February 2014        

Who’s afraid of Liam O’Flaherty?

If this question had been posed back in the 1920s, those counted among the fearful would have been those in charge of the newly formed Irish state. Several of Liam O’Flaherty’s books were banned during this period before they could reach an Irish readership.
      Despite this, Liam’s significance as a writer of life as he saw it in 1920s Ireland was instantly recognised. His novel Mr Gilhooley (1926) equalled Ulysses for fame when it was first published. In both books the reader encounters a Dublin removed from the wishful thinking of the official opinion-makers. It is urban, often impoverished, and violent.
      This clearly struck a chord not only with the unpretentious readers but also with fellow-artists. O’Flaherty, though a new and young writer in Ireland, was selected by the artist Harry Clarke as one of the fifteen Irish writers who would make up the eight-panel Geneva Window, commissioned by the Irish state, in the building of the International Labour Organisation.
      One year after the publication of Mr Gilhooley, Clarke chose this work to represent O’Flaherty. He illustrated a scene from the novel depicting a naked woman, which did not meet with the approval of the government. The head of the Free State government, W. T. Cosgrave, wrote to Clarke expressing his concern over this particular scene, and the window in general, as its portrayal of poverty, prostitution, dancing and drinking—“scenes from certain authors as representative of Irish literature and culture” that “would give grave offence to many of our people”—were images the government did not want associated with Ireland.
      While the government of that time may have been afraid of O’Flaherty, the Liam and Tom O’Flaherty Society is not. In an endeavour to return O’Flaherty’s entertaining novels to the Irish reader, the society will be presenting a book-club set of Mr Gilhooley to Galway Libraries on Tuesday 4 February.
      The society runs a Liam O’Flaherty reading circle, which is free and open to all. The reading group meets twice a year in Ballybane Library on a Saturday afternoon, and it will be discussing Mr Gilhooley at its next meeting, on 1 March, at 2:15 p.m.
      Jenny Farrell of the society said: “O’Flaherty’s novels always take a realistic look at the people of Ireland. And he does so in the popular genre: his writing is engaging and entertaining to this day.”

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