Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

A comic genius undone by his times and thirst

Flann O'Brien
Flann O'Brien

Brian O'Nolan or Flann O'Brien as he was better known can only be described as a genius who left us some of the funniest books ever written.

Sadly, despite having gained a high rank in the Civil Service, he became a hard drinking alcoholic but still managed to write At Swim Two Birds, The Dalkey Archive and others. The Third Policeman, a brilliantly dark but comic novel, is one of my favourites.

If you haven't read him yet, all his books are still available.

He was a drinking companion of Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and other literary celebrities of their day and one can only wonder what he might have achieved in different circumstances.

I happened by coincidence to be re-reading Anthony Cronin's biography of O'Nolan before I attended the funeral mentioned opposite.

The descriptions of his childhood included a brutal education from the Christian Brothers and an even harsher time under the eye of his severe father.

This contrasts starkly with gentler life most young people enjoy today.

On the other hand, perhaps the grim religious and academic regime he endured sharpened his wit, tinged as it was with bitterness.

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