're not all just and honest around here. I wouldn't mind about the young little pig but there was a fine bit of stuff in that breeches.

     - Everyone to his own opinion, my good man, said I, but I don't think that anyone took that pig or the breeches either.

     - Do you think, said he, that fear would keep them from doing the stealing?

     - No, I replied, but the stench would

     - I don't know, son, said he, but that you're truly in the right.  I don't know but that the pig is off rambling

     - It's an unfragrant rambling if 'tis true for you, my good man, said I.


    That night the Old-Fellow stole a pig from Martin O'Bannassa and killed it quietly in the end of the house. It happened that the conversation had reminded him that our bacon was in short supply.  No further discussion concerning the lost pig took place then.


    A new month called March was born; remained with us for a month and then departed.  At the end of that time we heard a loud snorting one night in the height of the rain.  The Old-Fellow thought that yet another pig was being snatched from him by force and went out.  When he returned, his companion consisted of none other than our missing pig, drenched and wet, the fine breeches about him in saturated rags.  The creature seemed by his appearance to have trudged quite an area of the earth that night.  My mother arose willingly when the Old-Fellow stated that it was necessary to prepare a large pot of potatoes for the one who had after all returned.  The awakening of the household did not agree too well with Charlie and, having lain awake, looking furious during the talking and confusion, he suddenly arose and charged out into the rain.  The poor creature never favoured socializing much. God bless him!


    The return in darkness of the pig was amazing but still more amazing was the news which he imparted to us when he had partaken of the potatoes, having been stripped of the breeches by the Old-Grey-Fellow. The Old-Fellow found a pipe with a good jot of tobacco in one pocket.  In another he found a shilling and a small bottle of spirits.


     - Upon me soul, said he, if 'tis hardship that's always in store for the Gaels, it's not that way with this creature.  Look, said he, directing his attention to the pig, where did you get these articles, sir?


    The pig threw a sharp glance out of his two little eyes at the Old-Fellow but did not reply.


     - Leave the breeches on him, said my mother. How do we know but that he'll be coming to us ever week and wonderful precious things in his pockets-- pearls, necklaces, snuff and maybe a money-note-- wherever in Ireland he can get them. Isn't it a marvelous world today altogether?


     - How do we know, said the Old-Grey-Fellow in reply to her, that he will ever again return but live where he can get these good things and we'd be for ever without the fine suit of clothes that he has?


     - True for you, indeed, alas! said my mother.


    The pig was now stark naked and was put with the others.


    A full month went by before we received an explanation of the complicated matter of that night. The Old-Fellow heard a whisper in Galway, half a word in Gweedore and a phrase in Dunquin.  He synthesized them all and one afternoon, when the day was done and the nocturnal downpour was mightily upon us, he told the following interesting story.


    There was a gentleman from Dublin traveling through the country who was extremely interested in Gaelic.  The gentleman understood that in Corkadoragha there were people alive who were unrivalled in any other region and also that their likes would never be there again.  He had an instrument called a gramophone 5 and this instrument was capable of memorizing all it heard if anyone narrated stories or old lore to it; it could also spew out all it had heard whenever one desired it.  It was a wonderful instrument and frightened many people in the area and struck others dumb: it is doubtful whether its like will ever be there again.  Since folks thought that it was unlucky; the gentleman had a difficult task collecting the folklore tales from them.


    For that reason, he did not attempt to collect the folklore of our ancients and our ancestors except under cover of darkness when both he and the instrument were hidden in the end of a cabin and both of them listening intently.  It was evident that he was a wealthy person because he spent much money on spirits every night to remove the shyness and disablement from the old people's tongues.  He had that reputation throughout the countryside and whenever it became known that he was visiting in Jimmy's or Jimmy Tim Pat's 6 house, every old fellow who lived within a radius of five miles hastened there to seek tongue-loosening from this fiery liquid medicine: it must be mentioned that many of the youths accompanied them.


    On the night of which we speak, the gentleman was in the house of Maximilian O'Penisa quietly resting in the darkness and with the hearing-machine by him.  There were at least a hundred old fellows gathered in around him, sitting, dumb and invisible, in the shadow of the walls and passing around the gentleman's bottles of spirits from one to the other. Sometimes a little spell  of weak whispering was audible but generally no sound except the roar of the water falling outside from the gloomy skies, just as if those on high were emptying buckets of that vile wetness on the world.  If the spirits loosened the men's tongues, it did not result in talk but rather in rolling and tasting on their lips the bright drops of spirits.  Time went by in that manner and it was rather late in the night.  As a result of both the heavy silence inside and the hum of the rain outside, the gentleman was becoming a little disheartened.  He had not collected one of the gems of our ancients that night and had lost spirits to the value of five pounds without result.


    Suddenly he noticed a commotion at the doorway.  Then, by the weak light of the fire, he saw the door being pushed in (it was never equipped with a bolt) and in came a poor old man, drenched and wet, drunk to the full of his skin and creeping instead of walking upright because of the drunkenness.  The creature was lost without delay in the darkness of the house but wherever he lay on the floor, the gentleman's heart leaped when he heard a great flow of talk issuing from that place.  It really was rapid, complicated, stern speech-- one might have thought that the old fellow was swearing drunkenly-- but the gentleman did not tarry to understand it.  He leaped up and set the machine near the one who was spewing out Gaelic.  It appeared that the gentleman thought the Gaelic extremely difficult and he was overjoyed that the machine was absorbing it; he understood that good Gaelic was difficult but that the best Gaelic of all is well-nigh unintelligible.  After about an hour the stream of talk ceased.  The gentleman was pleased with the night's business. As a token of his gratitude he put a white pipe, a jot of tobacco and a little bottle of spirits in the old fellow's pocket who was now in an inebriated slumber where he had fallen.  Then the gentleman departed homewards in the rain with the machine, leaving them his blessing quietly but no one responded to it because drunkenness had come in a flood-tide now through the skull of everyone of them who was present.


    It was said later in the area that the gentleman was highly praised for the lore which he had stored away in the hearing-machine that night.  He journeyed to Berlin, a city of Germany in Europe, and narrated all that the machine had heard in the presence of the most learned ones of the Continent.  These learned ones said that they never heard any fragment of Gaelic which was so good, so poetic and so obscure as it and that were sure there was no fear for Gaelic while the like was audible in Ireland.  They bestowed fondly a fine academic degree on the gentleman and something more interesting still, they appointed a small committee of their own members to make a detailed study of the language of the machine to determine whether any sense might be made of it.


    I do not know whether it was Gaelic or English or a strange irregular dialect which was in the old speech which the gentleman collected from among us here in Corkadoragha but it is certain that whatever word was uttered that night came from our rambling pig.





    1. Grey-wool breeches: In Gaelic 'bristi de ghlas na gcaorach", this phrase occurs in books written by writers such as M/aire.  The wool is undyed. The Gaelic writers generally refer only to the breeches as if the child wore nothing else!


    2. Bonaparte….:In Gaelic this occurs as "Bonap/airt Micha/alangal/o Pheadair Eoghain Shorcha Thom/ais Mh/aire Shedin Sh/eamais Dhiamada…" This is more euphonious than the translation but Gaelic here has the advantage because of the possibility of using genitive cases for each word after the first one.


    3. Jams O' Donnell: In M/aire's novel, Mo Dh/a R/oisin, the author speaks of a pupil hearing himself called by his official name James Gallagher on his first schoolday.  He had never heard it before! Myles seems to use the name as a generic term for the Gaeltacht man as seen by those outside his boggy rainy ghetto.


    4. sor: In D. this spelling appears for sir.  The Gaelic pun is untranslatable- sor means louse in English!


    5. gramophone: In D. the word is gramof/on and in early editions gramaf/on which contains a footnote (omitted in D.) which states: f/onagram.


    6. Jimmy Tim Pat: This, of course should be Jimmy, son of Tim, son of Pat but it is left as in Gaelic because this form of nomenclature is quite common in parts of the Limerick Cork and Kerry countryside still.  It is limited, however, to three names unlike the jocular ancestral invocation referred to in note 2 above.

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    Novels, At Swim-Two-Birds (London: Longmans, Green & Co.; reiss. London: MacGibbon & Kee 1960; rep. Penguin, 1967, 1977, 1986 &c.), French trans. as Kermesse irlandaise (Paris: Gallimard 1964); An Béal Bocht (Dublin: An Press Naisiúnta 1941; Dolmen Press 1964), and Do., translated by Patrick Power as The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life (London: Hart-Davis 1964, MacGibbon & Kee 1973), ill. Seán O’Sullivan; Faustus Kelly: A Play in Three Acts (Dublin: Cahill 1943); The Hard Life: An Exegesis of Squalor (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1961), 159pp., dw ill. Seán O’Sullivan; Four Square Books 1964; Picador 1976; Flamingo 1994, &c.), trans. in French as Une vie de chien (Paris: Gallimard 1972); The Dalkey Archive (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1964); The Third Policeman (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1967), and Do., rep. edn. (Harmondsworth Penguin 1986) [with copy of O’Brien’s letter to William Saroyan, 14 Feb. 1940], and Do., rep. edn. (London: HarperCollins 1993); Kevin O’Nolan, ed., The Best of Myles: A Selection from ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1968; Grafton 1987; Paladin 1990); Stories and Plays, intro. by Claud Clockburn (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon 1973); Anne Clissmann and David Powell, eds., ‘A Flann O’Brien-Myles na Gopaleen Portfolio’, in Journal of Irish Literature III, 1 (Delaware: Jan. 1974); Kevin O’Nolan, ed., Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn’ (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon 1976); The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman,[and] The Brother, ed. and intro. Benedict Kiely (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon 1976); The Hair of the Dogma: A Further Selection from ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ (Hart-Davis &c 1977); Stephen Jones, ed., A Flann O’Brien Reader (NY: Viking 1978); Martin Green, ed, Myles Away from Dublin (Granada 1985). 

    Dramatic Works, Robert Tracy, ed., Rhapsody in Stephen’s Green: The Insect Play (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1994), 88pp. [one act prev. held at Illinois Univ.; whole text rediscovered in Hilton Edward’s prompt copy of 1943]. 

    Reprints & Collections, At Swim-Two-Bird (London: Jonathan Cape 1939; reiss. MacGibbon & Kee 1960; Penguin 1991); The Hard Life (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1961; Paladin 1992), and Do. (Scribner/Townhouse 2003), 170pp.; The Dalkey Archive (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1964; Paladin 1990); The Third Policeman (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1967; Paladin 1993); The Best of Myles (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1968; Paladin 1993); An Béal Bocht [1941] (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1964), translated by Patrick Power as The Poor Mouth (London: Hart-Davis; MacGibbon & Kee 1973; Paladin 1993); Stories and Plays (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon 1973; Paladin 1991); Hair of the Dogma, ed. Kevin O’Nolan (London: Grafton 1989; Paladin 1993); John Wyse Jackson, ed., Flann O’Brien at War: Myles na gCopaleen 1940-1945 (Duckworth 2000), 191pp.; The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman [and] The Brother (Dublin & NY: Scribner/Townhouse 2003), 188pp.

    Miscellaneous, three documentary articles for The Bell in 1940 [dog-tracks dancehalls, and pubs]; autobiographical notice, in Twentieth Century Authors (1934); ‘De Me’, an autobiographical piece, appeared in New Ireland [QUB student mag.] (March 1964); ‘Can a Saint Hit Back’, in The Guardian (19 Jan. 1966) [autobiographical and based on idea attributable to St Augustine]; Myles na Gopaleen writing on a Rouault painting in The Irish Times (1942; rep. in Fintan Cullen, Ed., Sources in Irish Art: A Reade, Cork UP 2000); ‘Editorial Note’, in Envoy: An Irish Review of Literature and Art [“James Joyce” Issue], 5, 7 (April 1951), pp.6-11 [rep. [with variations, as infra] as ‘A Bash in the Tunnel’ in John Ryan, ed., A Bash in the Tunnel: James Joyce by the Irish (Brighton: Clifton Books 1970), pp.15-20.] Note also: As Myles Na gCopaleen, ed., [sole] anthology of Irish Times “Cruiskeen Lawn” column (1943).

    Contributions to Comhtrom Féinne [later The National Student, UCD] (May 1931-May 1935) [sel. in Myles before Myles, 1985]; Blather, Dublin [anon. and var. pseuds.] (August 1934-January 1935) [sel. in Myles before Myles, 1985]; ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ by Myles na gCopaleen/Gopaleen, The Irish Times (4 October 1940-1 April 1966); ‘Drink and Time in Dublin’ by Myles na gCopaleen, article, Irish Writing, 1 (1946) [rep. in Vivian Mercier and David H. Greene, 1000 Years of Irish Prose (NY: Devin-Adair 1952); Kavanagh’s Weekly, Dublin [as Myles na gCopaleen] (April 1952-14 June 1952) [rep. in Kavanagh’s Weekly, Kildare: Goldsmith Press 1981]; ‘A Weekly Look Around’ by John James Doe, Southern Star, Skibbereen (15 Jan. 1955-3 Nov. 1956); ‘Bones of Contention’/’George Knowall’s Peepshow’ by George Knowall The Nationalist and Leinster Times, Carlow (1960-1966) [sel. in 15 Myles Away from Dublin]; ‘De Me’ New Ireland (QUB New Ireland Soc., March 1964) [as Myles na Gopaleen]; ‘The Saint and 1’, Manchester Guardian, 19 Jan. 1966) [as Flann O’Brien]. 

    Contributions & reviews, ‘After Hours’, and review of Frank O’Connor, Book of Ireland [rep. edn.], Threshold, 21 (1967); also contribs. to Ireland Today (1938); Comthrom Féinne (Summer 1931-May 1935), incl. Brother Barnabas, ‘scenes from a novel’ (May 1934), rep. Journal of Irish Literature, III, 1 (Jan. 1974); Blather, Nov. 1934, rep. Journal of Irish Literature 1974; The Harp, 1960-65; Envoy, III, 12 (Nov. 1950), on ‘Baudelaire and Kavanagh’; The Irish Times; Nonplus (1959); New Ireland (1964); Irish Writing, 20-21 (Nov. 1952), ‘Donabate’, rep. Journal of Irish Literature (Jan. 1974); Kavanagh’s Weekly, I, 3 (26 April 1952), ‘I Don't You’; also 'Letter to the Editor', Kavanagh's Weekly, 1, 10 (14 June 1952), and ‘Motor Economics’, 1, 7 (24 March 1952); Irish Housewife’s Annual (1963/64); Hibernia (Sept. 1960); Irish Writing, 10 (Jan. 1950), review of L. A. G. Strong, The Sacred River; Irish Writing, 11 (May 1950), review of Patrick Campbell, ‘A Long Drink of Cold Water’ [?source]; ‘The New Phoenix’, Kavanagh’s Weekly, 1, 4 (3 May 1952); extract from The Poor Mouth, in Fiction, III, 1 (1974); journalism in Evening Mail (Oct. 1961); ‘Three Poems from the Irish’, Lace Curtain, 4 (Summer 1971); ‘Two in One’, The Bell XIX, 8 (July 1954), 30-34; rep. Journal of Irish Literature, III, 1 (Jan. 1974); as John James Doe, ‘A Weekly Look Around’, Southern Star [Skibbereen] (15 Jan. 1955-27 Oct. 1965); as George Knowall, ‘George Knowall’s Peepshow, in Nationalist and Leinster Times [Carlow] early/mid 1960); also Manchester Guardian, ‘The Cud of Memory,’ (1965); trans. Brinsley MacNamara, play, Margaret Gillan [as Mairead Gillan] (Dublin 1953); 

    Manuscripts & Criticism: The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds two boxes of the papers of Flann O’Brien. Details: Purchase and gift, 1965, 1970, and 1989 (R2707, R4815, and G8215); Open for research; processed by Bob Taylor, 1997; RLIN Record ID: TXRC97-A18. 

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    Myles na Gopaleen

     Flann O'Brien was the best known pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan (1911-1966), who also published under the name Myles na gCopaleen. He was a twentieth century Irish humorous writer. 

    Under the name Flann O'Brien, he published a series of novels that have attracted a wide following for their bizarre humour and Modernist metafiction. At Swim-Two-Birds works entirely with recycled characters from other fiction (and legend), on the grounds that there are already far too many fictional characters in circulation, while The Third Policeman has a superficial plot about an Irish country youth's vision of hell, played against a satire of academic debate on an eccentric philosopher, and finds time to introduce the atomic theory of the bicycle. The philosopher in question, De Selby, is based on Giambattista Vico, who had been a fascination of James Joyce's, and the importance of the bicycle recalls Samuel Beckett. The Dalkey Archive features a character who encounters a penitent, elderly James Joyce (who never wrote any of his books) working as a busboy in the resort of Dalkey and a scientist looking to suck all of the air out of the world. Other books by Flann O'Brien include The Hard Life (a fictional autobiography meant to be his "misterpiece"), and The Poor Mouth (originally written in Irish as An B�al Bocht). 

    As a novelist, O'Nolan was powerfully influenced by James Joyce. Indeed, he was at pains to attend the same college as Joyce, and Joyce biographer Richard Ellman has established that O'Nolan, fully in keeping with his literary temperament, used a forged interview with John Joyce as part of his application. 

    As Myles na gCopaleen, O'Nolan published a regular column entitled "The Cruiskeen Lawn" in the Irish Times, usually in English, but sometimes in Irish, and sometimes in Latin. The columns introduce a regular set of characters, such as the "PLAIN PEOPLE OF IRELAND," "the Brother," and "the Da," include a "catechism of cliche," and propose numerous schemes for the improvement of the Irish nation. These pieces have been collected into a number of books with titles such as The Best of Myles and Cuttings from the Cruiskeen Lawn (an example of bilingual humour, which O'Nolan often used, is both in the pen name, which means "Myles of the little ponies," and in the pun of a small bird, the Curiskeen Lawn). O'Nolan had been one of the first proponents of the study of Irish, and yet as a newspaper columnist he consistently satirized Irish nationalists for their zeal. Some of the characters introduced in the "Cruiskeen Lawn" column (in particular The Brother) are explained in The Hard Life

    Flann O'Brien's writing is sufficiently creative that he counts as a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature. Like others whose primary output was periodical, his work has only recently been receiving wide attention from literary scholars.

    and another...

    All in all, as far as the circumstances of publication and reception are concerned—and let nobody who has not had to struggle with them sneer at their importance—[Brian O’Nolan aka Flann O’Brien aka Myles na Gopaleen’s] was not a happy literary history. Yet, through all poor Flann O’Brien’s tribulations, Myles na Gopaleen continued to be one of the most celebrated of Dubliners and his column, unfailingly brilliant and brilliantly adjusted to its Dublin audience, continued to appear daily. 

    That Myles had an abundance of comic material at his disposal is evident; and yet after the early starts and false starts, he largely failed to get his Dublin into books; so that there is certainly truth in the remark [Patrick] Kavanaugh made one day to the effect that ‘poor Myles’—his usual locution—‘has utterly failed to find a myth that would carry all that stuff in his column, that would lift it into art.’ It was a question of finding a fictive or imaginative structure, and perhaps, after all, the nihilistic structure of At Swim-Two-Birds had been too brilliant.

    The column gave pleasure to a great many people and occasionally perhaps authentic delight to a few, but it must have been a terrible burden, and as ruinous in the long run as the drink. The penalty of journalism, and kindred activities, is that it gives its author a certain amount of warranted creative satisfaction. Having done a nice, neat, expert job with a good joke or two in it, you are inclined to turn on your heel and walk away feeling pleased with yourself, and of course entitled to leave it at that for the rest of the day. I am not speaking contemptuously of journalism now; indeed a writer who has practised it hardly ever does. He enjoys it in fact perhaps too much, and he can hardly ever bring himself to do a sloppy job, knowing too well that those who inure themselves to doing sloppy jobs sooner or later become incapable of doing anything else, in any medium.

    ~from the excellent Dead As Doornails, by Anthony Cronin

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    Reading Flann Brian O'Brien O'Nolan

    Gilbert Sorrentino

    Flann O'Brien is one of the half-dozen or so greatest comic writers in the English language of this or any other century, the equal of such geniuses of comedy as Sterne, Joyce, Beckett, Waugh, and Firbank. His mastery of comedic prose, its nuances, tropes, and subversions, is of such high degree that the merest gesture of his stylistic hand can turn a sentence or phrase from its course as sober conveyor of information to sabotager and ridiculer of that same information. Done the right way (and O'Brien invariably does it the right way), such writing can virtually collapse referential material and transform it into brilliant constellations of devastating hilarity. Little can stand before comedy of such purity, comedy so intensely focused and authorative that it rises above ideology, factionalism, religion, and the bloated niceties of propaganda and "right thinking." Inventors, or if you please, marshals of such anarchic laughter are dangerous people indeed, informed, as they are, by love, hatred, and, above all, perhaps, a salutary shame for the human species and its ridiculous pettinesses and pretensions. 
    I think that O'Brien was fearful of or apprehensive about these extraordinary comic gifts, even as he permitted them to flourish, and flourish most notably, in his two greatest books, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman. It's impossible to know or even to guess at whether this fear was caused by the classically Irish, macabre nature of the works themselves (both novels are cruel at their core, and many of their most deliciously risible scenes, conversations, and set pieces are rooted in pain, anguish, ignominy, humiliation, and death); or whether his very being as a comic artist was one he could not or would not change, lest such change damage his lavishly inventive psychology. Put simply, if, perhaps, reductively: Did he fear his books or did he fear the talent that created them? Whatever the case, he, arguably, attempted to protect himself, to shield himself from his own work, at once to own and disown it. At Swim-Two-Birds brusquely avoids its eerie logical conclusion--the assault upon and possible erasure of its primary creator, the writer himself--and The Third Policeman was, remarkably, repressed by its author during his lifetime (behind the preposterous, trumped-up story of the supposed loss of the supposed single copy of the manuscript), appearing soon after he was safely dead. The Dalkey Archive, a "re-vision" of The Third Policeman, and published during O'Brien's lifetime, has, not facetiously, in my view, a dedication to "my Guardian Angel, impressing upon him that I'm only fooling and warning him to see to it that there is no misunderstanding when I go home." I see this novel as a non-sinister apologia for the unearthly terrors of The Third Policeman, as well as a barrier between the latter and O'Brien; and the charge to his Guardian Angel has to do with the suppressed text, for which The Dalkey Archive was but a surrogate. 

    O'Brien believed that fiction is not far removed from life, that it is, in a sense, another kind of life, separate from the mundane by the thinnest of walls. He would have been, I suspect, highly amused, in his slashing, merciless way, at the claims to truth made by solemn, didactic, and "transgressive" memoirists. I don't mean, it should go without saying, that he harbored the innocent notion that will have the page famously mirroring the world, and that the more precisely representative the mirrored image, the closer we are to life. Joyce, with his precise detonations and subversions of specific locations, mores, events, and speech, with his straightforward retailing of the Facts--his realism, that is, that pulls its house down around itself--taught O'Brien (and everybody else who was paying attention) that such a notion was no more than a literary shibboleth. O'Brien's sense of the presence of the porous wall between what is here and what the writer makes to add to it was sophisticated and not a little spooky.

    It would seem that in O'Brien's world, that which occurs within the confines of a book can "bleed" out of the book's pages and perform, in three dimensions, here in the actual space of the material world. It is as if the myriad signs of the book exist not only as the markers that can never represent or approximate the actual, but that can also--in a moment of authorial carelessness or even exuberance--escape from the book, shed their lives as signs, and become substantial, become, that is, the things that they had only pointed at. And when, as in At Swim-Two-Birds, the characters of the book are writers, storytellers, fabulists, bullshit artists of every stripe--linguistic magicians of one sort or another--their power to influence reality becomes enormous. And this, as I've suggested, frightened O'Brien in the odd, superstitious way that writers are often frightened by their work. It may be that literature is the last profession for which training does not equip its practitioners to understand its power over them: hence writers' reliance on hunches, talismans, coincidences, luck. It wasn't merely Brian O'Nolan's frivolity or eccentricity that effected his concealment of himself behind such names as Flann O'Brien, Myles na Gopaleen, George Knowall, and, even as a student, Brother Barnabas. "I didn't write this stuff!" one might imagine O'Nolan saying (to his Guardian Angel). And, in a certain odd but profound way, O'Nolan never wrote anything.

    As I've noted, the ending of At Swim-Two-Birds is sudden and unexpected, although I can't for a moment imagine what a "satisfactory" ending might look like. The mysterious and beautiful virtuoso prose of the last three pages comprise, I would argue, a coda that is outside of the novel's narrative of web-like and multi-planed concerns. That book ends with the destroying fire which brings to a close the various existences of the invented writers who might well have succeeded, such was their power, in calling into question the very fact of O'Nolan's existence; or, perhaps more potently, written him off as a creator.

    In At Swim-Two-Birds, we are proffered, then, a dizzying proposition: any fictitious character can be made into a writer, who, in turn, can create his own fictitious characters who are writers, and so on. And there is nothing to prevent--so the machinery of the novel posits--one of these characters from hitting on the idea of writing the ultimate creator of the book (O'Nolan/O'Brien) into another fictitious character, distorting the work beyond recognition. That the "prime mover" of the text might do this himself and to himself is of little moment: writers, as a regular practice, use their work to comfort, soothe, excite, entertain, amuse, and flay themselves. There is, indeed, a cure for such possible distortion of the text--its destruction. Get rid of the book and the writer cannot be at its mercy.

    O'Brien didn't destroy his book, but he made certain that the novel's major writer, the lazy and sullen student of literary bent who creates Dermot Trellis (a nicely exaggerated surrogate for the student, and himself a sullen writer), is left without the book that we have been reading. It is suddenly burned in a stove by Trellis's servant. It's very much to the point that this fiery destruction of the text occurs--if you will bear with me for a brief excursion into vertigo--not within the frame text created by O'Brien, but within the frame text created by O'Brien's student writer; and that the servant who does the burning is Trellis's servant, Trellis being, as the reader, of course, knows, the writer who has created characters who exist in yet another frame also inhabited by Orlick Trellis, Dermot's son, who has been born out of wedlock as a fully grown, wholly developed, adult writer who hates his father.

    O'Brien, shielded from the dangers of his own fiction by a pen name, strengthens that shield by placing even the obliteration of his narrative at two further removes from himself, viz., Dermot/the student/O'Brien/O'Nolan. The burning of the text, that is, occurs within a fiction that O'Brien's fictitious writer has created; and O'Brien is himself a fiction created by O'Nolan.

    This is a magical book, a book of great risk and danger, and O'Brien would never attempt anything like it again, since, I believe, the "solution" to such a book must have been, for him, always the same: to get rid of the thing before it could get rid of him. The Third Policeman presents a circular hell filled with demons and the dead, a hell of terrible adventures and stygian comedy. But it has a single narrator and the terrors of the novel are rigidly contained in its circular form: there is no vertical movement apparent in the text, and the magnificently loony footnotes are encrustations, not new levels, of story.

    Hugh Kenner says that O'Brien was "somehow scared" of this latter novel, suggesting that this may have been so because of the fact that there is no Satan in O'Brien's hell, this absence calling the existence of God into question. The implication here is that the book frightened O'Brien because of its odor of blasphemy, if not heresy. This may well have been so, but I can't quite agree with Kenner, who calls At Swim-Two-Birds "a preternaturally gifted student's jape," and praises The Third Policeman at its expense. I think that such fears that O'Brien may have felt because of the possible religious transgressions of his book of the damned were, indeed, religious fears. It can be argued, and I would argue it, that the phony disappearance of the text was its author's penance for its impieties, real or suspected. O'Brien distanced it from himself by refusing to allow it existence. But At Swim-Two-Birds is distanced from its author by a radical act of formal literary violence.

    Basically, The Third Policeman was a book that was "possible" for O'Brien to write, despite its flirtation with Manichaeism; while At Swim-Two-Birds was the book that was "no longer wonderful but terrible," as the dead hero of The Third Policeman says of the demon policeman, MacCruiskeen's, creation of intricately fashioned chests, one of which is said to be smaller than a bigger chest which is itself too small to be described. The hero says, "I shut my eyes and prayed that he would stop while still doing things that were at least possible for a man to do." 
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    The First Bloomsday

    L to R: John Ryan, Anthony Cronin, Myles na Gopaleen, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Joyce

    The day was 16 June, 1954, and though it was only mid-morning, Brian O'Nolan was already drunk.

    This day was the fiftieth anniversary of Mr. Leopold Bloom's wanderings through Dublin, which James Joyce had immortalized in Ulysses .

    To mark this occasion a small group of Dublin literati had gathered at the Sandycove home of Michael Scott, a well-known architect, just below the Martello tower in which the opening scene of Joyce's novel is set. They planned to travel round the city through the day, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce had called Nighttown.

    Sadly, no-one expected O'Nolan to be sober. By reputation, if not by sight, everyone in Dublin knew Brian O'Nolan, otherwise Myles na Gopaleen, the writer of the Cruiskeen Lawn column in the Irish Times. A few knew that under the name of Flann O'Brien, he had written in his youth a now nearly forgotten novel, At Swim-Two-Birds and was yet to write The Dalkey Archive, in which the protagonist meets the aging James Joyce working as a barman in a pub in Skerries, north of Dublin.. 

    The rest of the party, that first Bloomsday, was made up of the poet Patrick Kavanagh, the young critic Anthony Cronin, a dentist named Tom Joyce, who as Joyce's cousin represented the family interest, and John Ryan, the painter and businessman who owned and edited the literary magazine Envoy

    Ryan had engaged two horse drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned kind, which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to poor Paddy Dignam's funeral. The party were assigned roles from the novel. Cronin stood in for Stephen Dedalus, O'Nolan for his father Simon Dedalus, John Ryan for the journalist Martin Cunningham, and A.J. Leventhal, the Registrar of Trinity College, being Jewish, was recruited to fill (unknown to himself according to Tom Ryan) the role of Leopold Bloom.

    Kavanagh and O'Nolan began the day by deciding they must climb up to the Martello tower itself, which stood on a granite shoulder behind the house.As Cronin recalls, Kavanagh hoisted himself up the steep slope above O'Nolan, who snarled in anger and laid hold of his ankle. Kavanagh roared, and lashed out with his foot. Fearful that O'Nolan would be kicked in the face by the poet's enormous farmer's boot, the others hastened to rescue and restrain the rivals.

    With some difficulty O'Nolan was stuffed into one of the cabs by Cronin and the others. Then they were off, along the seafront of Dublin Bay, and into the city.

    In pubs along the way an enormous amount of alcohol was consumed, so much so that on Sandymount Strand they had to relieve themselves as Stephen Dedalus does in Ulysses. Tom Joyce and Cronin sang the sentimental songs of Tom Moore which Joyce had loved, such as Silent O Moyle. They stopped in Irishtown to listen to the running of the Ascot Gold Cup on a radio in a betting shop, but eventually they arrived in Duke Street in the city centre, and the Bailey, which John Ryan then ran as a literary pub.

    They went no further. Once there another drink seemed more attractive than a long tour of Joycean slums, and the siren call of the long vanished pleasures of Nighttown.

    From Flann O'Brien, An Illustrated Biography -- Peter Costello and Peter Van Der Kamp

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    THIS IS A SMALL, shy and simple article. It can be written only within the week or so in which a number of courageous men made off with about 200 rifles and a lesser amount of other lethal gear.

    Every man concerned could have been shot dead. Why did they risk so much for so little?


    THIS SHEER impulse to rebel, without regard to reason or results, is likely to be commemorated on this day. It is June 16th--and James Joyce wrote half a million words about what happened in Dublin on June 16th, 1904. The book is called "Ulysses" and is really the record of what happened to a bona-fide traveller of that day,






    with, impaled in the text, an enormity of "philosophical material."

    In this task Joyce did not go into someone's workshop and choose the tools he needed: he took the whole lot. Thus does one find side by side monasticism and brothelism. St Augustine himself perceived and recorded the "polarity" of virtue and vice, how one is integrally part of the other, and cannot exist without it. But not until James Joyce came along has anybody so considerably evoked depravity to establish the unextinguishable goodness of what is good. 


    I DO NOT WISH to provoke still another world war by invading America's monopoly of comment on the value of Joyce's work. People who insist that there is a junction of Cuffe street and Grafton street are clearly persons with whom not to argue. But I think I will risk a few remarks about Joyce, on the understanding that criticism without censure is intended.

    Joyce was in no way what he is internationally claimed to be--a Dubliner. In fact there has been no more spectacular non-Dubliner. Not once did he tire of saying that he was never at home. This absence may have been a necessity of his literary method, but it has often occurred to my irreverent self 

    that maybe he hadn't the fare. Joyce was a bad writer. He was too skilled in some departments of writing, and could not resist the tour de force. Parts of "Ulysses" are of unreadable boredom. One thinks of a violinist corrupting with "cadenza" a work wherein the composing master had in the text practised masterly abstention from fireworks. Beethoven had a big row with the violinist Kreutzer on this very point.

    Joyce was illiterate. He had a fabulously developed jackdaw talent of picking up bits and pieces, but it seems his net was too wide to justify getting a few kids' schoolbooks and learning the rudiments of a new language correctly. every foreign-language quotation in any of his works known to me are wrong. His few sallies at Greek are wrong, and his few attempts at a Gaelic phrase are absolutely monstrous. anybody could have told him the right thing. Why did he not bother to ask?


    THAT LAST QUESTION evokes a complementary question, of which there is no mention on the horizonless bog of American exegesis. Was the man a leg-puller? Was "Finnegans Wake" the ultimate fantasy in cod? Did he seek to evolve for himself, chiefly by talking in strict confidence to stooges, mostly American, a mythical personality? Did...(pardon me while I swallow this yellow capsule)...did...James Joyce ever exist?


    It seems he did, and that he done what he done. There is something intimidatingly authentic about print. My own first contact with the man in a literary collision was a quotation fired at me. This: "I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."

    Many a time had I read that piece with admiration. In recent years I have asked a few wise men what the words mean. They mean nothing.

    But are they intended to mean nothing, in the sense of meaning something exact? Or are they intended to suggest an imponderable theme for reflection, as night--day--life-- death--are used in various patterns in "Finnegans Wake?" 


    JOYCE'S MAIN WORK, "Ulysses," is "not banned" in Ireland, which means simply that any person asking for it in a bookshop would probably be lynched. Parts of it are pornographic, though the motive seems to have been of the best; Bernard Shaw acknowledged the purity of Joyce's mind, and his skill and courage in presenting a portrait of fin de siècle brutality and horrors are evident in a letter which Miss Patricia Hutchens quotes in her interesting book, "James Joyce's Dublin." I ask--though no Bowdler I--is it not a great pity that an expurgated edition of "Ulysses" is not published, virginibus puerisque ?

    It would surely establish the utterly ignored fact that Joyce was among the most comic writers who have ever lived. Every time I get influenza I read about The Citizen and his Dog; penicillin has nothing on them.


    IT IS NOT EASY to close up satisfactorily this unpremeditated note. A number of ideas come to the surface.

    Here is one. would it appear blanshardish for a committee of Dublin citizens, in Mansion House assembled, to petition the Holy Father to do what a distinguished predecessor did, and suppress the Jesuit Order,and turn Clongowes Wood College into something else?

    Who can be answerable for James Joyce if it not be the Jesuits? 

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    From The Dalkey Archive

    Flann O'Brien --1964

    --Mr Joyce, how did you live in all those years?

    --Teaching languages, mostly English, and giving grinds. I used to hang around the Sorbonne. Meals were easy enough to scrounge there, anyway.

    --Did the Catholic Truth Society pay you for those booklets you wrote?

    --Not at all, why should they?

    --Tell me more about Ulysses.

    -- I paid very little attention to it until one day I was given a piece from it about some woman in bed thinking the dirtiest thoughts that ever came into the human head. Pornography and filth and literary vomit, enough to make even a blackguard of a Dublin cabman blush. I blessed myself and put the thing in the fire.

    --Well was the complete Ulysses , do you think, ever published?

    --I certainly hope not.

    Mick paused for a few seconds and pressed the bell for service. What would he say? Frankness in return seemed called for.

    --Mr. Joyce, he said solemnly, I can tell that you have been out of touch with things for a long time. The book Ulysses was published in Paris in 1922, with your name on the title page. and it was considered a great book.

    --God forgive you. Are you fooling me? I am getting on in years. Remember that.

    Mick patted his sleeve, and signaled to the server to bring more drinks
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     Flan O' Brien 1962
    The Hard Life -On Guy Fawkes
    Chapter 10 
    "-Now listen her, Father. Listen carefully.  This is the first part of November. In the year 1605 in England, King James the First was persecuting the Catholics, throwing them into prison and plundering their property.  It was diabolical, worse than in Elizabeth's time.  The R.C.s were treated like dogs, and their priests like pigs.  It would  put you in mind of the Roman emperors, except that a thullabawn like Nero could at least boast that he was providing public entertainment.  Well, what happened? 
    - James was a very despicable monarch, Father Fahrt said slowly. 
    -I will tell you what happened.  A man named Robert Catesby thinks to himself that we've had as much of this sort of carry-on as we're going to take.  And he thought of the same plan as Mrs. Flaherty.  He planned to blow up the parliament house and annihilate the whole bloody lot of the bosthoons, his Majesty included.  I know the thanks you'd get if you told him to busy himself with elections and votes.  He'd slap your face and give you a knee in the belly. Remember, remember the Fifth of November. 
    -they lived in another age, of course, Father Fahrt answered. 
    -Right nad wrong don't change with the times and you know that very well, Father.  Catesby got Guy Fawkes on his side, a brave man that was fighting in Flanders.  And Grant and Keyes and the two Winters, any God's amount of sound men, Romans all.  Fawkes was the kingpin and the head bottle washer of the whole outfit.  He managed to get a ton and a half of gunpowder stuffed into a cellar under the House of Lords. But there were two other men lending a good hand all the time and saying Glod bless the work. I mean Greenway and Garnet. Know who they were, Father? 
    -I think I do. 
    -Of course you do. They were Jesuits. Hah? 
    -My dear man, Jesuits also can make mistakes. 
    They can err in judgment. They are human. 
    -Faith then they didn't err in judgment when Guy Fawkes was found out.  They scooted lik greased lightning and Father Greenway and  another priest managed to get to a healthier country.  Father Garnet was not so alive to himself.  He got caught and for his pains he got a length of hempen tope for himself, on the gallows high. 
    -A martyr for the Faith, of course, Father Fahrt said evenly. 
    -And Fawkes. They gave him tortures you wouldn't see outside hell itself to make him give the names of the others.  Be damn but he wouldn't. But when he hard that Catesby and a crowd of his segocias had been chased, caught and killed, he broke down and made some class of a confession. But do you know what? When this rigamore was put before him for signature, believe it or not but he couldn't sign it.  The torture had him banjaxed altogether.  His hands were all broken be the thumb screws.  Waht's your opinion of that? 
    -The torture Fawkes so heroically endured, Father Fahrt said, was admittedly appalling and terrifying, the worst torture that the head of man could think of.  It was called per gradus ad ima. He was very brave. 
    -I needen't tell you he and several others go the high jump.  But Lord save us, poor Fawkes couldn't climb up the ladder to the gallows, he was so badly bet and broken up in the torture.  He had to be carried up. And hewas hanged outside the building he tried to blow up for the greater glory of god. 
    -I suppose that's true enough, Father Fahrt said meekly. 
    -For the greater glory of God. How's this you put Latin on that? 
    -Ad majorem Dei gloriam.  It is our own Society's watchword. 
    -Quite right A.M.D.G. Many a time I've heard it.  But if blowing up councilors is band and sinful as you said, how do you account for two Jesuits maybe three, being guilty of that particular transaction, waging war on the civil power? Isn't Mrs. Flaherty in the same boat as Mr. Fawkes? 
    -I have pointed out, Collopy, that events and opinions vary drastically from one era to another.  People are influenced by quite different things in dissimilar ages.  It is difficult even impossible, for the people of today to assess the stresses and atmosphere of Fawke's day.  Cicero was a wise and honest man and yet he kept slaves.  The Greeks were the most sophisticated and civilized people of antiquity, but morally a great many of them were lepers.  With them sins of the flesh was a nefarious preoccupation.  But that does not invalidate the wisdom and beauty of things many of them left behind them.  Art, poetry, literature, architecture, philosophy and political systems, these were formulated and developed in the midst of debauchery. I have -ah ha- sometimes thought that a degraded social climate is essential to inspire great men to achievement in the arts. 
    Mr. Collopy put down his glass and spoke somewhat sternly, wagging a finger. 
    -Now look here, Father Fahrt, he said, I'm going to say something I've said in other ways before.  Bedamn but I don't know that I can trust you men at all. Ye are forever trimming and adjudicating yourselves to the new winds that do blow.  In case of doubt, send for a Jesuit.  For your one doubt he will give you twenty new ones and his talk is always full of "ifs" and "buts", rawmaish and pseudo-theology.  The world I have heard used for that sort of thing is casuistry. Isn't that right? Casuistry. 
    -there is such a word but it's not true in this case. 
    -Oh now, you can always trust a Jesuit to make mischief and complicate simple things........ 
    -Flan O' Brien, The Hard Life, An Exegesis of Squalor.,  Pantheon Books, New York,1962, pp 75-84. 

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