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Liam O'Flaherty  ~  Aran Islands

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.

Liam O'Flaherty born on the Aran Islands
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.

Liam was born on the remote Gort na gCapall, Inishmore on the Aran Islands. Like many people in Ireland at that time, Liam was also born into poverty. Growing up, Liam spoke the Irish language. However, he was not encouraged to do so by members of his family.

In 1908 at the age of twelve, he attended one of three different colleges. The first, Rockwell was followed by enrollments to Holy Cross and the University of Dublin. According to The Sunday Times, it was said he also attended Belvedere and Blackrock College. He never attended any of the earlier two schools for long. Among his studies, he took up the study of religion and had intended on joining the priesthood. In 1917, he left school and joined the Irish Guards regiment of the British Army. During this time, he fought in World War I and was injured. He also suffered from a barrage of attacks by the enemy which led to a battle with shell shock. In 1933 he suffered from mental illness which most believe to be a result of the shock suffered in World War I.

O'Flaherty made other changes after the war as well. Another of these changes was that he left Ireland and moved to the United States, where he lived in Hollywood for a short period of time. A cousin was the famous director John Ford, who later turned Flaherty's novel, The Informer, into a movie.

In 1923, Liam O'Flaherty published his first novel, Thy Neighbor's Wife. This piece of work is thought to be one of his best. Many of his works have the common theme of nature and Ireland. In fact, some of his work was written in his native language, Gaelic, the very language his father did not want him to utter. In later years, in a letter to The Sunday Times, he confessed that writing in his native tongue of Gaelic, never truly amounted to much. In fact, in the letter he spoke of other Irish writers who received little accolades for their writing in Gaelic. This led to some attacks on his character.

In 1929, his novel The Informer (for which he had been awarded the 1925 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction) was turned into a movie again, but this time by his cousin. Over the next couple of years, he published other novels as well as short stories. In 1933, at this time in his life, he suffered from the first of two mental breakdowns.

Throughout 1923 and 1950, he published many works. He also travelled the United States as well as Europe. Posthumously, many letters he wrote while on these trips were published. It is documented that he had a love of French and Russian culture. This is one of the possible reasons why he may have turned to communism.

On September 7, 1984, in Dublin, Liam O'Flaherty died. After his death, many of his works were re-released as well as some of his letters. Today, Liam O'Flaherty is remembered as a profound writer of the twentieth century by those who have been exposed to him and his work. Liam O'Flaherty is also remembered as strong voice in Irish culture.


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