"I Was Too Chickenhearted to Publish It": Sean O'Faolain, Displacement and History Re-Written

By Grant, John | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2017 | Go to article overview

"I Was Too Chickenhearted to Publish It": Sean O'Faolain, Displacement and History Re-Written


Grant, John, Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


Abstract. This article concerns the re-writing of an Irish historical moment within the short story genre, focusing on the renowned Irish writer Sean O'Faolain (1900-1991). O'Faolain, it is argued here, attempted to alleviate the "trauma" of the Irish Civil War (1922-1923) through his writing. This piece offers a comparative analysis of O'Faolain's treatment of the Civil War in his autobiography, Vive Moi! (1993), and in two short stories, "Fugue" and "The Bomb Shop", from the collection Midsummer Night Madness (1932), examining his rewriting of several key episodes from the Civil War. As this article demonstrates, O'Faolain re-wrote these so that they became part of a less contentious War of Independence narrative.

Key Words. Civil War, Sean O'Faolain, Re-Writing, Short Stories, Trauma.

Resumen. Este articulo se centra en la reescritura de un particular momento historico en un relato publicado por el escritor irlandes Sean O'Faolain (1900-1991), un autor que se caracterizo por intentar aliviar el trauma de la Guerra Civil irlandesa a traves de su produccion literaria. En este trabajo se realiza ademas un estudio comparativo del tratamiento de la Guerra Civil por parte de O'Faolain en su autobiografia, Vive Moi! (1993), y en dos de sus historias cortas, "Fugue" y "The Bomb Shop", de la coleccion Midsummer Night Madness (1932). La reescritura que hace el autor irlandes de distintos episodios de la Guerra Civil es convenientemente analizada. Con ello se pretende demostrar que O'Faolain pretendia contribuir a una vision menos polemica del conflicto, por medio de la inclusion de dichos episodios en la Guerra de Independencia.

Palabras clave. Guerra Civil de Irlanda, Sean O'Faolain, reescritura, relato corto, trauma.

A veteran of the losing Republican side in the conflict, O'Faolain's take on the Ireland that emerged after Civil War has been scrutinised by writers and researchers in the fields of both politics and literature. Brad Kent (2008) notes how O'Faolain argued continually that a Gaelic, ethnic nationalism and close allegiance to the Catholic Church would stultify Irish intellectual life, society and culture. Similarly, Laurence McAffery (2005) offers a valuable critique that highlights O'Faolain's all embracing "world-view", emphasizing his opposition and distaste for an ethnocentric vision of post-revolutionary Ireland. Mark. S. Quigley's (2014) insightful article "Modernization's Lost Pasts" introduces us to O'Faolain's robust and resistant stance against the "sentimental nationalism" expounded by Eamon de Valera that endeavoured to cloud political and social realities beneath a conservative political settlement. More recently, Paul Delaney (2014) presents a wide-ranging examination of O'Faolain's considerable literary output. Delaney discusses the collection of short stories Midsummer Night Madness in its entirety and offers a delicate appraisal, suggesting O'Faolain revised his earlier thoughts and opinions of the "Troubles" at the time of writing. Delaney remarks on "either a kind of squeamishness on the part of O'Faolain and his narrators, or a reluctance to perpetuate cycles of violence" (Delaney 2014: 158) when the harsh realities of conflict are presented within his stories. However, this article argues (see also Grant 2012) that "squeamishness" understates the trauma O'Faolain faced when coming to terms with both his own actions during the Civil War and the general viciousness that infected a nation within this dark period. Indeed, when reflecting on the fight of "brother against brother" in his autobiography, the chapter title offers little in the way of ambiguity--"The Troubles and My Trauma".

The Man

When his fellow author, Corkman and anti-treatyite Frank O'Connor witnessed the spectacle of Sean O'Faolain being carried away on the back of a truck with rifle in hand, ready to fight for the Republicans during the Civil War, he was envious indeed. Yet O'Faolain's military activity was limited: "In my six years as a rank-and-filer of the IRA I shot nobody and I was briefly under fire once" (O'Faolain 1993:137). …

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