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A tribute to Liam O'Flaherty in honor of an August birthday
The idea of becoming a priest was abandoned in 1915 when he joined the Irish Guards and was sent to the trenches in France during World War I. In 1917, he was badly wounded by a German shell and hospitalized for shell shock, a condition that haunted him for many years and which was probably responsible for two nervous breakdowns.
Following his release from the hospital, he began a series of world adventures, traveling as a sailor to South America, Turkey and then to Canada. He held a variety of odd jobs, including deck-hand, beachcomber and lumberjack, and for a while, he was even a hobo. In 1920, he crossed illegally into the USA and joined the Communist Party.
He returned to Ireland in 1921 and formed a revolutionary socialist army which became involved in the Irish Civil War; however, Ireland was too Catholic and too conservative for such radical politics, even during a time of widespread, violent upheaval.
Liam was forced to flee and settled in London where he began writing short stories and novels. An early play in Irish failed and this persuaded him to produce the majority of his subsequent works in English. However, the richness of the Irish language had a major influence on his writing, which is notable for its realism and power of description.
He published his first novel, Thy Neighbour's Wife, in 1923. In 1926, he married Margaret Barrington; they had one child, a daughter they named Pegeen. Ever the wanderer, Liam led a nomadic existence, dividing his time between Ireland, England, Europe and North and South America. This is most likely why his marriage to Margaret failed and why they separated in 1932. In 1937, he met the woman who was to become his lifelong companion - Kitty Tailer. They moved to the USA and stayed for the duration of the Second World War before returning to Europe in 1946.
Up until the early 1950's, O'Flaherty was a prolific writer. He and Kitty continued to travel widely, then they ultimately settled in Dublin in 1952. However, he was finding it increasingly difficult to write. A collection of short stories in Irish, written over three decades, was published in Dúil (Desire) in 1953. From then on, all his publications were re-issues or new collections of earlier works.
Major works include: The Black Soul (1924); The Assassin (1928); Skerrett (1932) and Famine (1937), which is considered by many fans to be his best work. Ironically, it was a novel of far less worthiness that was to bring him world-wide fame.
The following is an excerpt from the preface of Liam O'Flaherty's Ireland, a book compiled by Peter Costello and published by Wolfhound Press to mark the centenary of Liam's birth. I love the eloquence of this description and I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did:
"He was a man with a divided nature; even the Gaelic language of his childhood village was not the language his father wanted in the home. Solitary, he tried for many years to gain a foothold in crowded Hollywood. An individualist to the core, spontaneous and restless, by inclination a wanderer, he espoused the fervent Communism so typical of those early twentieth-century writers who were filled with generosity and purity of heart; he was still reading Sartre and Le Drapeau Rouge in the last years of his life. Yet it was a cause that failed him, as it did so many other admirers of Lenin and Trotsky. In touch to his nerve ends with the tides and eddies of creation, he loathed with great bitterness all organised religion, yet spent years studying for the priesthood. In the end he died with the blessing of a priest, reconciled with God, if not with the institution he had so long rejected. OFlaherty was a strange, often contradictory man, unique among his contemporaries in Irish literature. In his writings we can see the beginnings of much that is now being done in both Gaelic and Irish literature. Though often neglected in the sweep of modern Anglo-American criticism, he was widely appreciated on the continent; and his own love of France and admiration for Russian literature suggest that he was more truly a European writer. "
Liam visited the Aran Isles for the last time in 1983. He died the following year on September 7th. He was 88 years old.
Founded in 545 AD by St Ciaran, Clonmacnoise monastery became between the 7th and 12th centuries a religious, literature and arts center for monks all over Europe. They came to study and pray in the Island of saints and scholars when the rest of Europe was still in the Dark Ages. Clonmacnoise was totally devastated by fire as well as successive raids but the site retains its stunning features. The view captured in this image has remained relatively unchanged for 1500 years. Clonmacnoise lay in decay until the Office of Public Works began the arduous task of turning this sacred place into one of Ireland's most famous visitors' centres. Interestingly - and we have yet to find out why - for centuries, courting couples have stood on each side of the arch whispering their words of love to each other.
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March 4, 2011
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