Liam O'Flaherty

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 served on the Western Front as a soldier in the Irish Guards were he was badly injured. After the war 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.

Liam O'Flaherty
Born(1896-08-28)28 August 1896
Inishmore, Ireland
Died7 September 1984(1984-09-07) (aged 88)
Dublin, Ireland
Literary movementIrish Renaissance
SpouseMargaret Barrington
ChildrenPegeen, Joyce
RelativesTom O'Flaherty, his brother
Breandán Ó hEithir, his nephew
John Ford, his cousin

Early years

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.[1] O'Flaherty was an uncle of Gaelic Athletic Association commentator and writer, Breandán Ó hEithir.[2]

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[3] teacher training college Holy Cross College (Clonliffe College).[4] 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,[5] but in 1917 he joined the British Army as a member of the Irish Guards in 1917 under the name 'Bill Ganly'.[6] serving on the Western Front. He found trench life devastatingly monotonous [7] 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 travelling. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World in Canada and while in New York joined the Communist Party USA.[5]

He returned from the front a socialist. Having become interested in Marxism as a schoolboy,[8] atheistic and communistic beliefs evolved in his 20s and he was a founder member of the Communist Party of Ireland.[9] 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.[10][11]


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.[11] Four years later his next short novel Return of the Brute, set in the World War I trenches, proved another success.[11] 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.[12] 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.[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.

Later years

His last novel was published in 1950, and his last published short story was 1958.[12] One biography comments of his later years that he "spent much time travelling and lived comfortably and quietly outside the spotlight".[15] 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.



Short stories and collections

In 1999, when compiling all of O'Flaherty's short stories A. A. Kelly found a total of 183.[12] 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,[17] 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

See also

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.


  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.
  6. Ó hEithir, p. 164
  7. 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
  8. Ó hEithir, p. 163
  9. Turtle Bunbury: p. 123
  11. Turtle Bunbury: p.124
  12. Kelly, Angeline A. (2000). Liam O'Flaherty: the Collected Stories, volume 1 (Introduction by A. A. Kelly). ISBN 0-312-22903-8. Introduction ... the whole body of Liam O'Flaherty's short story writing, composed 1922-1958 ... Most of these stories have been previously published in seven different collections (1922-1976), plus one Irish language collection of eighteen stories, Dúil ... At least two of the Irish stories 'Daoine Bochta' and 'An Fiach' (both written in 1925) were originally composed in Irish. The other stories in Irish were translated or recomposed into their English language version. Until the 1950s it was difficult to get Irish language work published.
  13. Ó hEithir, p. 166
  14. Ó Flaithearta, Liam. Dúil, Sáirséal agus Dill, 1953/1979. ISBN 0-901374-07-5
  15. A Companion to the British and Irish Short Story, Chapter 19, "The Short Stories of Liam O'Flaherty", pages 221-226.
  16. State's first banned book to be published for first time in 80 years Irish Times, 2013-06-12.
  17. 1947 January–February Story Magazine pages 23 to 32

Selected short stories accessible online:

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