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Posted: 23 March 2006

April 1 2006 - Flann O’Brien: An academic conference marking the fortieth anniversary of his death

Flann O’Brien’s first began writing while he was a student at UCD. His early writings were published in a student magazine called Comhthrom Féinne under the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. After he graduated, while working as a civil servant, he wrote a bi-lingual column for the Irish Times under the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen. The fictional character he created in Myles na Gopaleen allowed him to transcend the limits of chronological time, fixed personality, and daily life. Myles na Gopaleen was at once swash-buckling, irascible, ingenious, hilarious, and ruthless.

Myles na Gopaleen was at his funniest when he turned his attention to Irish daily life – lampooning the plain people of Ireland and the supposedly superior people too. He had the ability to at once appreciate and mock the ways in which his fellow countrymen took themselves seriously.

Flann O’Brien also wrote several novels including At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), An Béal Bocht (1941), The Hard Life (1962), The Dalkey Archive (1964), and The Third Policeman (1967)

During his lifetime, his novels received little attention outside of Ireland. But now, forty years after his death, his work is enjoying a wider audience.

O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman (1967) was briefly featured on the enigmatic television show Lost. The assorted survivors of the show, who are stranded on an island, must try to figure out what forces have brought them together. And the writers of the show have hinted that clues to solving this puzzle are contained in O’Brien’s novel. Thousands of fans of the show have bought copies of the novel in an effort to ferret out the clues.

The Third Policeman is a puzzling novel about what we know and what we don’t. The nameless narrator murders a man for money to finish his treatise on the works of idiot savant de Selby. He travels through a vague, timeless landscape to a police barracks like no other. There he encounters extraordinary characters and ideas, including a sergeant convinced that too much bicycle riding will inter-mingle the atoms, and the personalities, of the rider with the bicycle. All of O’Brien’s works are shot through with absurd notions like these.

When The Third Policeman was rejected by publishers, O’Brien locked the manuscript away, telling his friends that it was forever lost when it blew out of the boot of his car on a ride through the country.

Speakers at the conference include:

  • Declan Kiberd, UCD School of English and Drama
    Welcome and Introduction
  • Keith Hopper, University of Oxford
    "The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Flann O’Brien and the Censorship Code"
  • Declan Kiberd, UCD School of English and Drama
    Questions and Answers session
  • Greg Dobbins, University of California at Davis
    "Constitutional Laziness: Modernism, Idleness, and 'At Swim-Two-Birds'"
  • Frank McNally, Irish Times
    'Myles na gCopaleen's legacy as a columnist'
  • Joseph Brooker, University of London
    "Myles' Tones" Discussing the tones of O'Brien's writing
  • Carol Taaffe, Trinity College
    Press censorship during the war. The effect of censorship on O'Brien's role as cultural commentator
  • Ronan O Muirthile, Mint Productions
    Introduction to 'The Life of Flann O'Brien' (RTE TV documentary)
    Screening of 'The Life of Flann O'Brien'

    Venue: Room A109
    Date: Saturday, 1 April 2006
    Cost: 10 euros

To register email:

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