was born on a storm-swept rock and hate the soft growth of sunbaked lands
where there is no frost in men’s bones. Swift thought and the flight of
ravenous birds,and the squeal of hunted animals are to me reality.’
|LIAM O’ FLAHERTY was a child of the nineteenth century, and a man of
the twentieth. Born in rural poverty, he died in urban comfort. Passionate
in his love of nature, he abhorred everything brutish in man. An exquisite
writer of short stories about man and beast on Ireland’s western seaboard,
ironically he is best known for The Informer, his novel of squalid Communist
intrigue in the back streets of Dublin (thanks largely to the famous film
version by his cousin John Ford). Yet Famine, calmly dispassionate on the
horrors of the Great Hunger, is regarded by all his readers as his greatest
work. 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.
O’Flaherty 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. From the dying remnants of an ancient culture, from the shattered fragments of a modern life, he composed the unities of his art.
This book is published to mark the centenary of Liam O’Flaherty’s birth. It is intended to provide, through biographical commentary and extracts from his stories and novels, together with appropriate illustrations, a recreation of his varied experiences and his divided imaginative world. More than a decade after his death, it may also introduce him to new and to younger readers.
from Peter Costello's Preface to Liam O’Flaherty’s
Ireland, Wolfhound Press, Dublin 1996. ©