The full text of a Flann O’Brien play, presumed lost, was discovered in the 90’s.Written in the 1940’s it sounds astonishingly familiar 🙂
The first act of Rhapsody in Stephen’s Green was among Flann O’Brien’s papers owned by the University of Southern Illinois. But no trace until now had been found of acts two and three and a prologue and epilogue.
The play is in the vein of O’Brien’s columns under the name Myles na gCopaleen (Myles of the Little Horses) for the Irish Times in the 1950s and 1960s, which played merry hell with his countrymen’s pretensions, religious piety, political cant and official ignorance in the use of the English and Irish languages.
The first act deals with the beastly behaviour of bees and act two features avaricious beetles, greedy ducks and dopey crickets with a pronounced Cork accent. Corkmen are traditionally the butt of Dublin jokes.
But it is act three which has fascinating topical resonance. It features a colony of mindlessly driven Orange ants who work themselves into a frenzy against a colony of Green ants until finally their aggression pushes them into suicidal war with Blue ants.
The Orange ants mouth slogans such as: ‘The Awnt State will fieght ond the Awnt State wull be rieght!’. They also declare themselves to be ‘hord-headed ond ready to fieght for the rieght to keep in stap with the Awnt Empiere’.
The phonetic spelling leaves no doubt that we are dealing with Belfast men. O’Brien, a Catholic, was actually born in Ulster, but spent most of his life in Dublin. His real name was Brian O’Nolan.
Before the Southern audience could become too smug, enter a ludicrous figure known as Deevil, transparently the prime minister Eamon de Valera, who is leader of the Green Ants and ready to march across the border to recover his property, which consists of a dead beetle.
There is no mistaking 33-year-old Brian O’Nolan’s bitter disgust with the 1940s world of carnage, greed and cant at home and abroad. But on the literary level the work is rather too parochial and simplistically exuberant to be classed as one of his major works. However it and the context in which it was born – and rapidly snuffed out – gives intriguing insights into neutral Ireland of the 1940s, suffocating in puritanism and insular politics.