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Liam O'Flaherty

Liam O'Flaherty

Irish writer
The basics
Quick Facts
Occupations Screenwriter Writer Novelist Playwright
Countries Ireland
Gender male
Birth August 28, 1896 (Inishmore, County Galway, Connacht, Ireland)
Death July 7, 1984 (Dublin, County Dublin, Leinster, Ireland)
Spouse: Margaret Barrington
Education University College Dublin
Liam O'Flaherty
The details

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 a founding member of the Communist Party of Ireland. His brother Tom Maidhc O'Flaherty (also a writer) was also involved in radical politics and their father, Maidhc Ó Flaithearta, before them. A native Irish-speaker from the Gaeltacht, O'Flaherty wrote almost exclusively in English, except for a small number of short stories in the Irish language.

Early years

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. 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. O'Flaherty was an uncle of Gaelic Athletic Association commentator and writer, Breandán Ó hEithir.

At the age of twelve, he moved to County Tipperary to attend Rockwell College. Six years later, in 1914, he moved to Dublin to attend University College Dublin and the Dublin Diocesan teacher training college Holy Cross College (Clonliffe College). According to The Sunday Times, he also attended Belvedere College and Blackrock College.

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

After being discharged he went traveling. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World in Canada and while in New York joined the Communist Party USA.

He returned from the front a socialist. Having become interested in Marxism as a schoolboy, atheistic and communistic beliefs evolved in his 20s and he was a founder member of the Communist Party of Ireland. In 1922, two days after the establishment of the Irish Free State, O'Flaherty, who declared himself as Chairman of the Council of the Unemployed and other unemployed Dublin workers seized the Rotunda Concert Hall (the building was later separated from the Rotunda Hospital and is now divided between the Ambassador Cinema and 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.


After these events, O'Flaherty left Ireland and moved first to England where, destitute and jobless, he took to writing. In 1923, at the age of 27, O'Flaherty published his first novel, Thy Neighbour's Wife. 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. Four years later his next short novel Return of the Brute, set in the World War I trenches, proved another success. 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 The Informer, in 1935. The novel had also previously been made into a film in 1929, also called The Informer, directed by Arthur Robison. Many of O'Flaherty's works have the common theme of nature and Ireland. He was a distinguished short story writer. 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.

Most of O'Flaherty's writing took place in the fourteen years starting with the publication of his first novel, 1923-1937 (between the ages of 27 and 41), when he wrote 14 of his 16 novels as well as many of his short stories, a play, and at least five non-fiction books. In 1933 he suffered from the first of two mental breakdowns.

The collection Dúil, published in 1953 when his writing activity was coming to an end, contained 18 short stories in Irish. Some of the stories in Dúil are similar to short stories O'Flaherty previously published in English. According to Angeline A. Kelly, at least two of the 18, Daoine Bochta and An Fiach, both written in 1925, were originally written in Irish. The other stories may have begun as unpublished stories written in Irish, but which got their first publication by being reformulated into English, before finally being published in their original Irish version in Dúil. This was probably the case for Díoltas, for example, which became The Pedlar's Revenge. 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.

Later years

His last novel was published in 1950, and his last published short story was 1958. One biography comments of his later years that he "spent much time travelling and lived comfortably and quietly outside the spotlight". Before his death he left the Communist Party and returned to the Roman Catholic faith.

O'Flaherty died on 7 September 1984, aged 88 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.



  • Thy Neighbour's Wife (1923)
  • The Black Soul (1924)
  • The Informer (1925)
    • adapted to film twice: The Informer (1929 film), and The Informer (1935 film)
  • Mr. Gilhooley (1926)
  • The Wilderness (serialised 1927, gathered in book form and republished 1986)
  • The Assassin (1928)
  • Return of the Brute (1929)
  • The House of Gold (1929), the first novel banned by the Irish Free State, for alleged indecency. Republished in 2013.
  • The Ecstasy Of Angus (1931)
    • O'Flaherty recorded a spoken word version, released as a double-album record in 1978 by Claddagh Records, Dublin, catalogue no. CCT 15 & 16.
  • The Puritan (1932)
  • Skerrett (1932)
  • The Martyr (1933)
  • Hollywood Cemetery (1935)
  • Famine (1937)
  • Land (1946)
  • Insurrection (1950)

Short stories and collections

In 1999, when compiling all of O'Flaherty's short stories A. A. Kelly found a total of 183. These were published in a 3 volume set, Liam O'Flaherty: The Collected Stories. The original publication of these stories was spread between over a dozen journals and magazines. Many collections have also been published, including collections containing selections of stories from previous collections. Kelly's introduction to her collection mentions that most of O'Flaherty's stories can be found in eight original collections. The front flap of the hardback book's cover gives the names of six of these:

  • Spring Sowing
  • The Tent
  • The Mountain Tavern
  • Two Lovely Beasts and Other Stories (1950)
  • Dúil (1953)
  • The Pedlar's Revenge and Other Short Stories (1976, but written much earlier)

His best known short story is The Sniper. Others include Civil War, The Shilling, Going into Exile, Night Porter, A Red Petticoat, and His First Flight – about the nervousness before doing something new.


  • Darkness
    • The play was performed in Irish, as Dorchadas, in 1926

For children

  • The Fairy Goose and Two Other Stories (1927) London: Crosby Gaige .
  • The Wild Swan and Other Stories (1932) London Joiner & Steele
  • All Things Come of Age: A Rabbit Story, short story, included in The Pedlar's Revenge and Other Stories
  • The Test of Courage, short story, included in The Pedlar's Revenge and Other Stories


  • Life of Tim Healy (1927), a biography
  • A Tourist's Guide To Ireland (1929), satirical
  • Two Years, or Two Years of My Life (1930), memoirs
  • I went to Russia (1931), memoirs
  • Shame The Devil (1934), memoirs
  • The Letters Of Liam O'Flaherty (1996), published posthumously, edited by Angeline A. Kelly, ISBN 0-86327-380-7

Biographies and studies of his work

Books about O'Flaherty and his works:

  • Angeline A. Kelly, Liam O'Flaherty, the Storyteller, The Macmillan Press, London 1976, ISBN 0-333-19768-2
  • George Jefferson, Liam O'Flaherty: A Descriptive Bibliography of his Works, Wolfhound Press, Dublin 1993, ISBN 0-86327-188-X

Chapters or papers:

  • Elisabeth Schnack, in German, chapter "Liam O'Flaherty" of Müssen Künstler einsam sein? (Must Artists be Lonely?), pp. 47–60, Pendo Verlag, Zurich 1991, ISBN 3-85842-191-X

Film documentaries:

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