5 October 1911
Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland
|Died||1 April 1966 (aged 54)|
|Resting place||Deans Grange Cemetery, Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown|
|Pen name||Flann O'Brien|
Myles na gCopaleen
Myles na Gopaleen
|Occupation||Civil servant, writer|
|Alma mater||University College Dublin|
|Notable works||At Swim-Two-Birds |
The Third Policeman
An Béal Bocht
The Hard Life
The Dalkey Archive
"Cruiskeen Lawn" column
|Spouse||Evelyn McDonnell (1948–1966)|
Brian O'Nolan (Irish: Brian Ó Nualláin; 5 October 1911 – 1 April 1966), better known by his pen name Flann O'Brien, was an Irish novelist, playwright and satirist, considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature. Born in Strabane, County Tyrone, he is regarded as a key figure in modernist and postmodern literature. His English language novels, such as At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman, were written under the O’Brien pen name. His many satirical columns in The Irish Times and an Irish language novel An Béal Bocht were written under the name Myles na gCopaleen.
O'Brien's novels have attracted a wide following for their bizarre humour and modernist metafiction. As a novelist, O'Brien was influenced by James Joyce. He was nonetheless sceptical of the cult of Joyce, which overshadows much of Irish writing, saying "I declare to God if I hear that name Joyce one more time I will surely froth at the gob."
Family and early life
Brian O'Nolan's father, Michael Vincent O'Nolan was a pre-independence official in His Majesty's Customs (i.e., the then United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales & Ireland) service, a role that required frequent moves between cities and towns in England, Scotland and Ireland. Although of apparently trenchant Irish nationalist views, he was because of his role and employment, forced to be discreet about them. At the formation of the Irish Free State, O'Nolan senior joined the Irish Revenue Commissioners, in most respects the Irish successor to his former employer.
O'Nolan's mother, Agnes Gormley was from a nationalist family in Strabane, a heavily majority Catholic and nationalist town, which, post-independence, remained part of the UK in Northern Ireland; this town formed somewhat of a base for the family during an otherwise peripatetic childhood. Brian was the third of 12 children, Gearóid, Ciarán, Roisin, Fergus, Kevin, Maeve, Nessa, Nuala, Sheila, Niall, and Micheál. Though relatively well-off and upwardly mobile, the O'Nolan children were homeschooled for part of their childhood using a correspondence course created by his father, who'd sent it to them from wherever his work took him. It was not until his father was permanently assigned to Dublin that Brian and his siblings regularly attended school.
After an initial period at Synge Street Christian Brothers School then later at Blackrock College where he was taught English by President of the College, and future Archbishop, John Charles McQuaid.
According to Farragher and Wyer:
Dr McQuaid himself was recognised as an outstanding English teacher, and when one of his students, Brian O'Nolan, alias Myles na gCopaleen, boasted in his absence to the rest of the class that there were only two people in the College who could write English properly, namely, Dr McQuaid and himself, they had no hesitation in agreeing. And Dr McQuaid did Myles the honour of publishing a little verse by him in the first issue of the revived College Annual (1930) – this being Myles' first published item.
The poem itself, "Ad Astra", read as follows:
Ah! When the skies at night
Are damascened with gold,
Methinks the endless sight
His novel The Hard Life is a semi autobiographical depiction of his experiences at the Synge Street Christian Brothers School. The Christian Brothers in Ireland had an unenviable reputation for often extraordinary brutality, which frequently left lifelong psychological scars on their pupils. Blackrock, where his education continued, was run by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (known as the 'Holy Ghost Fathers'), considered more intellectual and less violent to their pupils. Blackrock was and remains a very prominent school in Ireland, having educated many members of the post independence establishment, including presidents, taoisigh (prime ministers), government ministers, businessmen and swathes of the Irish establishment as well as their children.[circular reference]
O'Nolan wrote prodigiously during his years as a student at University College Dublin (UCD), which was then situated in various buildings around Dublin's south city centre (with its numerous pubs and cafés) and thus considerably more bibulous than in its modern suburban campus. There he was an active, and controversial, member of the well known Literary and Historical Society. He contributed to the student magazine Irish: Comhthrom Féinne (Fair Play) under various guises, in particular the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. Significantly, he composed a story during this same period titled "Scenes in a Novel (probably posthumous) by Brother Barnabas", which anticipates many of the ideas and themes later to be found in his novel, At Swim-Two-Birds. In it, the putative author of the story finds himself in riotous conflict with his characters, who are determined to follow their own paths regardless of the author's design. For example, the villain of the story, one Carruthers McDaid, intended by the author as the lowest form of scoundrel, "meant to sink slowly to absolutely the last extremities of human degradation", instead ekes out a modest living selling cats to elderly ladies and becomes a covert churchgoer without the author's consent. Meanwhile, the story's hero, Shaun Svoolish, chooses a comfortable, bourgeois life rather than romance and heroics:
- 'I may be a prig', he replied, 'but I know what I like. Why can't I marry Bridie and have a shot at the Civil Service?'
- 'Railway accidents are fortunately rare', I said finally, 'but when they happen they are horrible. Think it over.'
In 1934 O'Nolan and his student friends founded a short-lived magazine called Blather. The writing here, though clearly bearing the marks of youthful bravado, again somewhat anticipates O'Nolan's later work, in this case his "Cruiskeen Lawn" column as Myles na gCopaleen:
- Blather is here. As we advance to make our bow, you will look in vain for signs of servility or of any evidence of a desire to please. We are an arrogant and depraved body of men. We are as proud as bantams and as vain as peacocks.
- Blather doesn't care. A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?
O'Nolan, who had studied German in Dublin, may have spent at least parts of 1933 and 1934 in Germany, namely in Cologne and Bonn, although details are uncertain and contested. He claimed himself, in 1965, that he "spent many months in the Rhineland and at Bonn drifting away from the strict pursuit of study." So far, no external evidence has turned up that would back up this sojourn (or an also anecdotal short-term marriage to one 'Clara Ungerland' from Cologne). In their biography, Costello and van de Kamp, discussing the inconclusive evidence, state that "...it must remain a mystery, in the absence of documented evidence an area of mere speculation, representing in a way the other mysteries of the life of Brian O'Nolan that still defy the researcher."
A key feature of O'Nolan's personal situation was his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father's relatively early death in July 1937, was for a decade obliged to partially support his mother and ten siblings, including an elder brother who was then an unsuccessful writer; however, other siblings enjoyed considerable professional success - one, Kevin (also known as Caoimhín Ó Nualláin), was the Professor of Ancient Classics at University College, Dublin, yet another, Micheál Ó Nualláin was a noted artist, another, Ciaran O Nuallain was also a writer, novelist, publisher and journalist. Given the desperate poverty of Ireland in the 1930s to 1960s, a job as a civil servant was considered prestigious, being both secure and pensionable with a reliable cash income in a largely agrarian economy. The Irish civil service has been, since the Irish Civil War, fairly strictly apolitical: Civil Service Regulations and the service's internal culture generally prohibit Civil Servants above the level of clerical officer from publicly expressing political views. As a practical matter, this meant that writing in newspapers on current events was, during O'Nolan's career, generally prohibited without departmental permission which would be granted on an article-by-article, publication-by-publication basis. This fact alone contributed to O'Nolan's use of pseudonyms, though he had started to create character-authors even in his pre-civil service writings.
O'Nolan rose to be quite senior, serving as private secretary to Seán T. O'Kelly (a minister and later President of Ireland) and Seán McEntee, a powerful political figure, both of whom almost certainly knew or guessed O'Nolan was na gCopaleen. Though O'Nolan's writing frequently mocked the civil service, he was for much of his career relatively important and highly regarded (civil servants designated to private secretary to ministers are usually considered "high flyers" and expected to rise to very senior roles in government) and was trusted with delicate tasks and policies, such as running (as "secretary") the public inquiry into the Cavan Orphanage Fire of 1943 and planning of a proposed Irish National Health Service imitating the UKs, under the auspices of his department - planning he duly mocked in his pseudonymous column.
In reality, that O'Nolan was Flann O'Brien and Myles na gCopaleen was an open secret, largely disregarded by his colleagues, who found his writing very entertaining; this was a function of the makeup of the civil service, which recruited leading graduates by competitive examination—it was an erudite and relatively liberal body in the Ireland of the 1930s to the 1970s. Nonetheless, had O'Nolan forced the issue, by using one of his known pseudonyms or his own name for an article that seriously upset politicians, consequences would likely have followed—contributing to the acute pseudonym problem in attributing his work today.
A combination of his gradually deepening alcoholism, legendarily outrageous behaviour when, frequently-inebriated, and his habit of making derogatory and increasingly reckless remarks about senior politicians in his newspaper columns led to his forced retirement from the civil service in 1953 after enraging a less urbane, sophisticated, literary (and much less tolerant) minister than he'd enjoyed before, when that minister became aware that he was the unnamed target of multiple columns satirising a particular politician's intellect in savage terms. One column described that the politician's reaction to any question requiring even a trace of intellectual effort as "[t]he great jaw would drop, the ruined graveyard of tombstone teeth would be revealed, the eyes would roll, and the malt eroded voice would say 'Hah!'" (He departed, recalled a colleague, "in a final fanfare of f***s".)
Although O'Nolan was a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. He joined the Irish civil service in 1935, working in the Department of Local Government. For a decade or so after his father's death in 1937, he helped support his brothers and sisters, eleven in total, on his income. On 2 December 1948 he married Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moved from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Avenue, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple had no children.
Health and death
O'Nolan was an alcoholic for much of his life and suffered from ill health in his later years. He suffered from cancer of the throat and died from a heart attack on the morning of 1 April 1966.
Journalism and other writings
From late 1940 to early 1966, O'Brien wrote short columns for The Irish Times under the title "Cruiskeen Lawn", using the moniker Myles na gCopaleen (changing that to Myles na Gopaleen in late 1952, having put the column on hold for most of that year). For the first year, the columns were in Irish. Then, he alternated columns in Irish with columns in English, but by late 1953 he had settled on English only. These columns showed a manic imagination that still astonishes.
His newspaper column, "Cruiskeen Lawn" (transliterated from the Irish "crúiscín lán", meaning "full/brimming small-jug"), has its origins in a series of pseudonymous letters written to The Irish Times, originally intended to mock the publication in that same newspaper of a poem, "Spraying the Potatoes", by the writer Patrick Kavanagh:
I am no judge of poetry – the only poem I ever wrote was produced when I was body and soul in the gilded harness of Dame Laudanum – but I think Mr Kavanaugh [sic] is on the right track here. Perhaps the Irish Times, timeless champion of our peasantry, will oblige us with a series in this strain covering such rural complexities as inflamed goat-udders, warble-pocked shorthorn, contagious abortion, non-ovoid oviducts and nervous disorders among the gentlemen who pay the rent.
The letters, some written by O'Brien and some not, continued under a variety of false names, using various styles and assailed varied topics, including other earlier letters by O'Brien under different pseudonyms. The letters were a hit with the readers of The Irish Times, and R. M. Smyllie, then editor of the newspaper, shortly invited O'Brien to contribute a column. Importantly, the Irish Times maintained that there were in fact three pseudonymous authors of the "Cruiskeen Lawn" column, which provided a certain amount of cover for O'Nolan as a civil servant when a column was particularly provocative (though it was mostly O'Brien.) The managing editor of the Irish times for much of the period, Gerard "Cully" Tynan O'Mahony (father of the comedian Dave Allen), a personal friend and drinking companion of O'Brien, and likely was one of the other occasional authors of the column, was typically one of those pressed for a name, but was skilfully evasive on the topic.
The first column appeared on 4 October 1940, under the pseudonym "An Broc" ("The Badger"). In all subsequent columns the name "Myles na gCopaleen" ("Myles of the Little Horses" or "Myles of the Ponies" - a name taken from The Collegians, a novel by Gerald Griffin) was used. Initially, the column was composed in Irish, but soon English was used primarily, with occasional smatterings of German, French or Latin. The sometimes intensely satirical column's targets included the Dublin literary elite, Irish language revivalists, the Irish government, and the "Plain People of Ireland." The following column excerpt, in which the author wistfully recalls a brief sojourn in Germany as a student, illustrates the biting humor and scorn that informed the "Cruiskeen Lawn" writings:
I notice these days that the Green Isle is getting greener. Delightful ulcerations resembling buds pit the branches of our trees, clumpy daffodils can be seen on the upland lawn. Spring is coming and every decent girl is thinking of that new Spring costume. Time will run on smoother till Favonius re-inspire the frozen Meade and clothe in fresh attire the lily and rose that have not sown nor spun. Curse it, my mind races back to my Heidelberg days. Sonya and Lili. And Magda. And Ernst Schmutz, Georg Geier, Theodor Winkleman, Efrem Zimbalist, Otto Grün. And the accordion player Kurt Schachmann. And Doktor Oreille, descendant of Irish princes. Ich hab' mein Herz/ in Heidelberg verloren/ in einer lauen/ Sommernacht/ Ich war verliebt/ bis über beide/ Ohren/ und wie ein Röslein/hatt'/ Ihr Mund gelächt or something humpty tumpty tumpty tumpty tumpty mein Herz it schlägt am Neckarstrand. A very beautiful student melody. Beer and music and midnight swims in the Neckar. Chats in erse with Kun O'Meyer and John Marquess ... Alas, those chimes. Und als wir nahmen/ Abschied vor den Toren/ beim letzten Küss, da hab' Ich Klar erkannt/ dass Ich mein Herz/ in Heidelberg verloren/ MEIN HERZ/ es schlägt am Neck-ar-strand! Tumpty tumpty tum.
- The Plain People of Ireland: Isn't the German very like the Irish? Very guttural and so on?
- Myself: Yes.
- The Plain People of Ireland: People say that the German language and the Irish language is very guttural tongues.
- Myself: Yes.
- The Plain People of Ireland: The sounds is all guttural do you understand.
- Myself. Yes.
- The Plain People of Ireland: Very guttural languages the pair of them the Gaelic and the German.
Ó Nuallain/na gCopaleen wrote "Cruiskeen Lawn" for The Irish Times until the year of his death, 1966.
He contributed substantially to Envoy (he was "honorary editor" for the special number featuring James Joyce) and formed part of the Envoy / McDaid's pub circle of artistic and literary figures that included Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Brendan Behan, John Jordan, Pearse Hutchinson, J.P. Donleavy and artist Desmond MacNamara who, at the author's request, created the book cover for the first edition of The Dalkey Archive. O'Brien also contributed to The Bell. He also wrote a column titled Bones of Contention for the Nationalist and Leinster Times under the pseudonym George Knowall; those were collected in the volume Myles Away From Dublin.
Most of his later writings were occasional pieces published in periodicals, some of very limited circulation, which explains why his work has only recently come to enjoy the considered attention of literary scholars. O'Brien was also notorious for his prolific use and creation of pseudonyms for much of his writing, including short stories, essays, and letters to editors, and even perhaps novels, which has rendered the compilation of a complete bibliography of his writings an almost impossible task. Under pseudonyms, he regularly wrote to various newspapers, particularly the Irish Times, waspish letters targeting various well known figures and writers; mischievously, some of the pseudonymous identities reflected composite caricatures of existing people, this would also fuel speculation as to whether his model (or models) for the character was in fact the author writing under a pseudonym, apparently leading to social controversy and angry arguments and accusations. He would allegedly write letters to the editor of The Irish Times complaining about his own articles published in that newspaper, for example in his regular "Cruiskeen Lawn" column, or irate, eccentric and even mildly deranged pseudonymous responses to his own pseudonymous letters, which gave rise to rampant speculation as to whether the author of a published letter existed or not, or who it might in fact be. There is also persistent speculation that he wrote some of a very long series of penny dreadful detective novels (and stories) featuring a protagonist called Sexton Blake under the pseudonym Stephen Blakesley, he may have been the early science fiction writer John Shamus O’Donnell, who published in Amazing Stories at least one science fiction story in 1932, while there is also speculation about author names such as John Hackett, Peter the Painter, Winnie Wedge, John James Doe and numerous others. Not surprisingly, much of O'Brien's pseudonymous activity has not been verified.
O'Brien's journalistic pseudonym is taken from a character (Myles-na-Coppaleen) in Dion Boucicault's play The Colleen Bawn (itself an adaptation of Gerald Griffin's The Collegians), who is the stereotypical charming Irish rogue. At one point in the play, he sings the ancient anthem of the Irish Brigades on the Continent, the song "An Crúiscín Lán" (hence the name of the column in the Irish Times).
Capall is the Irish word for "horse" (from Vulgar Latin caballus), and 'een' (spelled ín in Irish) is a diminutive suffix. The prefix na gCapaillín is the genitive plural in his Ulster Irish dialect (the Standard Irish would be "Myles na gCapaillíní"), so Myles na gCopaleen means "Myles of the Little Horses". Capaillín is also the Irish word for "pony", as in the name of Ireland's most famous and ancient native horse breed, the Connemara pony.
O'Brien himself always insisted on the translation "Myles of the Ponies", saying that he did not see why the principality of the pony should be subjugated to the imperialism of the horse.
At Swim-Two-Birds works entirely with borrowed (and stolen) characters from other fiction and legend, on the grounds that there are already far too many existing fictional characters.
At Swim-Two-Birds is now recognised as one of the most significant modernist novels before 1945. Indeed it can be seen as a pioneer of postmodernism, although the academic Keith Hopper has argued that The Third Policeman, superficially less radical, is actually a more deeply subversive and proto-postmodernist work, and as such, possibly a representation of literary nonsense.
At Swim-Two-Birds was one of the last books that James Joyce read and he praised it to O'Brien's friends—praise which was subsequently used for years as a blurb on reprints of O'Brien's novels. The book was also praised by Graham Greene, who was working as a reader when the book was put forward for publication and also the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, whose work might be said to bear some similarities to that of O'Brien.
The British writer Anthony Burgess stated, "If we don't cherish the work of Flann O'Brien we are stupid fools who don't deserve to have great men. Flann O'Brien is a very great man." Burgess included At Swim-Two-Birds on his list of Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939.
At Swim-Two-Birds has had a troubled publication history in the USA. Southern Illinois University Press has set up a Flann O'Brien Center and begun publishing all of O'Brien's works. Consequently, academic attention to the novel has increased.
The Third Policeman and The Dalkey Archive
The rejection of The Third Policeman by publishers in his lifetime had a profound effect on O'Brien. This is perhaps reflected in The Dalkey Archive, in which sections of The Third Policeman are recycled almost word for word, namely the atomic theory and the character De Selby.
The Third Policeman has a fantastic plot of a murderous protagonist let loose on a strange world peopled by fat policemen, played against a satire of academic debate on an eccentric philosopher called De Selby. Sergeant Pluck introduces the atomic theory of the bicycle.
The Dalkey Archive features a character who encounters a penitent, elderly and apparently unbalanced James Joyce (who dismissively refers to his work by saying 'I have published little' and, furthermore, does not seem aware of having written and published Finnegans Wake) working as an assistant barman or 'curate'—another small joke relating to Joyce's alleged priestly ambitions—in the resort of Skerries. The scientist De Selby seeks to suck all of the air out of the world, and Policeman Pluck learns of the mollycule theory from Sergeant Fottrell. The Dalkey Archive was adapted for the stage in September 1965 by Hugh Leonard as The Saints Go Cycling In.
Other books written by O'Brien include An Béal Bocht—translated from the Irish as The Poor Mouth—(a parody of Tomás Ó Criomhthain's autobiography An t-Oileánach—in English The Islander), and The Hard Life (a fictional autobiography meant to be his "misterpiece"). As noted above he may, between 1946 and 1952, been one of the writers to use the pseudonym Stephen Blakesley to write up to eight books of the protracted series of "penny dreadful" Sexton Blake novels and stories, and he may have written yet more fiction under a wide array of pseudonyms.
O'Brien's theatrical output was unsuccessful. Faustus Kelly, a play about a local councillor selling his soul to the devil for a seat in the Dáil, ran for only 11 performances in 1943. A second play, Rhapsody in Stephen's Green, also called The Insect Play, was a reworking of the Capek Brothers' synonymous play using anthropomorphised insects to satirise society. It also was put on in 1943 but quickly folded, possibly because of the offence it gave to various interests including Catholics, Ulster Protestants, Irish civil servants, Corkmen, and the Fianna Fail party. The play was thought lost, but was rediscovered in 1994 in the archives of Northwestern University.
In 1956, O'Brien was co-producer of a production for RTÉ, the Irish broadcaster, of 3 Radio Ballets, which was just what it said it was—a dance performance in three parts designed for and performed on radio.
O'Brien influenced the science fiction writer and conspiracy theory satirist Robert Anton Wilson, who has O'Brien's character De Selby, an obscure intellectual in The Third Policeman and The Dalkey Archive, appear in his own The Widow's Son. In both The Third Policeman and The Widow's Son, De Selby is the subject of long pseudo-scholarly footnotes. This is fitting, because O'Brien himself made free use of characters invented by other writers, claiming that there were too many fictional characters as is. O'Brien was also known for pulling the reader's leg by concocting elaborate conspiracy theories.
In 2011 the '100 Myles: The International Flann O'Brien Centenary Conference' (24–27 July) was held at The Department of English Studies at the University of Vienna, the success of which led to the establishment of 'The International Flann O'Brien Society' (IFOBS). Each year the IFOBS announces awards for both books and articles about O'Brien. In October 2011, Trinity College Dublin hosted a weekend of events celebrating the centenary of his birth. A commemorative 55c stamp featuring a portrait of O'Brien's head as drawn by his brother Micheál Ó Nualláin was issued for the same occasion. This occurred some 52 years after the writer's famous criticism of the Irish postal service. A bronze sculpture of the writer stands outside the Palace Bar on Dublin's Fleet Street. Kevin Myers said, "Had Myles escaped he might have become a literary giant." Fintan O'Toole said of O'Brien "he could have been a celebrated national treasure – but he was far too radical for that." An award winning radio play by Albrecht Behmel called Ist das Ihr Fahrrad, Mr. O'Brien? brought his life and work to the attention of a broader German audience in 2003.
List of principal works
- At Swim-Two-Birds (Longman Green & Co. 1939)
- The Third Policeman (written 1939–1940, published posthumously by MacGibbon & Kee 1967)
- An Béal Bocht (credited to Myles na gCopaleen, published by An Preas Náisiúnta 1941, translated by Patrick C. Power as "The Poor Mouth" 1973)
- The Hard Life (MacGibbon & Kee 1961)
- The Dalkey Archive (MacGibbon & Kee 1964)
- Slattery's Sago Saga (seven chapters of an unfinished novel written circa 1964–1966, later published in the collections Stories and Plays, Hart-Davis, MacGibbon 1973, and The Short Fiction of Flann O'Brien, Dalkey Archive Press 2013, edited by Neil Murphy & Keith Hopper. It was also adapted as a play in 2010.
Selected newspaper columns
The best known newspaper column by O’Brien was entitled "Cruiskeen Lawn" and appeared regularly in the Irish Times (1940–1966), first credited to Myles na gCopaleen, but from late 1952 on to Myles na Gopaleen. Selections have appeared in these five collections:
- The Best of Myles (MacGibbon & Kee 1968)
- Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn (Hart-Davis, MacGibbon 1976)
- The Hair of the Dogma (Hart-Davis 1977)
- Myles Away from Dublin (Granada 1985) "being a selection from the column written for The Nationalist and Leinster Times, Carlow, under the name George Knowall". They appeared between 1960 and 1966 under the heading "Bones of Contention".
- Flann O'Brien at War: Myles na gCopaleen 1940–1945 (Duckworth 1999), also published as At War
- A Bash in the Tunnel (O'Brien's essay on James Joyce with this title appears in this book edited by John Ryan, published by Clifton Books 1970, alongside essays by Patrick Kavanagh, Samuel Beckett, Ulick O'Connor & Edna O'Brien).
- Stories and Plays (Hart-Davis, MacGibbon 1973), comprising "Slattery’s Sago Saga", "The Martyr’s Crown", "John Duffy’s Brother", "Faustus Kelly" and "A Bash in the Tunnel"
- The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman and The Brother, edited and introduced by Benedict Kiely, Hart-Davis, MacGibbon 1976, ISBN 0 246 10643 3
- Myles Before Myles (Granada 1985), a selection of writings by Brian O’Nolan from the 1930s.
- Rhapsody in St Stephen's Green (play, an adaptation of Pictures from the Insects' Life), (Lilliput Press 1994)
- The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien, edited by Neil Murphy & Keith Hopper (Dalkey Archive Press 2013), including "John Duffy’s Brother", "Drink and Time in Dublin" and "The Martyr’s Crown"
- Plays & Teleplays, edited by Daniel Keith Jernigan, Dalkey Archive Press 2013, ISBN 978-1-56478-890-0
- The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien, edited by Maebh Long (Dalkey Archive Press 2018)
- Borg, Ruben; Paul Fagan, and Werner Huber, eds. (2014). Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies. Cork: Cork University Press. 978-1782050766 (This title was included in the Irish Times list of best books of 2014)
- Borg, Ruben; Paul Fagan, and John McCourt, eds. (2017). Flann O’Brien: Problems with Authority. Cork: Cork University Press. 978-1782052302 [Winner of 2015 IFOBS award]
- Brooker, Joseph (2004). Flann O'Brien. Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers. ISBN 978-0-74631-081-6.
- Clissmann, Anne (1975). Flann O'Brien: A Critical Introduction. Gill & Macmillan Ltd. ISBN 978-0717107186.
- Clune, Anne; Hurson, Tess, eds. (1997). Conjuring Complexities: Essays on Flann O'Brien. Belfast: The Institute of Irish Studies. ISBN 0-85389-678-X.
- Cronin, Anthony (1989). No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O'Brien. London: Grafton Books. ISBN 0-246-12836-4.
- Curran, Steven. "No, This is Not From The Bell: Brian O'Nolan's 1943 "Cruiskeen Lawn" Anthology". Éire-Ireland. Irish American Cultural Institute. 32 (2 & 3): 79–92. ISSN 1550-5162. (Summer/Fall 1997)
- Curran, Steven. "Designs on an 'Elegant Utopia': Brian O'Nolan and Vocational Organisation". Bullán. Oxford: Willow Press. 2: 87–116. ISSN 1353-1913. (Winter/Spring 2001)
- Curran, Steven. "Could Paddy Leave Off from Copying Just for Five Minutes?: Brian O'Nolan and Éire's Beveridge Plan". Irish University Review. International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures. 31 (2): 353–76. ISSN 0021-1427. (Autumn/Winter 2001)
- Guinness, Jonathan (1997). Requiem for a Family Business. London, UK: Macmillan. pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-333-66191-5.
- Hopper, Keith (1995). Flann O'Brien: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Postmodernist. Cork University Press. ISBN 1-85918-042-6.
- Johnston, Denis (1977). "Myles na Gopaleen". In Ronsley, Joseph (ed.). Myth and Reality in Irish Literature. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 0-88920-039-4.
- Jordan, John (2006). "'Flann O'Brien'; 'A Letter to Myles'; and 'One of the Saddest Books Ever to Come Out of Ireland'". Crystal Clear: The Selected Prose of John Jordan. Dublin: Lilliput Press. ISBN 1-84351-066-9.
- Long, Maebh (2014). Assembling Flann O'Brien. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-1-4411-8705-5. [Winner of 2015 IFOBS award]
- Long, Maebh, ed. (2018). The Collected Letters of Flann O'Brien. Champaign, Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press. ISBN 978-1-62897-183-5. [Winner of 2019 IFOBS award]
- "An Interview with Desmond MacNamara". The Journal of Irish Literature. January 1981. ISSN 0047-2514.
- McFadden, Hugh (Summer 2012). "Fantasy & Culture: Flann and Myles". Books Ireland. No. 340. Dublin. ISSN 0376-6039.
- Murphy, Neil (Fall 2011). "Flann O'Brien's 'The Hard Life': The Gaze of the Medusa". Review of Contemporary Fiction: 148–161.
- Murphy, Neil (Fall 2005). "Flann O'Brien". Review of Contemporary Fiction. XXV (3): 7–41.
- Nolan, Val (Spring 2012). "Flann Fantasy and Science Fiction: O'Brien's Surprising Synthesis". Review of Contemporary Fiction. XXXI (2): 178–190.
- O'Keeffe, Timothy, ed. (1973). Myles: Portraits of Brian O'Nolan. London, UK: Martin, Brian & O'Keeffe. ISBN 0856161500.
- Riordan, Arthur (2005). Improbable Frequency. Nick Hern Books. ISBN 1-85459-875-9.
- Taaffe, Carol (1975). Ireland Through the Looking-Glass: Flann O'Brien, Myles na gCopaleen and Irish Cultural Debate. Cork University Press. ISBN 978-1859184424.
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In 1966 Brian was undergoing X-ray treatment for throat cancer. He was saved from the agony of dying from throat cancer by having a major heart attack. He died in that early morning of 1 April (April fool's day, his final joke).
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- 'In 1951, whilst I was editor of the Irish literary periodical Envoy, I decided that it would be a fitting thing to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of James Joyce by bringing out a special number dedicated to him which would reflect the attitudes and opinions of his fellow countrymen towards their illustrious compatriot. To this end I began by inviting Brian Nolan to act as honorary editor for this particular issue. His own genius closely matched, without in any way resembling or attempting to counterfeit, Joyce's. But if the mantle of Joyce (or should we say the waistcoat?) were ever to be passed on, nobody would be half so deserving of it as the man whom under his other guises as Flan [sic] O'Brien and Myles Na gCopaleen, proved himself incontestably to be the most creative writer and mordant wit that Ireland had given us since Shem the Penman himself.' – John Ryan, Introduction to A Bash in the Tunnel (1970) John Ryan (1925–92) Ricorso
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In the course of the 1959 diatribe, he decried the low aesthetic standards of Irish philately and, calling for a better class of artist to be hired, suggested future stamps might also capture more realistic scenes from Irish life, such as "a Feena Fayl big shot fixing a job for a relative.
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In a twist of Mylesian absurdity, however, the highlight of the day's cultural programme proved to be a science lecture by Prof Dermot Diamond, in which Diamond convincingly argued that O'Brien was not just a literary genius but a scientific prophet. Diamond set recent experiments in the fields of thermodynamics, quaternion theory and atomic theory against excerpts from O'Brien's books, suggesting that O'Brien anticipated some of the greatest scientific discoveries of the 20th century.
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It would have been Irish writer Flann O'Brien's (aka Brian O'Nolan) 101st birthday today. Sound of Google to give him his own doodle for his birthday.
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- Slattery's Sago Saga Playwright Arthur Riordan
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