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 a significant Irish novelist and short story writer and a major figure in the Irish literary renaissance. Like his brother Tom Maidhc O'Flaherty (also a writer), he was involved for a time in left-wing politics, as 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] He was an uncle of writer and Gaelic Athletic Association commentator, Breandán Ó hEithir.[2]

Early years[edit]

East beach of Inishmore, O'Flaherty's birthplace

O'Flaherty was the son of Maidhc Ó Flaithearta and Maggie Ganley of Gort na gCapall. In 1908, at the age of twelve, he went to Rockwell College. This was followed by enrollments at Holy Cross and University College Dublin. According to The Sunday Times, he also attended Belvedere College and Blackrock College.

He had intended joining the priesthood, but in 1917 he left school and joined the Irish Guards under the name 'Bill Ganly'.[3] He served during World War I on the Western Front, finding trench life devastatingly monotonous. He was badly injured in September 1917 during the Battle of Langemarck, and it is possible that the shell shock he also suffered may have been responsible for the mental illness which became apparent in 1933.[4]

He also returned from the front as a socialist, having become interested in Marxism as a schoolboy,[5] evolving in the 1920s his belief in atheism and communism, becoming a founder member of an embryonic Communist Party of Ireland.[6] Two days after the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 O'Flaherty and other unemployed Dublin workers seized the Rotunda Concert Hall (now Gate Theatre) in Dublin for four days, flying a red flag from it, in protest at "the apathy of the authorities", until Free State troops forced their surrender.[7][8]


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.[9] Four years later his next short novel Return of the Brute, set in the WWI trenches, proved another success.[10] He then travelled to the United States, where he lived in Hollywood for a short time. The well-known director John Ford, a cousin, later made a film of O'Flaherty' 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.[11][12] 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 in later years 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 most famous 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 Currraidhín.


Among his books are

  • Thy Neighbour's Wife (1923)
  • The Black Soul (1924)
  • Funny The Way It Is (1925)
  • The Informer (1925); adapted as a film (The Informer, 1935). Also a film from 1929 of same name.
  • 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.[13]
  • 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 some notable short stories by O'Flaherty are Civil War, The Shilling, Going into Exile, Night Porter[14] 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. ^ Ó hEithir, p. 164
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Ó hEithir, p. 163
  6. ^ Turtle Bunbury: p.123
  7. ^
  8. ^ Turtle Bunbury: p.124
  9. ^ Turtle Bunbury: p.124
  10. ^ Turtle Bunbury: p.124
  11. ^ Ó hEithir, p. 166
  12. ^ Ó Flaithearta, Liam. Dúil, Sáirséal agus Dill, 1953/1979. ISBN 0-901374-07-5
  13. ^ State's first banned book to be published for first time in 80 years Irish Times, 2013-06-12.
  14. ^ 1947 January–February Story Magazine pages 23 to 32

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