Liam O’Flaherty: Quotations

Longer Extracts*
*In RICORSO Library, “Irish Literary Classics”, infra.

[ “The Sniper” (1923), short story, in “Irish Literary Classics”, attached. ]

[ The Return of the Brute (1923), short story, in “Irish Literary Classics”, attached. ]

Quotations from the Works
“The Sniper” (1923)
The Informer (1924)
Mr. Gilhooley (1926)
Skerrett (1932)
The Martyr (1933)
Shame the Devil (1934)
Insurrection (1950)
I Went to Russia (1931)
Two Years (1930)
Letters to the Irish Statesman
Irish Statesman (18 Oct. 1924) Irish Statesman (17 Dec. 1927)
Remarks & Opinions
Irish women
Mother & father
Irish peasants
The Irish Race
Irish priests
Irish politicians
At the Rotunda
World War I
Ideal novel
Edward Garnett
“AE” Russell, et al.

Extracts & Quotations
The Sniper”, in The New Leader (13 Jan. 1923) - Opening: ‘The long June twilight faded into night. Dublin lay enveloped in darkness but for the dim light of the moon that shone through fleecy clouds, casting a pale light as of approaching dawn over the streets and the dark waters of the Liffey. Around the beleaguered Four Courts the heavy guns roared. Here and there through the city, machine guns and rifles broke the silence of the night, spasmodically, like dogs barking on lone farms. Republicans and Free Staters were waging civil war. / On a rooftop near O’Connell Bridge, a Republican sniper lay watching. Beside him lay his rifle and over his shoulders was slung a pair of field glasses. His face was the face of a student, thin and ascetic, but his eyes had the cold gleam of the fanatic. They were deep and thoughtful, the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death.’ [...; see full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, via index, or direct.)

The Informer (1924): ‘His brand of Communism is of the type that appeals most to the Irish nature. It is a mixture of Roman Catholicism, National Republicanism and Bolshevism. Its chief rallying cries are: “Loot and Murder”.’ (Ibid., p.76; quoted in Sheeran, op. cit. 1976, p.277.) ‘Slowly he began to remember recent events. Fact after fact came prowling into his brain. Soon the whole series of events stood piled there in a crazy heap. Everything rushed towards that heap with increasing rapidity, but nothing could be abstracted from it. It was just as if the facts were sinking in a puddle and disappearing. It was utterly impossible for him to reason out a plan of action. “I must make a plan”, he murmured aloud. In answer to this exhortation came a vision of Gallagher’s glittering eyes. They fascinated him. He forgot about a plan. A horde of things crashed together in his brain, making an infernal buzzing. He lost control of himself and ran about under the archway, striking out with his hands and feet madly, trying to fight the cargo of things that were jammed together in his brain. It was that insensate [276] rage that overcomes strong men at times, when thye have nothing upon which to vent their fury, no physical opposition.’ (The Informer, pp.245-46; Sheeran, pp.274-75.)

“The Red Petticoat” (story) to To-morrow (1924)
The story’s protagonist, Mary Deignan, uses her capacity to mimic a person possessed in order to to blackmail the shopkeeper Mrs. Murtagh - whose sexual affair with the bachelor tailor she knows about - a merchant into providing food for her family, a family which O'Flaherty describes as ‘extraordinary’, being ‘gifted by the good God who governs all things with the divine capacity for enjoying life’ (RP, 1 ). In this passages, she is preparing to unleash her power:

‘[Mrs. Deignan] let her shawl fall back from her shoulder and trail behind her. She had let her lean, wrinkled yellow-skinned hands go limp. She had allowed her face to go lax and loose and then gradually it began to curl and form convolutions like milk getting ready to boil in a saucepan on a slow fire. Gradually, her face gathered itself together, her throat became alive, her bosom gave signs that something devilish was forcing its way upwards from her middle and was finding great difficulty in reaching her throat. In fact, Mrs.Deignan looked as if she was going to give birth to something awful. She did. She began to talk. The first word came out with great difficulty, emerging from her wrinkled yellow lips in curves and spirals with the grinding sound of a knife being sharpened on a whetstone. Then her words began to gather speed until they came pounding out of her mouth, with the sweet sharp cadence of a rushing stream. “Hypocrite, robber, receiver of stolen goods,” she cried, “Oh woman that has denied God, virtue, charity, and all the good deeds of the holy ones ... you would stomp on another woman.” (RP, pp.4–5); quoted in Bernard McKenna, ’Yeats, “Leda”, and the Aesthetics of To-Morrow: “The Immortality of the Soul”’, in New Hibernia Review, 13, 2, Samhradh/Summer 2009, pp.16-35.

Note: McKenna aligns the story with Yeats’s true mask in the twenty-third phase of A Vision, with its ‘delight in all that breathes and moves’ inasmuch as Mary Deignan’s capacity to transform her material circumstances anticipates several elements of Yeats’s true mask, including parallels with religious conversion and the creative mind engendering “delight”.’

Mr. Gilhooley (1926; Wolfhound Edn. 1998) ‘Of these groups, there are many at the present time in Dublin. But they are rapidly disappearing. Their members are dying, reverting to former unsavoury pursuits or emigrating. But the members that remain retain a sort of romantic glamour, which seems always to attach itself to a mercenary soldier of fortune. / Years ago, during the Black-an’-Tan war, these men emerged from obscurity, suddenly, called up by the necessity which the community experienced of defending itself against the English invading mercenaries known as the Black-an’-Tans. The Irish community called up those amongst its citizens who resembled in character the monsters that had been let loose upon it. Coming from haunts and pursuits which breed lawlessness, fearlessness and vice, these men distinguished themselves in the performance of the one act for which they were useful, the act of killing Black-an’-Tans. They were, in fact, Irish Black-an’-Tans. / After the expulsion of the Black-an’-Tans, the community again used these men to make war on the Republican Volunteers. They put uniforms on [210] their backs, gave them military titles and publicly honoured them, while they were routingt the Republicans. Then, when the Republicans were routed, the mercenary gunmen were quietly dismissed. The community, again endeavouring to organise on the basis of its economy, found that it must rid itself of these uncouth barbarians, whom in a desperate moment it used as military heroes. / The gunmen made futile efforts to blackmail the community, but their lack of intelligence, so peculiar to mercenaries, prevented them from effecting anything. For a moment they seemed a menace, protected by the glamour that had lately attached itself to their heroic exploits. But soon their artificial powers dwindled away. They resorted to public-houses and carried on petty intrigues with various discontented politicians, attempting as a last resort to carry out coups d’etat. Shunned by the Republicans and feared by those who intrigued with them, they became mere braggarts and swashbucklers.’ (pp.210-11). Cf. ‘These fellows, the artificers of revolution, had become amazed at the extraordinary appearance of the tool they had fashioned. Cursing, they stepped away from it, after having attempted to destroy it.’ (p.195.) [Dram. personae.: Gilhooley, Nelly, Michael Friel, Macaward, Hanrahan, Cuthbertson, Matt Considine.]

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Skerrett (1932; 1993 facs. edn.) [of the married peasant lovers:] ‘Their fields and beasts were things personal and friendly to them and even the savage sea sometimes gave them joy by [24] delivering its riches; or a consciousness of sublime woe when it swallowed a life into its maw [...] The pure ecstasy of their young love ... made them holy in pure contact with the hard earth and sea; noble in their simplicity. And he [Skerrett] was sad, seeing himself cut off from such happiness. He ached at the thought of their beautiful young bodies locked in an embrace at night, loin to loin and chest to paps that already swelled with the milk of pregnancy, while he himself lay supine and silent beside one who was repulsive to him.’ (p.25.)

Skerrett (1932): ‘It must be remembered that this was the period when the whole of Ireland began to emerge from feudalism, as the result of the guerrilla war waged by the peasants against the landowners. Even in Nara, that remore and poor island, which had experienced no change for hundreds of years and where people still used tools and dwellings of prehistoric times, the will towards civilisation had been stirred into life. And the island had been fortunate in the possession of Father Moclair to direct that will. / He had come at the very height of the Land League agitation and had at once taken command of the people as a soldier and statesman as well as a priest. Roads, piers, lighthouses, fishing boats came in his trail rapidly and in Ardglas a native trading class came into being, together with a little group of petty officials, a rate-collector, a sanitary officer, a harbour master, all tending to give the people an idea of their new importance and dignity.’ (p.26.)

Skerrett (1932): ‘Among those who attempt to improve society there are always two groups; revolutionaries and reformers. The latter aim at leading the people towards the desired goal by reasoned and gradual progress. The former try to effect the change by violence, by sneering and an affectation of superiority, which is generally the token of defeated ambition or some abnormal passion, akin to insanity. Skerrett had begun as a reformer and he was now forced by Moclair’s cunning into the other group. And as there is only a thin dividing wall between a revolutionary and a reactionary, in face of general popular hostility ‘Skerrett soon became a complete crank, criticising every social activity and custom of the island.’ (p.143.)

Skerrett (1932): ‘The naked rock glistened in the sun. all was still and grey, [203] except for the brilliant gleams of mica in granite boulders scattered here and there. Somehow, he though these shining light among the rocks were the eyes of devils grinning at him. Suddenly, he thought that the earth was a living being, making fun of his defeat. All was so silent and [mysterious and] unapproachable. He thought how puny and weak was man, wandering haphazard on this cruel earth, pressing its face with his feet, burrowing in its bosom and then passing to his death, when the vain quests of his life have dissolved in horrid annihilation. And it was made manifest to him as he watched the glistening crust of sun-baked rock, beneath its dome of sky, that there was no God to reward the just or to punish the wicked, nothing beyond this unconquerable earth but the phantasies born of man’s fear and man’s vanity. And he began to laugh softly to himself.’ (pp.203-04; cont.)

Skerrett (1932): ‘For the first time his arrogant soul took wing into complete freedom and he decided that henceforth not even a belief in God would make him subservient to Moclair. He would kneel no more in confession to that demon. Rather than sink into the bosom of this grinning, unsympathetic earth, to which all beings were the same, the bones of the wicked as the bones of the just, than mount into a fantastic paradise on the passport of Moclair. / Furtively, he looked at the forbidding rocks and his eyes were comblre with the dark wisdom that had suddenly come to him; but his being was intoxicated by a strange force that was singing in the distance; singing in the future, when his mind should be accustomed to being a law unto itself.’ (p.204.)

Skerrett (1932): ‘Then, like an old man, timid and uncertain of movement, he walked back into his school and told the children to go home. [...] And then he heard a loud cry which filled him [204] with a strange terror, as he heard it in his imaginiation making howling circles in the air. And he understood this cry meant that death threatened him. / He raised his head, shrugged himself and cried out: / “I refuse. I’m not beaten yet. [...] “I’m sick”, he said, “talking to myself [...] Don’t send for a doctor,” he cried excitedly. “Send for Michael Ferris. Send for Kearney too. Let my friends gather round me.” Thene began to rave.’ (pp.204-05; end chap. (See further extracts in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, via index or direct.]

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The Martyr (1933): ‘We [Republicans] are a handful of the faithful, making a gesture of protest against the national betrayal. We can’t prove to the people that they’re wrong by killing a few of the enemy here and there. What we’re aiming at is a purification of the national soul, and in order to achieve that we must keep our own souls pure. That is the important thing. The soul cannot be purified by blood letting, but by martyrdom.’ (p.24; quoted in Sheeran, op. cit. 1976, p.251.)

The Martyr (1933) - of Kate McCarthy: ‘Now she suffered the greatest torture of a woman in love; fear that her lover had grown indifferent to her, attracted by a stronger passion; that he was caught up in some wild torrent of male passion into which no woman could enter and that her encircling arms, her tears, even her heart’s blood could not draw him back. Now she loathed bitterly these damned religions of patriotism and revolution that made men senseless of what was real in life, love and mating.’ (p.156; Sheeran, p.256.)

Shame the Devil (1934): ‘I detested the other students and the priests in charge, who were soon outraged by the violence of my opinions. After a few weeks, I danced on my soutane, kicked my silk hat to pieces, spat on my religious books, made a fig at the whole rigmarole of Christianity and left that crazy den of superstitious ignorance.’ (Shame the Devil, p.21; quoted in Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty, 1976, p.61.)

Shame the Devil (1934): ‘Recant? Crave forgiveness? Clip the wings of my fancies in order to win the favour of the mob? To have property and be esteemed? to attend banquets as a guest of honour? To kiss the Pope’s toe and win a title? Ho! Devil! Rather the whole of London shining in her jewels, than such an unwashed nun canting her sombre superstitions. Better to be devoured by darkness than to be hauled by dolts into an inferior light.’ (Ibid., p.20; Sheeran, op. cit., p.97.)

Shame the Devil (1934): ‘If a writer makes himself the idol of the mob by voicing the ambitions of the mob, then he is reduced to the common level of the mob’s intelligence. The mob will not allow him to rise above that level.’ (Ibid., p.216; Sheeran, op. cit., p.100.)

Shame the Devil (1934): ‘In Dublin [during 1924] I worked out the plan of The Informer, determined it should be a sort of high-brow detective story and its style based on the technique of the cinema. It should have all the appearances of a realistic novel and yet the material should have hardly any connection with real life. I would treat my readers as a mob orator treats his audience and toy with their emotions, making them finally pity a character whom they began by considering a monster. [...] The literary critics, almost to a man, hailed it as a brilliant piece of work and talked pompously about having at last been given the inside knowledge of the Irish revolution and the secret organisations that has brought it about. This amused me intensely, as whatever “facts” were used in the book were taken from happenings in a Saxon town, during the sporadic Communist insurrection of about nineteen twenty-two or three. My trick had succeeded and those who had paid little attention to my previous work, much of it vastly superior from the point of view of literature to The Informer, now hailed me as a writer of considerable importance.’ (Shame the Devil, 1934, pp.189-90; quoted in Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty, 1976, p.83; also in Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal: the Irish Revolution in Literature from Parnell to the Death of Yeats, 1891-1939, Gill & Macmillan 1977, pp.220-21.) Note: Sheeran discusses John Zneimer’s account of the matter in The Literary Vision of Liam O’Flaherty, pp.68-69.

Famine (1939; Wolfhound Press Edn. 1979 Edn.), Selection: ‘This rain ... will be the ruin of the Valley’ [6]; his rosary beads ... morning prayers [6-7]; Fowl ... pigs ... ‘... stinks’ [7]; ‘they pay the rent’ [Maggie; 8]; very fat, with pale, unhealthy cheeks [8]; a difficult matter [8]; blatant mask of the disease from which he suffered ... Christlike appearance [Michael; 11]; The murmur of the falling milk and the sweet smell that rose from its billowing white froth soon softened his temper [Brian; 13]; truly a beautiful woman ... her husband’s eyes followed her, drunk with unsatisfied love [Mary; 14]; buttermilk ... potatoes [15]; got a look quite savage at the sight of food [15-16]; unbearded parts of his face were as red as a berry except his forehead [Thomsy; 16]; ‘A custom is a custom ... Good or bad, its well to live up to it’ [Brian, 17; vide burial without wake ... sacrilege, 293]; spalpeen or migratory worker ... he surrendered his share of the land to Brian in return for his keep ... As invariably happens in these cases, he had become completely degenerate and was treated with contempt [Thomsy’s history; 18]; Like most people who suffer from his complaint, he was over sensitive and the rest of the household were afraid to make any remark, lest he might construe it as a reference to his illness [Michael; 19]; hardly any breasts, and a round, protruding stomach [Sally O’Hanlon; 20]; ‘the poor are like the birds’ [21]; the blight [21]; ‘There’s a smell from some gardens that would make a person sick’ [21]; ‘don’t make fun of disaster’ [22]; ‘Ugh!’ ... ‘Ga!’ [25]; a violent fit of coughing ... paroxysm [Michael; 26]; thin wisp of blood [27]; lay face downwards [Michael, 28]; Mary ... spinning ... Martin ... smiling rapturously [29]; ‘long time before my love can give you any rest’ [Martin to Mary; 30]; ‘the lovely stories he tells’ [Michael; 30]; ‘its stinking [...] from patch Hernon’s share’ [31]; rosary [33]; In spite of the smell of the blight it was very pleasant working down there by the river [...] It was very beautiful down there [37]; [Sally O’Hanlon’s children, 38]; A terrible fear oppressed her suddenly, a fear that her young love was going to be destroyed by an imminent disaster ... this destroying hand, icy, with immovable grasp, would destroy her and her lover [39]; [Michael] lying in a pool of blood [39]; Its never-ending sound was soothing like the unintelligible words muttered by the priest on the altar, coming from somewhere in the vast spaces of eternity. [40]; their rags, their filth, their coarse expressions and excited gestures [41]; Nobody is more repelled by the sordidness of extreme poverty than the child of parents who were born in it. [Dr. Hynes; 41]; little, yellowish eyes [43]; sick man’s defiance [44]; time to observe Mary’s beauty [46]; when the Queen’s men were going to be driven out of the country, to leave the landlords at their mercy [47]; Under the influence of Mary’s beauty and the intoxication of her glorious voice, he felt proud to be of their stock [47]; ‘That’s a curse on the people’, Gleeson said, not on the land. The land of Ireland is holy and lovely and rich, but the tyrants have taken the rich land from the people and thrown them to live on the western rocks. It’s on the bog and moor now that the people of Ireland are living and the bogs breed disease.’ (1984 [unrev.] edn., p.49.)

The End: "Brian climbed with great effort over the stile into the paddock. He went to the middle of the little field and halted ... “I’ll make a hole for her in this place,” he muttered ... he thrust the point of the spade at the frosty earth, put his naked foot on the haft, and pressed with all his force. The point did not penetrate. The dog lay down on his belly and whined loudly. The old man ... again thrust the point of his spade at the frosty ground, pressing with his naked foot on the haft. The point again refused to penetrate. He overbalanced with the effort and fell forward over the fallen spade. The dog rose and barked. The old man lay still for a little while. Then he groaned loudly and struggled to his knees. Leaning on the spade he got to his feet. Now the dog barked angrily and scraped at the frost with his right forefoot ... [He] clutched the handle of the spade, leaned forward, threatened the frosty earth with the point and raised his foot. There was a deep, gurgling sound in his throat and he fell forward headlong. The spade skidded away over the frost and rolled into a hollow. The old man lay still with his arms stretched out. The dog became silent and lay down on his belly. Then he raised his snout and sniffed the air. He shuddered. Then he dragged himself along the ground until he came to the old man’s naked foot. He smelt it. He rose slowly to his feet, raised his mane slightly, and advanced, an inch at a time, smelling along the old man’s naked shins ad thighs. He started and growled when he came to the shirt. Then he made a little circuit, lay down on his belly once more, and dragged himself, whining, to the head. He smelt the face. He whined. He smelt again. His mane dropped. Suddenly he raised his snout, sat back on his haunches, and uttered a long howl. Then he lay down on his side and nestled against the old man’s shoulder. (358-59) [See longer extracts in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, via index, or direct.]

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Insurrection (1950), of Capt. Kinsella: ‘The vague mystical longings inspired in him by the poet’s words had taken flesh, in this lean man with the ascetic face and the mysterious eyes of a monk. He felt taut from head to foot like a drawn bow, as he waited to establish contact with his chosen one.’ (Insurrection, 1950, p.25; quoted in Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal: The Irish Revolution in Literature from Parnell to the Death of W. B. Yeats, 1891-1939, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan; NJ: Rowman & Littlefield 1977, p.115.)

Insurrection (1950), of Bartley Madden, the Mayo peasant caught up in the 1916 Rising: ‘[H]is whole being was intensely conscious of the weapon that he carried. Its touch gave him a marvellous sense of power and dignity. A soldier’s rifle. He was carrying a soldier’s rifle through the streets of Dublin, without having to wear the hated uniform of the imperial oppressor that had kept his kindred disarmed and enslaved for centuries. There in front of him lay the Nelson [sic] Pillar. the towering symbol of imperial power. He was marching straight towards it carrying this beautiful weapon that he had taken from an imperial soldier. Such an astounding and glorious fact was beyond the realm of thought. It could only be felt through the blood, like the sensual possession of a beloved one. It was more intoxicating than the strongest liquor.’ (p.68; quoted in Sheeran, op. cit. 1976, p.242.)

Insurrection (1950): ‘Like a man bedded with an insatiable wanton, he became enraged with these yellow creatures [the British soldiers in khaki] whom he could not master, while waiting idly on his mattress after the attack had been repelled. Yet when they charged again and he began to fire his rifle at them, his rage changed inot a mysterious and satisfying feeling of unity with these men, on whom he spent his passion.’ (p.134; Sheeran, p.243 [see Sheeran’s remarks, supra].) Further: ‘This is a poetic gesture [i.e., 1916 Rising]. It can only end in death, like the dance of love performed by those scarlet insects that whirl in the sunlight above a shining stream, for a few hours of their existence.’ (p.173; Sheeran, p.246.)

I Went to Russia (London: Jonathan Cape 1931): ‘[...] Bolshevism means no more to me that Lord Beaverbrook’s Empire Crusade or the Roman Catholic Religion. I loathe all political beliefs. I brand as a perverted scoundrel any man with an itch for changing the world and the habits of mankind. For the purpose of my work, the British Empire is no whit better than the Republic of Liberia. I am more interested in the well-being of horse-racing than I am in the abolition of slums, or the universal cure of prostitution. I consider that a good game of Rugby football is more important [10] than all the speeches ever made by Mr Lloyd George. It is my business to observe human beings and to dig beneath the labels, under which they hide their beauty or their infamy. For that reason, I am more qualified to write this book than most people. I write it honestly, for the sole purpose of making some money; neither to convert the British proletariat to Communisim, not to incite old parsons, butlers and maiden aunts into a war for the preservation of their virtue against the oncoming Soviet hordes. / I had no difficult getting a visa for my passport. Against such a callous writer as myself, their embassies and consulates were helpless.’ [11; cont.]

I Went to Russia (1931) - cont.: ‘“Shut up Aloysha”, said Mr. Shatov. “I want to know what he means by saying the Irish are not revolutionary. I hate the English. Don’t you hate the English?” / “That is ridiculous”, said Mr Kotpov. “It is [183] utterly impossible to hate such a large aggregation as the English. The English are a great race. You will agree, Mr Flaxy?” / “Taken as a whole”, I said, “it is probable that the English are the most remarkable people the world has yet seen.” / “Damn lie”, said Mr. Shatov. “It is a shame to hear an Irishman say that. You are Anglicised ... British Imperialism ... [184] is the most cruel tyranny the world has every seen.” [...]. “Well”, I said, “I consider that a race is revolutionary when its social activities tend to increase man’s power over the forces of nature and to widen and comprehend the universe. Examined from this point of view it will be seen that the English are extremely revolutionary, at least until quite recently. As Mr Kotpov has stated, they led the world for a long time in culture, as well as in commerce, industry, and the science of government.” [...; 185.]

I Went to Russia (1931) - cont.: “[...] All forms of [186] of government are, in themselves, equally useful as far as progress, on our sense, is concerned. The form of government of a community depends entirely on the community’s state of development and forms of government in a single community almost invariably change in accord ance with the community’s development. Indeed, all the forms of government that we know, from Communism to autocracy, existed at one time or other during the last twenty thousand years. It is also quite possible that the same forms of government, monarchy, Communism, republicanism, will exist twenty thousand years from hence. But the total of man’s knowledge is, materially, greater now than it was twenty thousand years ago and twenty thousand years from now it shall be still greater. That is what is important.” / “But classes”, cried Shatov, “and the exploitation ...”’ [Cont.]

I Went to Russia (1931) - cont.: ‘“Hold on a moment”, I said. “I shall ask you a question about classes and about portfolios later. Let us finish with the question of British imperialism. We find that in all periods of recorded history a community with more energy, cunning and intelligence than its neighbour set up a hegemony in the course of its development and expansion. Some, like the Romans, established an empire by conquest. Others, like the Greeks, built up an [187] empire by commercial exploitation. But in all cases, the Imperial communities built up great civilisations and cultures. Indeed, imperialism and culture and civilisation have been until now inseparable and almost synonymous. Even the Italian republics of the Renaissance period were little commercial empires who paid Crusaders to make trade routes to the East. In fine, when you accuse the British empire of being cruel and tyrannical, it is just the same as accusing an oak tree of being a cruel tyrant, because the destruction of neighbouring smaller plants is necessary to its growth. One might say that the exploitation and oppression of India’s millions was necessary for the production of Darwin, Newton and Shelley, by providing the luxury and leisure and pride of being which are the background to the flowering of genius Nor should I, as an Irishman, deplore the conquest of Ireland if that conquest helped to inspire the proud genius of Shakespeare.”’ [188; cont.]

I Went to Russia (1931) - cont.: ‘There were now some then citizens waiting to be served at his counter, but that did not prevent the young man from spending a further twenty-five minutes in an excited fashion telling me about his conception of the “social basis” of literature. Trembling, I began to chew a slip of paper which I found on the counter and listened to an extraordinary theory that world literature from the earliest times had been inspired by the revolution of the masses against exploitation. While my new acquaintance was explaining to be that the philosophical idea in Hamlet is typical of the demoralisation [202] of Western European intellectuals, principally in their attitude towards the re-organisation of the family, I became absorbed in the examination of the theory of insanity. Was I insane or was he insane?’ [203; cont.]

I Went to Russia (1931) - cont.: ‘I wished I had stayed at home’ [206]; I love this new art of the cinematograph. No other can give such a respite from reality, which is sometimes a torture, being the consciousness of poverty, sorrow or pain. [...] For that reason, I hate films that are educational or dogmatic and hate being spoken to when in a film theatre. The dream illusion is destroyed. For that reason also, I cannot understandthe craze of our intellectuals for the modern Russian film. All of them I have seen amuse me oless than the wild films of cowboy life which used to be be such a popular export from the Hollywood studios; certainly must less interesting than the early comic [224] films of Chaplin and the serious products of the German studios.’

I Went to Russia (1931) - cont.: ‘All modern Russian films that I have seen are based on a theory of some sort. Art, on the other hand, is not based on a theory, nor on any preconceived dogma; but it springs out of life and is brought to life by a vision in the mind of the artist, which, in itself, comes into the mind from a wild ever in the bowels and is inexplicable. To me this Russian deification of the mass as the solitary material for artistic creation is atavistic drivel, the child of mediocrity, which, in its jealousy of genius, throws itself on the bosom of the mob. Neither is it anything new, but an intense form of the decadent theories current in western European capitals in the years immediately preceding the War. It art, ambtious theories are always a sign of impotence and laziness and mediocrity.’ [225.]

I Went to Russia (1931) - cont.: ‘Communism ... a new religion rather than a new social theory’ [293]. Further, ‘When I reached London, a delicious sense of the futility of human effort drowned my melancholy. This city represented the culmination of an imperial effort greater than that of the Romans [... y]et it was now halted, stagnant, and beginning to rot at the core and to wither at the extremities, using all its ancient skill to maintain its power [...] So will the Leninist movement come to an end and give way to another. The star of human genius is not fixed.’ (Quoted in Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty, Dublin: Wolfhound 1976, p.93; see also Bolshevism, infra.)

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Two Years (1930): ‘I am convinced that divinity in man’s nature, is his struggle towards the perfection of his species to a state of godliness. And that the most perfect types of manhood are always in revolt against the limitations of man’s nature, his position on the face of the earth, and his ignorance. Towards the end of remedying these defects in man’s structure and powers, good men have always struggled, and always shall struggle, to blur the distorted compass of man’s intellect, that it may make manifest all the degrees of knowledge in the universe.’ (Quoted in Kate Connelly, MA Essay, UU 2003.)

Letters to the Irish Statesman
Irish Statesman (Letter of 18 Oct. 1924, p.171): ‘The human race has not advanced from savagery to culture on the feeble crutches of philosophy. What epics have there been written about the disputations of scholars? Did Homer write of philosophy or of the hunting of wild boars and the savage wars waged around stone-walled cities? Did Shakespeare live in the days of twenty per-cent interest in oil stocks and the loathsome mouthings of Ramsay MacDonalds at Geneva about Leagues of Nations that are based on fraud, corruption, and the [87] usury of slim-fingered, cultured bankers? Did he not live in the days when piratical adventurers carried the standards of Britain across the ocean and the continents? Did he not live in the days when his race was emerging, with bloodshot eyes, lean, hungry, virile, savage, from the savagery of feudalism into the struggle for Empire? / In Ireland, to my mind, we have reached that point in the progress of our race, the point which marked the appearance of Shakespeare in English literature. Let us not be ashamed that gunshots are heard in our streets. Let us rather be glad. For force is, after all, the opposite of sluggishness. It is an intensity of movement, of motion. And motion is the opposite of death. India is culture. It is an age-long culture. It is a culture of sweet, beautiful words and slim-fingers, slim, long, aristocratic fingers that are effete and on their death-bed. It is a ghostly culture, the culture of dead men walking the earth, crying out in a wilderness peopled with ghosts. Beauty and peace, sweet, melancholy peace. But ours is the wild tumult of the unchained storm, the tumult of the army on the march, clashing its cymbals, rioting with excess of energy. Need we be ashamed of it?’ (Quoted in Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism, Dublin: Wolfhound 1976, pp.87-88.) Note Russell’s reply in the same issue: ‘It [viz., the clashing of cymbals] is rather like the unintelligent yell of the baby continued in mature years, and we at least find it impossible to exult over it.’ (Sheeran, op. cit., p.89; cf. the same as PhD dissertation, 1972, p.91 - which gives the more complete version.)

Irish Statesman (Letter of 17 Dec. 1927) [in response Padraic Colum’s charge that O’Flaherty had abandoned his native language]: ‘I have written in Irish. I wrote in Irish when I was sixteen. I won a gold medal from an organisation in Philadelphia for some Irish prose at that age, and procured a holiday as a result. Yes, and a leading article from the Tipperary Nationalist. That was a few years before the great war. I wonder was Una McC[lintock] Dix at that time interested in the Irish language? / When I began to write professionally I was no longer interested in the Irish language from a political point of view. I was more interested in politics and in the Irish people. I felt, in my young arrogance, that some ideas which I had picked up around the world might be useful to the Irish people, and I chose the best language for presenting these ideas to my people. As the people spoke English I naturally wrote in English. If I wrote in Irish they would not be able to read the stuff. And, of course, as the editor kindly remarked, no printer in Ireland would print the stuff in Irish or English. / Two years later I became less interested in politics and in the regeneration of the Irish people, intellectually; having come to the conclusion that my people were too hopelessly sunk in intellectual barbarism to be capable of being saved by a single man. The Shannon Scheme appeared to me to be more capable of doing the job. So I was seized, like George Moore, with a sudden desire to use the Irish language as a medium of expression. I wrote a few short stories for the Gaelic League organ. They printed them and sent me three copies of the issue in which they were printed. Then I consulted Padraig Ó Conaire and we decided that drama was the best means of starting a new literature in Irish. I became fearfully enthusiastic. The two of us went to Dublin and entered a hall where some fellows were holding a Gaeltacht Commission. We put our scheme before them for a travelling theatre and so on. I guaranteed to write ten plays. They thought we were mad and, indeed, they took little interest in us. In fact, I could see by their looks and their conversation that they considered us immoral persons. / However, I was undaunted. I wrote a play and gave it to Gearoid Ó Lochlainn. He liked it and got the Gaelic Drama league to produce it. That was not easy. Because some horrifying Christians from the Educational Department threatened fire and brimstone if they staged my work, on the ground that I was an immoral person. In fact, I believe, they had to pack the hall with detectives in order to prevent the Gaelic Christians from throwing my unfortunate play to the lions. / Although the theatre was packed, which rarely happens for these Gaelic plays, I was never paid for the production. / Here is the joke. The only remuneration I received for this play was from an English Socialist who dislikes Irish and everything connected with nationalism of any sort in any place. He paid me twenty five pounds for the gaelic manuscript, i.e. for my hand-writing. / I naturally swore that I would never write another word in Irish. If I do write in Irish I’ll take good care not to publish it and place it at the mercy of these sows. / I don’t write for money. If I wanted to write for money I could be a rich man now. I am a good craftsman and I am cunning enough to understand the various follies of mankind and womankind. In fact, if I ever get so hard up that I’ll lose my self-respect. I’ll start a religious paper in the Irish language and make a fortune on it. / I write to please myself and two friends. One is my wife and the other is Mr. Edward Garnett. I don’t write for Una McC. Dix, and for that reason I’d be pleased if she refrained from drawing my attention to her existence, because I just love writing about gadflies. / P.S. In answer to Messrs. Chambers and Colum, permit me to say that English was the first language I spoke. My father forbade us speaking Irish. At the age of seven I revolted against father and forced everybody in the house to speak Irish. Finally, allow me to say that I think Colum and other fellows like him are humbugs. If he is interested in Irish and in Ireland why doesn’t he stay in Ireland, learn the language and write in it? All the best Irish patriots live in America.’ (Quoted in Brian Ó Conchubhair, Boston College; ‘Liam Ó Flaithearta agus an Chinsearcht I nGaeilge’, paper presented at IASIL Conference, Limerick 1998.) Note: ‘I do not write for money [...] religious paper in the Irish language and make a fortune on it’ , also quoted in Sheeran, op. cit, 1976, p.91.)

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Remarks & Observations
Inishmore (1): ‘I was born on a windswept rock and hate the soft growth of sun-baked lands where there is no frost in men’s bones. Swift thoughts and the swift flight of ravenous birds, and the squeal of hunted animals are to me a reality. I have seen the leaping salmon fly before the salmon-whale, and I have seen the sated buck horn his mate, and the wanderer leave his wife, in search of fresh bosoms, with the fire of joy in his eye.’ (Joseph Conrad: An Appreciation, Blue Moon Pamphs., No. 1 , 1930, p.11; quoted in Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty, Wolfhound 1976, p.36; cited in part in Henry Boylan, A Dictionary of Irish Biography [rev. edn.], Gill & Macmillan 1988; also in part in Mary Campbell reviewing reprint novels in Books Ireland, and more fully in Benedict Kiely, ‘Liam O’Flaherty: From the Stormswept Rock ...’, A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays, Cork UP 1999, pp.192-202.)

Inishmore (2): ‘There, not only extreme poverty, but the very position of the island foster in the human mind those devils of suspicion and resentment which make ingratitude seem man’s strongest vice. The surrounding sea, constantly stirred into fury by storms that cut off communication with the mainland, always maintains in the mind of the inhabitants a restless anxiety, which has a strong bearing on character, sharpening the wits and heightening the energy, but at the same time producing a violent instability of temperament.’ (Q. source; quoted in Paul A. Doyle, Liam O’Flaherty, NY: Twayne Publ. 1971, p.17.)

First Fiction: ‘The wife had brought him cold tea for dinner to the field. He murdered her with a spade and then tried to bury her in the fosse, or furrow, between two ridges. The point of the story, I remember, was the man’s difficulty in getting the woman, who was very large, to fit into the fosse. The schoolmaster was horrified and thrashed me.’ (‘Autobiographical Note’, in Ten Contemporaries: Notes Towards Their Definitive Biographies [2nd ser.; ed. John Gasworth, London 1933; quoted in Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism, UCG 1972, p.53.) In another account of the same episode, narrating that was his mother who was horrified when he invoked the names of a neighbouring family in the story, O’Flaherty writes: ‘From that day I hid my dreams. I became a dual personality. the one wept with my mother and felt ashamed of his secret mind and began to dream of greatness. And as my mind grew stronger and defi[a]nt, I became timid and sensitive in my relationship with the people about me. I became prone to dreaming, quick at schooling, ashamed of vulgar profanity and rowdy conduct.’ (Shame the Devil, p.19; quoted in Sheeran, op. cit., pp.53-54.) The details of the killing given in the story are also reproduced in Shame the Devil: ‘how he struck with his spade on the head many times, blaspheming joyously at each stroke, how she sank into the furrow, where she bled so profusely that the ensuing blows made her gore splash into her murderous husband’s face.’ (Idem.; Sheeran, p.54.) Sheeran comments. ‘[t]he story itself is close in form to the more famous one of the man who killed his da with a blow of his slane [sic for more fam. loy]’ (p.54) - clearly a reference to Synge’s Playboy of the Western World - and poses the question: ‘his solution to the problem how to bring ‘an imagination formed on folktales and given to wild imaginings into contact with some immediate reality [...] was not greatly improved on in later work.’ (idem.).

Irish women: ‘Irishwomen in Ireland [...] generally rule their families [...]. Humanity has never witnessed beings of stronger character than Irishwomen.’ (Liam O’Flaherty, quoted in John O’Riordan, A Guide to O’Casey’s Plays, Macmillan 1984, p.45.)

Mother & father: On his mother’s marriage: ‘Her fairy-tale ended with her marriage. After that her life was a tale of hardship and misery, an endless struggle to find food for her many children.’ (Shame the Devil, p.18.) ‘Even when there was no food in the house, she would gather us about her at the empty hearth and weave fantastic stories about giants and faries, or more often the comic adventures of our neighbours [...]’ (Idem.) On his father: ‘His stern nature had always seemed to be immune from any emotion either of pain or joy.’ (Shame the Devil, p.64.) Of his death: ‘[He died] a babbling dotard, furious with insane fancies, kept aloive ony by some vague courage that resisted death.’ (Idem., all the foregoing quoted in Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism, UCG 1972, pp.15, 42.)

The Irish race ‘The Irish race is emerging, with bloodshot eyes, lean, hungry, virile, savage, from the savagery of feudalism into the struggle for Europe [...] Ours is the wild tumult of the unchained storm, the tumult of the army on the march, clashing cymbals, rioting with excess of energy.’ (Quoted in John Zneimer, The Literary Vision of Liam O’Flaherty, Syracuse UP 1970, p.8; see longer extract under Irish Statesman, supra.)

Irish peasants (1): ‘The peasant is stupid, frustrated, ignorant and superstitious, but in him I see the germs of future greatness.’ (Q. source; quoted in Sheeran, op. cit., p.109.)

Irish peasants (2): ‘[The tourist will meet with] these decent peasants, shiftless, hungry, without a concept of truth or high morality, subservient, fawning, grovelling, terrified of life and death, eager for revenge, envious of success, fickle in their allegiance, unstable in their resolutions, excitable in temperament; for it is the decent human being who is most easily and surely broken by an overwhelming oppression [...] it is the cunning type of peasant who rises out of this hellish life.’ (Tourist Guide to Ireland, 1929, p.16; quoted in Sheeran, op. cit., p.110.)

Irish peasants (3): ‘The earth serf is a boor, uncivilised, a hater of all beauty, the lowest of slaves, the enemy of all Gods who are not in his own brute likeness. Truly, the chief aim of civilisation is the destruction of the peasant, or rather his liberation from servitude to the earth.’ (Remarks inspired by the experience of working for French-Canadian peasants; Two Years, 1920, p.225; quoted in Patrick Sheeran, op. cit ., p.72.)

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Irish priests: ‘When they are born [the peasants] are brought before him and he baptises them for a few shillings. When they begin to go to school they come under his supervision. He hires and sacks their teachers at his discretion. He flogs them if they mitch or fail to learn their catechism. When they become striplings, he watches them carefully lest they make love clandestinely. When they reach marriageable age he marries them for a few pounds. If they don’t get married he nags at them, eager for his fees. He abuses them from the altar unless they pay him what he considers sufficient money at Christmas and Easter. When they die he buries them [...] From their first yell at birth until the sod falls on them in their grave their actions and thoughts are under his direction.’ (A Tourist’s Guide to Ireland, 1929, p.106; quoted in Sheeran, op. cit. 1976, p.106.)

Irish politicians: ‘But Irish politicians, taking the lead from Irish Catholicism conceive of Ireland as a woman, Cathlin Ni Houlihan, Roisin Dubh or the Hag of Beare. They concern themselves, that is, with the welfare of the mystical soul of Ireland and neglect in true puritan fashion, her bodily needs. [...] Holy Ireland is above such coarse ambitions as wealth, culture, bathrooms, toothbrushes and machinery.’ (A Tourist’s Guide to Ireland, 1929; quoted in Patrick F. Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism (Dublin: Wolfhound; NJ: Atlantic 1976, p.108).

Rotunda Occupation: ‘Ever since then, I have remained, in the eyes of the vast majority of Irish men and women, a public menace to faith, morals and property, a Communist, an atheist, a scoundrel of the worst type ... Crave forgiveness? Clip the wings of my fancies, in order to win the favour of the mob? To have the property and be esteemed? Better to be devoured by the darkness than to be haunted by dolts into an inferior light.’ (Cited in Zneimer, op. cit., 1970, pp.21-22, 23.)

World War I: ‘This [joining up] was a far greater blow to my relatives than my refusal to become a priest, and it was the event in my life most responsible for the outcast position in which I now find myself. May the devil be praised! No matter how [they] may curse the war, my generation was fortunate in being given this wonderful lesson on the defects of the European system of civilisation. Had it not been for my participation in the war, I might still be a petty Irish nationalist with a carped [sic] outlook on life, one of those snivelling patriots who would prefer an Irish dunghill to an English flower garden in full bloom. Be that as it may, when I came home from the war in 1918, I was regarded as a pariah and a fool and a renegade.’ (Quoted in Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty, Dublin: Wolfound 1976, p.65)

Bolshevism [Marxist-Leninism] (1): ‘Human life is governed by the same ruthless competition [102] and brazen anarchy which governs the growth of nature. Plant wars with plant, insect with insect, animal with animla. The elements destroy life with the same power that generates and feeds life. All is in continual movement, ever-changing, blindly moving, being born, flowering, dying, from a miraculous beginning to an unexplainable end, beautiful only in movement, incomprehensible in purpose [...] I saw the Bolshevik god as a wooden dummy like the rest, of no nobler quality than the fetishes which the Chinese and the Egyptians and the Assyrians and the Greeks and Aztecs and the Romans carried into the strong places of their enemies. Born in the hungry bellies of the Bolshevik masses, he would die when those bellies were full to repletion, jus as Odin and Thor died when the Norse conquerors were glutted with loot. Loot! Loot! Man appeared no whit more divine than the foraging ants, which gnaw their way across continents, leaving desolation in their trail.’ ([I went to Russia?,] pp.82-83; quoted in Sheeran, op. cit., 1976, p.103.)

Bolshevism [Marxist-Leninism] (2): To me this Russian deification of the mass as the solitary material for artistic creation is atavistic drivel, the child of mediocrity, which, in its jealousy of genius, throws itself on the bosom of the mob. Neither is it anything new, but an intense form of the decadent theories current in western European capitals in the years immediately preceding the War. In art, ambitious theories are always a sign of impotence and laziness and mediocrity.’ (I Went to Russia, 1935, p.225.)

The ideal novel: ‘In order to be a work of genius, a novel must offer something more than a perfect style, the imprint of a cultured mind, and gentleness of soul. [...] It must be a relentless picture of life, as lashing in its cruelty as the whip of Christ when there were moneychangers to be beaten from the Temple, as remorseless as the questions of a jealous lover. It must have the power to invoke great beauty or great horror in the same breath as it calls forth laughter from the lips.’ (Review of 1925, quoted in John Zneimer, op. cit., p.9.)

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Letters to E. Garnett (A. A. Kelly, The Letters of Liam O’Flaherty, Wolfhound Press 1996): ‘If a thousand lies are necessary to write a book five thousand are necessary to advertise it and telling lies is a game at which only very clever men can play with any hope of success.’ Further: ‘no literary individual is a whit of use to the world except as a tolerated ornament’; ‘reading Conrad did damage.’ [Cont.]

Letters to E. Garnett - cont.: ‘when I have a writing mood I forget everything and every unpleasant person and thing than [sic for ‘that’] can meet with me [...] It stirs one up and one is better for it afterwards. The thing in life is to feel and go on feeling more and more acutely. Thus one gets a wider comprehension of reality.’ [Cont.]

Letters to E. Garnett, cont. - On G. B. Shaw: ‘Shaw’s abortion on Saint Joan did not cause your digestion a permanent ill?’ On J. B. Priestley: ‘a most unbearable ruffian, one of Lynd’s gang’. On Sean O’Casey: ‘a dramatist in overalls’. On W. B. Yeats: ‘a man who rose to fame on the shoulders of those men who stirred this country to fervent enthusiasm for ideals in the last generation’.

Letters to E. Garnett, cont. - On George Russell (whom O’Flaherty called his ‘literary godfather’): ‘[...] a profound realist and sceptic in his editorial pages - elsewhere he is a mystic, a bounder and a fool. [...] as “AE” controls a newspaper we shall probably drive Yeats out of the country.’ Also refers to ‘an odious woman called Marianne Moore is now editing The Dial’. [Cont.]

Letters to E. Garnett, cont. - On Russell, et al. [written in the wake of a highly positive review of The Black Soul by Russell in The Irish Statesman, 3 May 1924, p.244]: ‘I pat myself on the back. I licked all these swine into a cocked hat. When I came here nobody would speak to me. Everybody hated me. I wound them all round my fingers. I got A.E. [“Æ”] to give me a thundering review. I got the old women to praise me. Now that I have fooled them I am telling these damned intellectuals what I think of them in choice scurrilous language’. (Quoted in John Zneimer, The Literary Vision of Liam O’Flaherty, Syracuse UP 1970, p.6 and cited in James Cahalan, Much Hatred, Little Room, 1983, p.138; also quoted at greater length in Patrick Sheeran, The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty, 1976, p.83; for Russell’s review, see Commentary, supra.)

Letters to E. Garnett, cont. - On André Malraux: ‘It turns out that Malraux, in spite of having been a revolutionary writer for years, is a worse censor than most.’ On Patrick Kavanagh: ‘I’ve been told he now has a cheque book, which he takes out solemnly now and again, in the bars he frequents, but without making any attempt to draw money. Just stares with pen in hand absent-mindedly and then puts everything away once more untouched.’

Letters to E. Garnett, cont. - On Siobhán McKenna: ‘Brian Hurst is filming The Playboy in Kerry, using Siobhán McKenna as the female lure and God knows how many pansies as the male ones’; Francis Stuart has now given up both horse racing and Jesus. What on earth has he got left as apart from Gertruda whom he brought back from Germany as apologia pro vita sua, in other words a living proof that he had put away his love for Adolf Hitler and turned his face towards Israel.’

Letters to E. Garnett, cont. - On Good Friday [liturgy]: ‘The most hateful of the Christian year in a Roman Catholic country like this.’

Letters to E. Garnett, cont. - On Dublin: ‘This cursed town is like a desert for a man interested in things of the mind solely. A cursed blasted desert, a rotting corpse that was once part of a dying empire.’ (The foregoing quotations compiled from Kevin Kiely, review of A. A. Kelly, The Letters of Liam O’Flaherty, in Books Ireland (q.d. [1997]) and other sources.

On Edward Garnett (‘Autobiographical Note’): ‘In fact, I owe Edward Garnett all I know about the craft and a great deal of all I know about the art of writing. To his kindness, his help, his marvellous critical faculty[,] to his loving friendship I owe whatever success I have had subsequently in creating my work. We practically wrote The Black Soul together. I remember his burning about 30,000 words of manuscript upon which I had spent an entire month. I could have shot him.’ (p.143; quoted in Sheeran, op. cit., p.79; and see further on Garnett, under Mary Campbell in Commentary, supra.)

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