September 2014        

O’Flaherty Summer School a huge success

Féile na bhFlaitheartach, 2014—the Liam and Tom O’Flaherty Society’s August summer school—was a fantastic weekend, richly rewarding for all who made it to Árainn.
     The school opened with a talk by Theo Dorgan on the horrific industrial slaughter that was the First World War, making the point that if it were not for the literary records of the brutality and horrors of this war in books such as Liam O’Flaherty’s Return of the Brute later generations could be more easily duped by politicians and the the media into believing there was something heroic in it.
     The audience were deeply moved by Dorgan’s eloquent speech and commented on how refreshingly it departed from the whitewashing talk of “sacrifice” we have been enduring this centenary year.
     A poignant moment in this year’s school was the beautiful musical and literary recital at the grave of Tom O’Flahery, the reading of his story “Going Away” by Fionnghuala Ní Chonceanainn accompanied by solo violin played by Deirdre Ní Chonghaile. This event, which began with an address by the chairperson of the society, Seosamh Ó Cuaig, outlining Tom’s life as a socialist and republican, finished with a lament by Treasa Ní Mhiolláin, sean-nós singer.
     A highlight of the school was the Aran premiere of Liam O’Flaherty’s expressionist play Dorchadas by Aisteoirí Chois Fharraige in the school hall, across from the O’Flaherty brothers’ own school (now ruined) in Gort na gCapall. The hall was packed, mostly with local people, and the actors were rewarded with a standing ovation at the end of their dramatic reading.
     Sunday’s session began with a presentation by Éamon Ó Ciosáin on the writings of Tom O’Flaherty in the radical newspaper An tÉireannach. He gave a great insight into Tom O’Flaherty as a writer in his own right, who published short stories and tales of Aran life (Aranmen All, 1934, and Cliffmen of the West, 1935).
     He was also a prominent journalist and the editor of a number of socialist newspapers during his twenty years in the United States. His huge output was very influential, and he was a founding member of communist and Trotskyist parties in the United States. A new project for the society will be the gathering and publishing of Tom O’Flaherty’s hitherto unpublished short stories.
     Seosamh Ó Cuaig was the final speaker at the school. His topic was the revival of the memory of another Aranman, Mícheál Ó Maoláin, who hoped to forge a link between the people of the Irish-speaking community and the Dublin working class. That was one of the reasons he brought thousands of working-class children to Connemara under the scheme Coiste na bPáistí.
     Ó Maoláin was a national figure, especially in the trade union movement. He was the right-hand man of Jim Larkin and was instrumental in the campaign for his release. He himself was imprisoned for three months in 1913 for organising farm workers in north Co. Dublin. Seán O’Casey wrote him into literature in the character of Seumas Shields in The Shadow of a Gunman. Brendan Behan also remarked on Ó Maoláin’s deep understanding of the Dublin working class.
     Féile na bhFlaitheartach is a wonderful success because it has the full support of the people of Árainn, a joint celebration of a common heritage.

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