Remembering Myles: ‘…to be a person, completely unaware of nationalistic neuroses is a very fine ambition.’

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the great Brian O’Nolan, aka Flann O’Brien, aka Myles na gCopaleen we’re taking a lead from a Scotsman (who unlike us, did not forget). With a bow and a tip of the hat to Alex Massie, here’s the boy at his best…

‘To be decently ashamed of where one was born is the civilised attitude […] rejecting parochial affiliations […] repudiate the national attachment’; proposed ‘statutary denationalisation’ so that ‘the man irretrievably born Irish and thoroughly unproud of it [is] accord some gentle and statutory exit’; ‘Why is there no legal provision whereby an Irish persona can divest himself of Irishry?

Why does not Irish Oifigiul […] contain in each issue a list of ex-Irishmen, decent souls who find the game no longer amusing? (Pray heaven, reader, am I saying the wrong thing again?) Why is there not a decent and entirely honourable quietus available to those of us who have – let us be quite open about this – never entered into the sweaty conspiracy known as the Walls of Limerick? Is the disease then […] incurable?

My own submission is that it is not – that if taken in time wonders can be done […] You will be aware of the formula prescribed as the preliminary to civil marriage. You must publish a notice in the papers, certifying that your name is so-and-so, that you have not attended a place of public worship for so many weeks, and so on.

Similar renunciations … should entitle a man born here to statutory denationalisation … to be a person, completely unaware of nationalistic neuroses is a very fine ambition.’

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  • Nevin

    “To be decently ashamed of where one was born is the civilised attitude” ..

    Brein was born in Strabane .. !

    “rejecting parochial affiliations”

    I’m proud of my parochial affiliations.

    “repudiate the national attachment”

    I prefer my cultural attachments to be flag-free.

  • Sliothar

    It’s probably 50 years since I first made my acquaintance with Brian O’Nolan/Myles na gCopaleen in the pages of the Irish Times where his original columns were being repeated. From there, it was a short step to devouring everything O’Nolan had in print. Obsession is too mild a word to describe what my then passion was. Not only that, but I also read ‘At Swim Two Birds’ once a year for at least 10 years after my first immersion – that and ‘Catch 22’ by Joseph Heller. My two seminal novels on the craziness of ‘life’ and most definitely both will be in my possession under a palm leaf roof on my desert island.

    Even now, as I step on the glide-path of approaching old age, O’Nolan is not too far from me, as I have ‘The Best of Myles’ on my mobile which had me chuckling loudly on the bus into town recently to the mild consternation of nearby passengers. I think it was his take on ‘legalese’, the language of the law, which rekindled the laughter flame.

    And then there are the apocryphal stories about O’Nolan himself of which my particular favorite concerns him being carpeted by his superior officer in the Civil Service. As everyone knows, B.O’N was fond of the ‘odd’ jar and used to go for a lunchtime drink to the Irish Arms (I think?). Someone touted on him so, on returning to his office, he got a call from his boss. ‘You were seen going into licensed premises at lunchtime, O’Nolan. What have you to say for yourself?’
    ‘I think you’ll find’, was the reply, ‘if you go back to your source, I was seen coming in’.
    Collapse of stout party!
    Brian O’Nolan, a true, if all too human, genius.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The immortal Brian O’Nolan did not write in a vacuum: there were other contemporary writers such as: Michael Wharton of Peter Simple fame: Joel Mervis who penned “The Passing Show” in the Johannesburg Sunday Times for 50 years and mystified many:

    “I am sitting in Prmzl. Drinking slivovitz, waiting for a war to break out. It is a question of zinc. Gives Ossip Broz Skopl Topl a klep in noz.”

    And of course the immortal Mr Justice Cocklecarrot himself J B Morton of “Beachcomber” fame in the Daily Express.

    But they were all acute observers of humanity and said things that other lesser souls did not dare do.

  • Cosmo

    a genius
    … quick, here’s me bus.

  • Arthur Renfrew

    There’s a great photo of him, the brother and some friends burning a Union Jack in the back garden in Óige an Dearthár (the brother being Ciarán on this occasion , the author). Just thought I’d burst the bubble after a Chapman fashion.

  • Mick

    John Banville had a short tribute to Flann O’Brien in the Guardian on Friday

    Ireland loves, or pretends to love, its literary heroes, so much so that we put quotations from Ulysses on little brass plaques and nail them to the pavements for tourists and Dubliners alike to tread on, give to a gunboat the name of that most peace-loving Irishman, Samuel Beckett, while Oscar Wilde is represented by a hideous statue indecently asprawl on a rock behind railings opposite his birthplace. What the reaction would be of Flann O’Brien, Myles na Gopaleen, Cruiskeen Lawn (Irish for “the full glass”) or Brian O’Nolan – his real name, more or less – to the gushing lip-service we pay these days to our dead writers (he died 50 years ago on 1 April) can be easily guessed: a sardonic shrug, and a turning back to the bar to order another ball of malt.

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    ‘A dacenter man never wore a hat – bar he was jarred!’

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    ‘Your syllogism is fallacious – being based on licensed premises!’

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The hardcover “first” of ‘The Third Policeman” was passed round at school one term in 1967 by a friend sent it by his father. I could not look my mother’s old “sit up and beg” bicycle in its headlight again for years.

    “Cré na Cille” is a decent enough antidote…………..