An Inventory of Manuscripts and Criticism at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Brian O'Nolan was born into the family of a civil servant in County Tyrone, Ireland, on 5 October 1911, the third of twelve children. After the family settled in Dublin in 1923 Brian attended school there, entering University College, Dublin in 1929. After receiving a B.A. degree (English, Irish, and German) and later an M.A., O'Nolan began eighteen years' employment in the Irish civil service in 1935. During the late 1930s he embarked on a literary career, writing a bilingual column for the Irish Times under the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen and publishing his first (and best-known) novel At Swim-Two-Birds, in 1939 under the pseudonym Flann O'Brien.
The outbreak of World War II drew attention away from what is arguably O'Nolan's major literary achievement, but he continued his newspaper column and wrote other novels: An Beal Bocht (The Poor Mouth), The Hard Life, The Dalkey Archive, and the posthumously-published The Third Policeman, actually written in 1940. Additionally he wrote Faustus Kelly and other dramatic pieces.
While O'Nolan had enjoyed a continuing reputation among educated Irish, it was only upon the republication of At Swim-Two-Birds in 1960 that his broader fame began. A collection of his Irish Times pieces (edited by his brother Kevin O'Nolan) was published in 1968 as The Best of Myles. Brian O'Nolan died in Dublin on 1 April 1966.
The Brian O'Nolan materials at the HRC comprise two series, Works (1934-1963) and Criticism (1989). The first of these, Works, embraces the manuscripts of two of his five novels, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Dalkey Archive, together with manuscript materials relating to his play Faustus Kelly.
At Swim-Two-Birds is represented by two typescript drafts. The first of these contains extensive marginalia and holographic additions by the author. Thomas F. Shea, O'Nolan's biographer, has suggested this draft “was most likely composed between 1934 and 1937.” The second typescript bears a signed note by the author indicating it is “the final version for Longmans Green,” typed in 1937. Accompanying At Swim-Two-Birds are a group of clippings relating to that novel's 1960 republication, together with a note from O'Nolan to Niall Montgomery, dated 21 September 1960.
The Dalkey Archive exists here in four drafts. The first, dated “November 1962... July 1963” is holographic; three typescripts are dated August, September, and October 1963. The first of these is identified as “first typescript,” while the second is described as “first typescript drastically revised.” The last typescript is bound in boards and dated October 1963 but otherwise unidentified as to priority.
O'Nolan's play Faustus Kelly is represented by two manuscripts (each contained in a ruled notebook), together with a number of unbound leaves of dramatic writing for that 1943 play.
The second series, Criticism, is represented by a typescript draft of Thomas F. Shea's Flann O'Brien's Exhorbitant Novels, which was published in 1992 by Bucknell University Press.
Open for research
Purchases and gift, 1965, 1970, and 1989 (R2707, R4815, and G8215)
Bob Taylor, 1997
Flann O'Brien Manuscripts--Folder List