Liam O'Flaherty

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For the Irish footballer, see Liam O'Flaherty (footballer).
Liam O'Flaherty
Liam O'Flaherty.jpeg
Born (1896-08-28)28 August 1896
Inishmore, Ireland
Died 7 September 1984(1984-09-07) (aged 88)
Dublin, Ireland
Occupation Author
Nationality Irish
Literary movement Irish Renaissance
Spouse Margaret Barrington
Children Pegeen
Relatives Tom O'Flaherty, his brother
Breandán Ó hEithir, his nephew
John Ford, his cousin

Liam O'Flaherty (Irish: Liam Ó Flaithearta; 28 August 1896 – 7 September 1984) was an Irish novelist and short story writer and a major figure in the Irish literary renaissance. He was involved for a time in left-wing politics, as was his brother Tom Maidhc O'Flaherty (also a writer), and their father, Maidhc Ó Flaithearta, before them.


O'Flaherty was born in the remote village of Gort na gCapall, on Inis Mór (one of the Aran Islands), County Galway. His family, descendants of the Ó Flaithbertaigh family of Connemara, were not well off. The Irish language was widely spoken in the area, and in the O'Flaherty household both English and Irish were used.[1] O'Flaherty was an uncle of Gaelic Athletic Association commentator and writer, Breandán Ó hEithir.[2]

Early years[edit]

East beach of Inishmore, O'Flaherty's birthplace

O'Flaherty was born, a son of Maidhc Ó Flaithearta and Maggie Ganley, at Gort na gCapall, Inishmore. At the age of twelve, he went to Rockwell College and later University College Dublin and the Dublin Diocesan[3] teacher training college Holy Cross College.[4] According to The Sunday Times, he also attended Belvedere College and Blackrock College.

It was intended he enter the priesthood, but in 1917 he joined the British Army as a member of the Irish Guards in 1917 under the name 'Bill Ganly'.[5] serving on the Western Front. He found trench life devastatingly monotonous [6] but was badly injured in September 1917 during the Battle of Langemarck. It is speculated that the shell shock suffered was responsible for the mental illness which became apparent in 1933.

He returned from the front a socialist. Having become interested in Marxism as a schoolboy,[7] atheistic and communistic beliefs evolved in his 20s and he was a founder member of the Communist Party of Ireland.[8] Two days after the establishment of the Irish Free State, O'Flaherty and other unemployed Dublin workers seized the [then] Rotunda Concert Hall (later the Ambassador Cinema and now the Gate Theatre) in Dublin and held it for four days flying a red flag, in protest at "the apathy of the authorities". Free State troops forced their surrender.[9][10]


After these events, O'Flaherty left Ireland and moved first to England where, destitute and jobless, he took to writing. In 1925 he scored immediate success with his best-selling novel The Informer about a rebel with confused ideals in the Irish War of Independence, which won him the 1925 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.[11] Four years later his next short novel Return of the Brute, set in the World War I trenches, proved another success.[12] He then travelled to the United States, where he lived in Hollywood for a short time. The film director John Ford, a cousin, later made a film of O'Flaherty's first novel. The novel was also the source of a 1929 film of same name directed by Arthur Robison.

Many of his works have the common theme of nature and Ireland. He was a distinguished short story writer, and some of his best work in that genre was in Irish. The collection Dúil, published towards the end of his life, contained Irish language versions of a number of stories published elsewhere in English. It is likely, for example, that the story The Pedlar's Revenge was first written in Irish under the title Díoltas.[13][14] This collection, now widely admired, had a poor reception at the time, and this seems to have discouraged him from proceeding with an Irish language novel he had in hand.

In a letter written to The Sunday Times years later, he confessed to a certain ambivalence regarding his work in Irish, and spoke of other Irish writers who received little praise for their work in the language. This gave rise to some controversy. His First Flight, a short story which symbolizes the nervousness one experiences before doing something new, is regarded as one of his best known works. In 1923, O'Flaherty published his first novel, Thy Neighbour's Wife, thought to be one of his best. Over the next couple of years he published other novels and short stories. In 1933 he suffered from the first of two mental breakdowns.

He travelled in the United States and Europe, and the letters he wrote while travelling have now been published. He had a love of French and Russian culture. Before his death he left the Communist Party and returned to the Roman Catholic faith.


O'Flaherty died on 7 September 1984, in Dublin, and many of his works were subsequently republished. He is remembered today as a powerful writer and a strong voice in Irish culture.

Idir Dhá Theanga (Between Two Languages) is a 2002 documentary film about Liam Ó Flatharta by Alan Titley and Mac Dara Ó Curraidhín.


Among his books are

  • Thy Neighbour's Wife (1923)
  • The Black Soul (1924)
  • Funny The Way It Is (1925)
  • The Informer (1925); adapted as films The Informer, 1935) and in 1929 also with the novel's title.
  • Mr. Gilhooley (1926)
  • If You Think About It (1926)
  • The Wilderness (serialised 1927, gathered in book form and republished 1986)
  • The Assassin (1928)
  • Return of the Brute (1929)
  • A Tourist's Guide To Ireland (satirical, 1929)
  • The House of Gold (1929), the first novel banned by the Irish Free State, for alleged indecency. Republished in 2013.[15]
  • Two Years' (1930)
  • The Ecstasy Of Angus (1931)
  • Skerrett (1932)
  • Shame The Devil (1934), his autobiography
  • Short Stories (1937; revised 1956)
  • Famine (1937)
  • Land (1946)
  • Two Lovely Beasts and Other Stories (1950)
  • Insurrection (1950)
  • The Pedlar's Revenge and Other Stories (1976)
  • The Letters Of Liam O'Flaherty (published posthumously, 1996).

In addition to The Sniper, other short stories by O'Flaherty include Civil War, The Shilling, Going into Exile, Night Porter[16] and A Red Petticoat.

In the 1970s, he recorded a spoken word version of The Ecstasy Of Angus. This was released as a double-album record in 1978 by Claddagh Records, Dublin, catalogue no. CCT 15 & 16.


  1. ^ Ó hEithir, Breandán, An Chaint sa tSráidbhaile. Comhar Teoranta, 1991, p. 166. ISBN 978-0-631-23580-4
  2. ^ "Breandan O hEithir, Irish Writer, Dies at 60", The New York Times, 1990-10-25.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Ó hEithir, p. 164
  6. ^ Turtle Bunbury, The Glorious Madness, Tales of The Irish and The Great War,
    Liam O'Flaherty - An Aran Islander at War, pp.122-24, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 12 (2014) ISBN 978 0717 16234 5
  7. ^ Ó hEithir, p. 163
  8. ^ Turtle Bunbury: p. 123
  9. ^
  10. ^ Turtle Bunbury: p.124
  11. ^ Turtle Bunbury: p.124
  12. ^ Turtle Bunbury: p.124
  13. ^ Ó hEithir, p. 166
  14. ^ Ó Flaithearta, Liam. Dúil, Sáirséal agus Dill, 1953/1979. ISBN 0-901374-07-5
  15. ^ State's first banned book to be published for first time in 80 years Irish Times, 2013-06-12.
  16. ^ 1947 January–February Story Magazine pages 23 to 32

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