Flann O’Brien

It’s a beautiful sunny day here in rural Ireland. My wife and daughter are in Italy, as I mentioned to Cymbeline; my son and his girlfriend are still in bed. I have not yet had breakfast but have almost finished a pot of coffee.

There are various things I could be doing. I need to finish editing a paper on schizophrenia. I need to rebuild part of a dry-stone wall that has collapsed. I must walk the dogs at some point. Later I shall watch Munster v. Toulon and Saracens v. Leinster – the Heineken Cup, important stuff.

I had intended to post an extract from Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman, but the text does not appear to be available online, and typing it out laboriously does not appeal to me just now, although I have done this with extracts from other books, including Ernie O’Malley’s.

O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan) is virtually unknown overseas, it seems (although some of my English colleagues in London were devotees), but here he is regarded with affection and admiration as an alcoholic genius … I read all his books, which are of an uneven standard but generally madcap, dark, hilarious, 30 or so years ago. They are not fresh in my mind.

His daily Cruiskeen Lawn column (in the Irish Times, under the name Myles na Gopaleen) was legendary and is available in book form … dated and obscure in parts, still extremely funny in others. He had certain obsessions, notably the Irish language and state policy thereon; it seems that he also had an understanding editor and indulgent bosses in the civil service, who turned a blind eye to his imbibing and scribbling in a pub across the river when he should have been at work. Embittered, frustrated, disappointed, he was a merciless dissector of Irish foibles and hypocrisies, and a creature of 1950s literary Dublin along with Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and others.

I have just opened my copy of The Best of Myles at a random page and found an entry that, happily, I was able to locate and copy online. This is probably from the 1950s; it gives a flavour at least.

In New York’s swank Manhattan lives blond, smiling, plump James Keats, descendant of the famous poet John. No lover of poetry, James Keats is director of the million-dollar dairy combine Manhattan Cheeses and ranked Number Three in the Gallup quiz to find America’s Ten Ablest Executives. James lives quietly with slim dark attractive wife, Anna, knows all there is about cheeses, likes a joke like his distinguished forbear. Wife Anna likes to tell of the time he brought her to see the Louis-Baer fight.

‘He just sat there roaring “Camembert! Camembert!”’

If the joke doesn’t interest you, do you derive amusement from this funny way of writing English? It is very smart and up-to-date. It was invented by America’s slick glossy Time and copied by hacks in every land. For two pins I will write like that every day, in Irish as well as English. Because that sort of writing is taut, meaningful, hard, sinewy, compact, newsy, factual, muscular, meaty, smart, modern, brittle, chromium, bright, flexible, omnispectric.



Filed under Ireland, Literature

8 responses to “Flann O’Brien

  1. Rainer the cabbie

    It took a moment, but yes, very funny.
    But a bit cheesy I say.

    • Yes, cheesy. 🙂 O’Brien was working to deadlines and trying to fit his writing into his drinking routine … he would have amazed to think that these words would be read 50 years later, I would say.

  2. Cymbeline

    Isn’t somebody called Rush Limbaugh saddled with the same sort of joke?

  3. Well, my son and I enjoyed our afternoon’s rugby-watching … Munster and Leinster both won.

  4. Cymbeline

    In Alsace and Lorraine munster is eaten with caraway seeds. Excellent.

  5. Hello Brendan
    Glad to have found your blog and enjoyed reading your stuff.
    Can you tell me how to connect with Cymbeline. I have clicked on her name but her blog does not come up. We used to have some fun on the old My T.

    • Hello tigerbrite … welcome to my blog .. it’s great to see you. Are you still in Venice?

      Cymbeline doesn’t have a blog of her own. She comments on mine quite a lot, I’m glad to say, so she will probably see your comment and reply to it.

    • Cymbeline

      Hola Tigerbrite. I hope you are well and still enjoying the joys of Spain. As Brendano says, I do not have a blog of my own. He very kindly puts up with me here.

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