Seosamh Mac Grianna (1901-90)

[anglice Joseph Green; early pseud., ‘Iolann Fionn’]; b. Rannafast, Co. Donegal, br. of Séamus Ó Grianna (‘Máire’) [q.v.]; ed. St. Eunan’s, Letterkenny, and St. Columb’s, Derry; qualified as a teacher, 1921 from St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra; interned as Republican during the Civil War; excluded from permanent teaching posts; contributed to Fáinne an Lae and An tUltach; published An Grá agus An Ghruaim (1929), stories; worked as translator for An Gúm from 1933; in 1930 the company rejected his An Druma Mór (1969), a novel dealing with politics in a Donegal parish before 1922 and featuring a Orange drum lent to AOH marchers; undertook lengthy walking trips in Ireland and in Wales;
wrote Mo Bhealach Féin (1940) an autobiography reflecting disillusion with the new Irish state, also rejected by An Gúm, 1935; issued Pádraig Ó Conaire agus Aistí Eile (1936), essays, as well as An Bhreatain Bheag (1937) and Na Lochlannaigh (1938); embarked on last novel, Dá mBíodh Ruball ar an Éan (1940), but abandoned it due to increasing mental ill-heath; spent the last 30 years of his life in St. Connall, the Letterkenny mental hospital; An Druma Mór (1969) won an Irish-American prize of £2,000 on its eventual appearance; his life was the subject of an Irish-language broadcast, Dá mBíodh Ruball ar an Éan (BBC NI 1991), taking its title from the unfinished novel; A. J. Hughes translated his best-known work as The Big Drum (2009). DIW FDA OCIL DUB

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  • Dochartach Dhuiblionna agus Scéalta Eile (Dublin: Cú Uladh 1925).
  • Filí gan Iomrá (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1926).
  • An Grá agaus an Ghruaim (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1929).
  • Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1931).
  • An Bhreatain Bheag (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1933).
  • Pádraic Ó Conaire agus Aistí Eile (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1936; new ed. 1969, 1986).
  • Na Lochlannaigh (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1938).
  • Mo Bhealach Féin (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1940).
  • Dá mBíodh Ruball ar an Éan (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1940; rep. An Gúm 1993), 93pp.
  • An Druma Mór (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1969).
  • Nollaig Mac Congáil, eag., Filí agus Felons (BAC 1987).

See also Idir Dha Cheann Stoirme (Coscéim 2009), 110pp.

In translation

The Big Drum, trans. by A. J. Hughes (Belfast: Ben Madigan Press 2009), 160pp.

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  • Riobard Ó Faracháin [Robert Farren], ‘Seosamh Mac Grianna’, in The Bell, 1, 2 (Nov. 1940), pp.64-68 [infra].
  • Breandán Ó Doibhlin, ‘Fear agus Finnscéal: Dála An Druma Mór’, in Irisleabhar Mhá Nuad (1969), pp.7-20.
  • Prionsias Mac an Bheatha, Seosamh mac Grianna agus Cursaí Eile (Dublin: Foilseacháin Náisunta Tta. 1970).
  • Prionsias Mac Cana ‘An Druma Mór’, in Comhar (Bealtaine 1971), pp.19-23.
  • Olibhéar Ó Croiligh, Bealach Mhic Grianna (Cork/Dublin: Cló Mercier 1972), 47pp. [with bio-bibliographical chronology].
  • Nollaig Mac Congáil, eag., Saothair Sheosaimh Mhic Grianna: Ailt Cuid a Dó (An Cabháin 1972).
  • Breandán Ó Doibhlin, ‘Fear agus Finnscéal’ in Aistí Critice agus Cultúir (1974).
  • Liam Ó Dochtartaigh, ‘Mac na Míchomhairle’, smaointe ar Mo Bhealach Féin, in Irisleabhar Mhá Nuad (Iúil 1975), pp.13-16.
  • Seamus Deane, ‘Mo Bhealach Féin by Seosamh Mac Grianna’, in John Jordan, ed., The Pleasures of Gaelic Literature (Dub/Cork: Mercier/RTE 1977) [q.pp.].
  • Séamas Ó Saothraí, ‘Tar Éis Leathchéad Bliain’, review of Anraí Mac Giolla Chomhaill, ed., Dochartach Duibhlionna agus Scéalta Eile, ed., in Books Ireland (June 1977), pp.118-19.
  • Nollaig MacConghail, ‘Foinsí Béaloidis I nGearrscéalta Sheosaimh Mhic Ghrianna’, Comhar (Feabhra 1978) [.q.pp.].
  • Anraí Mac Giolla Chomhaill, eag., Saothair Sheosaimh Mhic Grianna, Cuid a hAon, Pochartach Duibhlionna agus Scéalta Eile (Coise Foilsitheaoireachta Chomhallas Ulad 1979), 43pp.
  • Seán Ó Mórdha, ed., Scríobh 5 [Mac Grianna Special Issue] (Baile Átha Cliath: Clóchomhar 1981) [incl. Declan Kiberd, ‘Mo Bhealach Féin, Idir Dhá Thraidisiún’, and Liam Ó Dochtartaigh, ‘Mo Bhealach Féin: Saothar Nualtríochta’].
  • Donnchadh Ó Baoill, ‘Druma Mór na Fíliochta’, in Nua-Aois (Dublin NUI: Cumann Liteartha 1986) [q.pp.].
  • Donnchadh Ó Baoill, ‘Droma Mór na Filíochta’, in Nua-Aois (1986), pp.20-29.
  • Cathal Ó Háinle, ‘An Druma Mór’, in Litríocht na Gaeltachta, Léachtaí Cholm Cille XIX (Maynooth 1989), pp.129-67.
  • Séamus Mac Annaidh’s Rubble na Mickies (1990) [incl. account of a visit to him in Letterkenny].
  • Nollaig Mac Congáil, eag., Seosamh Mac Grianna, ‘Iolann Fionn’: Clár Saothair (BAC Coiscéim 1990), 103pp. [contribs. Cathal Ó Háinle, Seosamh [Watson], Liam Ó Dochartaigh, Diarmaid Ó Doibhlin, Pol Ó Muirí, Liam Lillis Ó Laoire, Eoghan mac Einrí].
  • Pól Ó Muirí, Flight from Shadow: The Life and Work of Seosamh Mac Grianna (Belfast: Lagan Press 1999), 213pp.
  • Alan Titley, ‘Unfavourite Son’, review of Pól Ó Muirí, A Flight from Shadow: The Life and Works of Seosamh Mac Grianna, in Books Ireland (March 2000), pp.65-66 [infra].
  • Fionntán de Brún, Seosamh Mac Grianna: An Mhein Ruin (An Clochomhar 2002).
  • Pól Ó Muirí, Seosamh Mac Grianna: Míreanna Saoil (Cló Chonnachta 2007), 180pp.
  • Catríona MacKernan, review of The Big Drum, in Books Ireland (Summer 2010), pp.133-34. [infra].

See also Alan Titley, An tÚrscéal Gaeilge (1991) and Brendán Delap, Úrscealte Stairiúla na Gaeilge (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1994).

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Roibeard Ó Faracháin, ‘Seosamh Mac Grianna’, review of Mo Bhealach Fein, in The Bell, 1, 2 (Nov. 1940), p.64: ‘There have not been many Gaelic writers since Ó Conaire, if by wrter we mean someone with sensibility, imagination, word-gift, control of a medium, fertility. [... A]ll those gifts I required above in a writer Mac Grianna has in abundance. Apply them to rich adventures and audacious escapades, and if the book is not translated the loss will be that of the rest of the world.’ Comments: on author’s description of travels in Wales: ‘Father Denis O’Flynn has written graphically of the miserable condition of the dispossessed Irishman who has no native measure to lay upon the things he sees in strange countries. Mac Grianna was no such man in Wales. It is most striking to see how his integral Gaelic world interprets this new land and people to him. / Another sense must be added to those above mentioned. It is explicit in this book as it is in another – Pádraic Ó Conaire agus aisti eile. I mean the sense of comparative isolation from contemporary Ireland, the double isolation, indeed, of the man born to the language of the minority, and born as well to artistic endeavour in that language. Those senses gave him stability: this gives him the ferment within the stability. (p.66.) ‘[Mac Grianna’s first book, Eoghan Ruadh] showed he had an open ear and eye for the methods of writers outside, as well as inside Ireland , particularly for those things in their technique which harmonised with traditional Gaelic writing and yet was contemporary.’ Further, ‘Mac Grianna has here achieved a style in Ulster Irish which preserves its vigour and at the same time smooths, refines, and subtilizes it.’ (p.67.) Critiquing Dá mbiodh ruball ar éan [novel], Ó Faracháin writes: ‘In mood and texture it reminded me constantly of French novelists, now of Mauriac’s Noeud de Vipères, again of Duchamel. This style, with all the substance which has made it and for which it has been made, I take to be one of the indisputable achievements of modern Gaelic letters.’ (Text supplied by Kelly Matthews, UU DPhil. preparations, 2006.)

Alan Titley, review of Brendán Delap, Úrscealte Stairiúla na Gaeilge (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1994), in Irish Times (1 Oct. 1994), [q.p.]; cites the author’s remark that ‘indulged his passions in the wars of the 17th century’ in his novel on Eoghan Rua Ó Néill.

Alan Titley, ‘Unfavourite Son’, review of Pól Ó Muirí, A Flight from Shadow: The Life and Works of Seosamh Mac Grianna, in Books Ireland (March 2000): ‘Pól Ó Muirí has done the courageous and unusual thing in this book of attempting to explain the life and times of one of the most important Irish prose writers of the last century, and of doing this in English. [...] There are, of course, problems with Seosamh Mac Grianna himself which this book does not shirk. He was a modernist who wanted to stay in a time-warp of the seventeenth century. He was a passionate romantic who teetered over into individualistic anarchism. He believed in state intervention in literary projects but hated An Gúm. He earned a lot of money from his writings but played the poor mouth. He was generous but cantankerous. He loved his own dialect but sought to expand and reinvent it. He was clearheaded and motivated but was a mad as the day is long. / It is difficult to disentange all these threads. Mac Grianna didn’t make it easy for his critics. At his best his prose is wild and imaginative and thrilling, at his worst he just misses the mark and plays a plonker. In between, he makes noises about the importance of the artist and the place of the artist and the role of the artist, but like the recently-deceased Francis Stuart never quite tells us or reveals to us what that importance is. But he comes very close. There are passages in Mo Bhealach Féin which are illuminating, and something big was about to happen in his unfinished novel Dá mbíodh ruball ar an éan. He was developing a style which nobody had ever done before in Irish, a [65] style which was native, idiomatic, hard, urban, flexible, imaginative and personal. Máirtín Ó Cadhain (who had more to say) came close some years later, but not as spot-on as Mac Grianna. [...] / One of the main strengths of the book is its clear explication of the cultural/literary debates of the time, and of Mac Grianna’s part in them. These debates had to do with the politics of the Irish language and the Irish literature in which Mac Grianna was deeply involved. They tell us of the lively and sometimes vituperative discussions that took place between the modernists and the traditionalists, while Mac Grianna bestrode his own independent line between the two. The book, therefore, is a work of cultural history as much as a critical biography [...] [Ó Muirí] describes Mac Grianna’s life using the known and lesser-known sources. His was a tragic life, if by tragic we mean a life that was artistically unfulfilled and obviously personally troubled. He took on the mantle of the bohemian and lived it out to its bitter conclusion. There was certainly nothing romantic about his months of wandering or his years of living in a disused house and picking discarded cigarette-butts from the street.’ (p.66.)

See also references to MacGrianna in Titley, Nailing Theses: Selected Essays (1997) —

‘[T]he clipped writings of Seosamh Mac Grianna have a sharpness which nobody south of Navan feels comfortable with.’


‘Once we were beaten, and as Mac Grianna: “Níl a fhios ag aon duine chomh mór is a buileadh sinn / Nobody realises how badly we were trashed”, we have been looking for some whisps of straw, some dock leaf, some g-string to cover up the red raw wound.’


‘Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Pádraic Ó Conaire, Seosamh Mac Grianna, Sean Ó Ríordáin were all decidely political, but none of them would have counted Parnell among their chosen few. it is not as if there was a kind of orthodoxy at work here. Irish Gaelic authors will be just as gleefully savage one another as any other civilised writer and their national politics is just as much a smudge as everyone elses["], a bit of this, and a bit of God knows what else. But no Charles Stewart Parnell.’


‘The Ulster revival was spearheaded by Seamus Ó Grianna, who wrote under the pen-name Máire, and his younger brother, more talented and more unhinged brother, Seosamh Mac Grianna.’


‘[...] Seosamh’s forgotten novel, An Druma Mór (1969), which was written in the 1930s but remained in the womb of An Gúm all those years because of political pressure and for fear of litigation.’


[...] ‘Seosamh Mac Grianna, who carried the hopes of Ulster into the gap, suffered mental breakdown and clamped up in silence to the end of his isolated days in hospital his brother [Seamus] took the state’s shilling and contented himself with writing variations on the same romantic theme for half a century when the sharpness of his intellect and the acerbity of his style suggested he could have done much more [...]’


‘[...] Seosamh Mac Grianna returned Peadar O’Donnell’s Islanders to their native tongue.’


‘Seosamh Mac Grianna translated, as did his brother Seamas, but they never tried an original [drama]’


[Quotes Mairtin Ó Cadhain’s essay Paipeir Bhana agus Paiper Bhreacal/Blank Pages and Written Pages" in which, ‘The best literary tool that I got from my people was their speech ... It is a similar speech to that which Mac Grianna had but I tried to avoid its faults.’]


‘Seosamh Mac Grianna’s Mo Bhealach Fein/My Own Way’ (1940) which champions the personal dream over communal conformity. [...] There is little contiguity, however, between the standard biography and Mo Bhealach Fein. He eschews any description of his childhood and eduction, but rather plunges in the dingy world of backstreet Dublin where he creates a character that bears some resemblance to himself. the best part of his narrative displays a mind at war with the world, acting the part of the superior artist but ultimately suffering for it. when the city becomes too stultifying with the intention [308] of rowing across to Wales. [...] He wrote a more conventional novel around the same time entitled An Druma Mor/The Big Drum, but it was not published until 1969 because it was too politically sensitive and the event on which it was based was still a live issue. [...] Amn unfinished novel, Da mBiodh Ruball ar an Ean/If the Bird had a Tail (1940) lshowed extraordinary linguistic virtuosity and originality, but his health broke down before he could finish it.’




Fionntán de Brún, review of A Flight from Shadow: Life and Work of Seosamh Mac Grianna (Lagan 1999), in Fortnight [Belfast] (April 2000), pp.29-30; refers to Mac Grianna’s unfinished novel, Dá mBíodh Ruball ar an Éan [If the Brid had a Tail] (1991), which he abandoned as his mental health deteriorated, writing, ‘The well ran dry in the summer of 1935. I will write no more. I did my best and I don’t care’; remarks that the novel is ironically his best, and that MacGrianna claimed to have finished it in St. Connall’s hospital, but that the whereabouts of the MS are unknown. (p.30.)

Caitríona MacKernan, review of The Big Drum, trans. by A. J. Hughes (2009), in Books Ireland (Summer 2010), p.133: ‘[...] In this true-to-life tragic-comic novel, the competing bands, drummers and musicians practised marching and music for weeks before St Patrick’s Day. The musical instruments were collectively known as “the Drum”. Allocating these instruments was not easy, as each man thought the flute, triangle or drum another man got was better than his. Gold-braided uniforms with green sashes and epaulettes and ornate banners vied for attention. In the first St Patrick’s day parade described by Mac Grianna, a huge banner with St Patrick on one side and Daniel O’Connell on the otherwas carried aloft, the choice of the Redmondite Ancient Order of Hibernians. A few years later, the banner still bore Patrick, but with Pddraic Pearse on the other side, the choice of the ascendant Sons of St Patrick. / The spite, cuteness and intrigue of Proinnsios Bheadóige, the main character of the novel, made or unmade the bands, the local participants and eventually Proinnsios Bhead6ige himself. He had an unfortunate childhood. Like other poor children in the area, he was hired out in the ‘Cagan’ for three years after the death of his father. He failed to catch up later on at school, was beaten so much by his teacher and teased by other boys because of a gammy leg that he returned to the Cagan, and later on went to Scotland. / On his return home, determined to better himself, his efforts at self-instruction and aggrandisement drew more mockery. His malapropisms such as “That’s the geometrical situation,” or “The Church is down on them. Wasn’t a papal encyclopaedia issued?” earned him the nickname of ‘Proinnsios of the convoluted English’. He bounced back, speaking Irish to the parish priest, not a gaeilgoir. This advantaged him when seeking the school for a St Patrick’s night dance for his Sons of St Patrick thereby retaliating against the AOH, who had pointedly refused membership to him, despite its strong drive for recruits. He became the ringleader of the “Sons” “organising a nocturnal grab of a drum from the Friendly Sons, and sponsoring an eighteen year-old to become the best drummer of all. / At the same time, he mastered speaking “pleasantly to everyone and ... was so measured that that no one could fault him ... a true politician ... appear[ing] knowledgeable without being over-talkative”. But a new opportunity to mock him was around the corner ...’ (p.133.) MacKernan has praise for ‘this stylish and faithful translation’, regrets that the novel was so long coming into English and considers it ‘well worth waiting for’.

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Really Irish: ‘Joyce, O’Casey, O’Flaherty, &c., are, it must be admitted, really Irish. They could have been writers of value to Irish literature. But there is no such hope that Shaw can ever mean anything to us … Shaw is a complete alien, like his intellectual forebears, Wilde, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Burke, [41], Steele and Swift. They are the writers of the West Britons. Their writings mean no more to Ireland’s literary history than the campaigns of the Duke of Wellington and the campaigns of Kitchener and French mean to Ireland’s military and political history.’ (‘West British and Anglo-Irish Literature’, in An Phoblacht, 18 June 1916; cited in Gearóid O’Flaherty, ‘George Bernard Shaw and the Irish Literary Revival’, in P. J. Mathews, ed., New Voices in Irish Criticism, ed. P. J. Mathews Four Courts Press 2000, pp.33-42; p.41-42.)

The bitter sea: ‘[N]o literature in Irish is worth reading [...] no Gaelic writer [is] worthy of being called a writer. Everything of any value is across the Irish Sea.’ (Quoted in Philip O’Leary, Gaelic Prose in the Irish Free State, 1922-1939 , UCD Press, 2004; quoted by Kevin Kiely, review, in Books Ireland, Nov. 2004, p.263.)

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, selects “Ar an Trá Fhoilimh/On the Empty Shore”, from An Grá agus an Ghruaim [845-49]; REMS, 816; BIOG. 933.

British Library holds An Bhreatain Beag (Dublin: Oifig Díolta Foillseacáin Ríaltais 1937), 153pp.; Mo Bhealach Féin, Seosamh Mac Grianna (Oifig an tSoláthair 1940; 1941, 1945, 1968), 173pp.; Eogan Rua O’Neill [?by Sean O’Faolain] (Oifig Díolta Foillseacáin Ríaltais 1931), 212pp.; A Grádh agus a Ghruaim (Oifig an tSoláthair, Muinntir C. S. Ó Fallamhain 1929), 124pp. [9 pieces]; another ed. (Dublin: Browne & Nolan 1942); Na Lochlannaigh (Oifig an tSoláthair 1938), 140pp.; Mo Bhealac Féin agus mBíod Ruball ar an Eán (Oifig Díolta Foillseacáin Ríaltais 1939 [sic]); Padraic Ó Conaire agus Aistí Eile (1936), 352pp. TRANSLATIONS, Eadarbhaile [Peadar O’Donnell, Adrigoole] (1953); Teac an Crochadóra, of Donn Byrne [Hangman’s House] (1935); Conrad, Céille Almayer (1936); Conrad, An Máirneálach Dubh (1933); Conrad, Séideán Bruithe agus Amy Foster (1935); Helen B. Reeves [formerly Mathers], Teacht Fríd an sEagal [Coming Thru’ the Rye]; Peadar O’Donnell, Eadabaile [Adrigoole] (1953); trans. Peadar O’Donnell, Muinntir an Oilean [Islanders] (1936); Lennox Robinson, An Pastín Fionn [Whiteheated Boy]; trans Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (1937); Edward J. Trelawney, Imteachtaí Dhear Dheireadh Geaglaigh [1939]; Wallace Lewis, Ben Hur [1933].

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Máirín Nic Eoin: Nic Eoin notices English manuscript work [lámhscríbhinn de shaothar Béarla], The Miracle at Cashelmore, in NUU, Coleraine [see An Litríocht Réigiúnach (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar Tta 1982)]

Thomas Kinsella: Kinsella cites Mac Grianna is in The Dual Tradition: ‘In a correspondence thirty years ago about the compulsory inclusion of Irish in the school curriculum, Seamus Mac Grianna - a notable writer in modern Irish - wrote that he “could not utter one sentence in Irish about the Common Market, or Free Trade, or Protection, or nuclear tests or radio-activity, or commercial treaties, or Human Rights, or the Principles of Democracy ... or any of the things that occupy (and must occupy) the thoughts of legislators today all over the world”, because “the Battle of Kinsale was lost, and with it the possibility of the Irish language becoming the vernacular of this nation.”’ (The Irish Times, 10 June 1966; quoted in Kinsella, op. cit., extract in contrib. short piece in ‘The State of Poetry’ special issue, Gerald Dawe & Jonathan Williams, eds., Krino, Winter 1993, pp.30-33; p.30.)

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