Dónall Mac Amhlaigh (1926-89)

b. nr. Galway, moving to Kilkenny with his family in 1940; returned to Galway, 1947; join the Gaelic-speaking regiment of the Irish Army; emigrated to England, 1951, settling in Northampton where he worked as a labourer - though making constant trips home in the first few years; wrote issed autobiographies in Irish, Dialann Deoraí (1960), translated by Valentin Iremonger as An Irish Navvy: Diary of an Exile (1964), and Saol Saighdiúra (1962), an account of his army years; also issued a novel, Diarmaid Ó Dónaill (1965), the story of a young man coming of age in Kilkenny of the 1940s, followed by a short-story collection Sweeney agus Scéalta Eile (1970);

issued Schnitzer Ó Sé (Dingle 1974), a novel-satire on Irish literary life republished in a longer English version as Schnitzer O’Shea (1987); issued another story-collection, and Beoir Bhaile (1981) and a further novel, Deoraithe (1986), dealing with emigrant life in Britain in the 1950s; a committed socialist, he contributed regularly to newspapers and journals in Ireland and England throughout the 1970s and 1980s; his stories of Irish life in England are reprinted by the Connolly Association (Northampton); winner of the Hennessy Award, 1974; also winner of Butler Literary Award of the Irish American Cultural Institute [q.d.]; received Irish Post Community Award for Literature, 1979. DIW DIB


Fiction & Autobiography
  • Dialann Deoraí (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar Tta. 1960).
  • Diarmaid Ó Dónaill, Órscéal [úrscéal] le Dónall Mac Amhlaigh (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1965), [4], 228pp.
  • Beoir Bhaile agus Scéalta Eile (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1981), 135pp.
  • Schnitzer O’Shea (Dingle: Brandon Press [1987]), 184pp. [0 86322 090 8].
  • Selected Short Stories of Dónal Mac Amhlaigh (Northampton: Connolly Association 2001) [infra].
  • An Irish Navvy: The Diary of an Exile, trans. by Valentine Iremonger (Cork: Collins Press 2003).
  • ‘Scríobhneoireacht na Gaeilge’, in Feasta XXIX, 10 (1976), pp.5-7.
  • review of Fuine Gréine by Pádhraic Óg Ó Conaire (The Irish Times, 11 Samhain 1968).
  • Aspal na hAinnise’, review of Sráid Sicín by Mícheál Ó Brolacháin, in Anois (8 Márta 1987).
  • ‘An File, an tOllamh, agus an Ginias’, in Comhar (Lúnasa 1988), pp.21-25.

Bibliographical details
Selected Short Stories
: A Chronicler of the Irish Working Experience in Britain
(Northampton: Connolly Association 2001), CONTENTS: 1. Millesville - a Worker Reminisces; 2. Poets and Pottiness; 3. Talk and Emigration; 4. Chapter as in Book; 5. A Hairshirt for Mary Horan; 6. Poet, Professor and Genius; 7. The Story of Mr Barker; 8. Talking to the BBC; 9. Not long for Laing; 10. Return to Dublin; 11. The Crack; 12. Kit's Story; 13. The Works; 14. Sweeney; 15. Dónall Peadar Mac Amhlaigh (in Irish).

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C. Ó Drisceoil, review of Schnitzer Ó Se, in Comhar, 34, 3 (1975), q.pp.; Máirín Nic Eoin, review of Deoraithe, in Comhar (Júil 1986), B, pp.26-27. See also Alan Titley, An tÚrscéal Gaeilge (1991), which gives a bibliography of his writings.


R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch (London: Allen Lane 1993), contains brief remarks on An Irish Navvy: ‘little known masterpiece of autobiography ... whose hero eloquently reflects cultural displacement, wide-eyed innocence and saturnine irony. Through his eyes, the English universe appears at once as uncomprehending, well-meaning and unsatisfyingly two-dimension ... By the end of Mac Amhlaigh’s apprenticeship, life in England is a necessary part of life itself, and the perils of nostalgia are cannily evaded.’ (p.xii-xiii.)

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Migrant of ’51: Mac Amhlaigh recounts that, on arriving in Britain in 1951 on the mail-boat he witnessed a fellow-migrant being searched in the customs hall at Holyhead. When the custom officer insisted that he cut the twine on a battered case, out comes a pair of Wellington boots and ‘devil the thing else was in the case - not even a change of socks.’ (An Irish Navvy: The Diary of an Exile, trans. Valentin Iremonger, London 1964, p.5; quoted in E. Delaney, 'In a Strange Land’, The Irish in Post-War Britain, OUP 2007, p.52.)

Further: 'My heart sank altogether as I stood and looked around at the dirty ugly station. Everything looked so foreign to me there. Round about six O’Clock hundreds started pouring into the station, pallid pasty faces with identical lunch boxes slung from their shoulders. They were all getting the train to work and their likes were getting off the train at the same time coming to work in Rugby, I suppose. God save us, I murmured to myself as I thought that nobody in Ireland would be even thinking of getting out of their beds for another couple of hours yet.’ (An Irish Navvy, p.6; quoted in Delaney, op. cit., p.59.)

An Irish Navvy: Mac Amhlaigh praises England - ‘it has many qualities that are much closer to Christian values than much at home in Ireland’; considers Chesterton and Shaw overrated and for deploring the ‘closed minds’ regrettably found so often among the ‘best’ educated; compares English pubs unfavourably with Irish as ‘noisy and uncomfortable, [while] here in Ireland they have a nice quiet atmosphere with quiet intelligent men's conversation that's like the musical murmuring of a stream’; notes that ‘women are as plentiful in the pubs here [in England] as fleas on a goat and no man can be at ease wherever they are.’ (Quoted in Mary Vaughan reviewing the translation by Valentin Iremonger, in Catholic Herald, 22 Jan. 1965, p.6; available online - accessed 14.07. 2014.) 


Brandon Catalogue (1994 ) cites Daily Telegraph review of Schnitzer O’Shea (rep. 1987): ‘This delightful novel is a satire on poets and their adopted lifestyles, on Irish intellectuals and perhaps on English landladies.’

COPAC lists Dialann deoraí (1960); Saol saighdiúra. (1962); An diaphéist (1963); An Irish navvy: the diary of an exile; translated by Valentin Iremonger. / Macamhlaigh, Dónall. (1964, 1966); Diarmaid Ó Dónaill, [ed.], Órscéal [le] Dónall Macamhlaigh (1965); Schnitzer Ó Sé (1974 (1985); Beoir Bhaile agus scéalta eile (1981); Deoraithe (1986). Also Seobhrach as a' chlaich: ceithir fichead dan 7 eile sgriobh / MacAmhlaigh, Domhnall. (1967) [qry]. Note listing assoc. with poet Sorley Maclean and Scots-Gaelic scholar Donald MacAuley.

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Freedom of speech: Obituary of Eamon Mac Thomais contains a remark to the effect that Donall Mac Amhlaigh lent support from England, along with Peadar O’Donnell, Ulick O’Connor and Criostoir Ó Floinn, when Mac Thomais was convicted and imprisoned for IRA membership in Sept. 1974 while editor of An Phoblacht - his first sentence being in August 1973. (See The Irish Times, 24 Aug. 2002, “Weekend”, p.14.)