Francis MacManus

1909-1965 [Proinsias Mac Maghnuis]; b.8 March, Kilkenny; ed. local Christian Brothers School, St. Patrick’s College, Dublin, and University College Dublin; taught for 18 years at Christian Brothers school in Synge Street, Dublin; journalism; joined Radio Éireann as Director of Features, 1948; inaugurated Thomas Davis Lecture series on Radio Éireann, 1953; travelled widely in Europe; member Irish Academy of Letters; wrote biographies of Boccaccio (1947) and St Columban (1963);
among his novels, the first trilogy features Donnacha Ruadh Mac Conmara - described in Daniel Corkery’s Hidden Ireland - with Stand and Give Challenge (1934), in which the author seeks to ‘present the lives of a few people of the hidden Ireland’, Candle for the Proud (1936), and Men Withering (1939); also a second trilogy, set in Dombridge (i.e., Kilkenny), consists of This House was Mine (1937), in which Martin Hickey returns to the ruins of the family home and remembers the past;
issued Flow on, Lovely River (1941), in which the schoolmaster John Lee relates the story of his thwarted love for the daughter of the village drunkard, and Watergate (1942); other novels include The Wild Garden (1940), centred on Margaret Kane, a child in the care of her widowed mother and a sadistic lover; The Greatest of These (1943), set in Callan, Co. Kilkenny being the story of a bishop’s conflict with an embittered parish priest amid ecclesiastical controversies of the 1870s; Statue for a Square (1945), an uncharacteristic satire on small-town bumptiousness based on George Birmingham’s General Regan (1913), later dramatised for RTÉ (Dec. 1992);
also plays, The Judgement of James O’Neill (Abbey 1947) and The Fire in the Dust (Abbey 1950), attacking Irish so-called Jansenism; issued a diary of an American journey in Irish as Seal ag Ródaíocht [On the Road for a Time] (1955); American Son (1959) deals with varieties of Catholic experience; Pedlar’s Pack (1945) contains stories, sketches, essays and verse; also wrote history in The Irish Struggle 1916-1926 (1966), and ed. The Yeats We Knew (1965) and ed. The Years of the Great Test: Ireland 1926-37 (1967), based on a lecture-series of 1962; d. 27 Nov., of a heart attack, in Dublin; the Francis MacManus Short Story prize was established in his memory. IF DIB DIW DIH DIL FDA OCIL

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Fiction (novels)
  • Stand and Give Challenge (Dublin: Talbot Press 1934; rep. Mercier 1964).
  • Candle for the Proud (Dublin: Talbot Press 1936).
  • This House was Mine (Dublin: Talbot Press 1937), 253pp. [ded., ‘To the two great skins: Uncle Pat and Aunt Susan’].
  • Men Withering (Dublin: Talbot Press 1939, Do. (Cork: Mercier 1972).
  • The Wild Garden (Dublin: Talbot Press 1940).
  • Flow on, Lovely River (Dublin: Talbot Press 1941).
  • Watergate (Dublin: Talbot Press 1942), and Do. [rep. edn.] (Dublin: Poolbeg 1979).
  • The Greatest of These (Dublin: Talbot Press 1943).
  • Statue for a Square (Dublin: Talbot Press 1945).
  • Boccaccio (London: Sheed & Ward 1947).
  • The Fire in the Dust (London: Cape 1950).
  • Seal Ag Ródaíocht/On the Road for a Time (Dublin: Sairseal agus Dill 1955).
  • American Son (London: Cape 1959).
  • St Columban (Dublin: Clonmore & Reynolds 1963).
  • Pedlar’s Pack: Stories, Sketches, Essays, Verse (Dublin: Talbot Press 1944), 244pp.
  • After the Flight: Being Eyewitness Sketches from Irish History AD 1607 to 1916 (Dublin: Talbot Press 1935).
  • ed., Adventures of an Irish Bookman: A Selection from the Writings of M. J. MacManus (Dublin: Talbot Press 1952).
  • ed., The Yeats We Knew: Memoirs by Padraic Colum, Francis Stuart, Monk Gibbon, Earnan de Blaghd, Austin Clarke (Cork: Mercier Press [1965]).
  • ed., The Years of the Great Test 1926-39 [RTÉ Thomas Davis Lectures, 1962] (Cork: Mercier Press 1967).
Articles (Selected)
  • ‘Arrows for the Target’, in Irish Monthly, 62 (1934), pp.541-47.
  • ‘The Novelist of Vast Landscapes: A Note on Sigrid Undset’, in Irish Monthly 62 (1934), pp.361-67.
  • ‘The Artist for Nobody’s Sake, in Irish Monthly, 63 (1935), pp.175-180.
  • ‘The Background of the Catholic Novel’, in Irish Monthly, 62 (1934), pp.79-85.
  • ‘Communism: The Monstrous Parody’, in Irish Monthly, 63 (1935), pp.79-85.
  • ‘The Conflict and the Hidden Enemy’, in Irish Monthly, 64 (1936), pp.216-23.
  • ‘The Shape of Nonsense to Come’, in Irish Monthly, 65 (1937), pp.181-85.
  • ‘History with Tears’, in Irish Monthly, 65 (1937), pp.245-49.
  • ‘Fourteen Thousand N.T.’s’, in The Bell, 1, 2 (Nov. 1940), pp. 32-39 [see extract].
  • ‘The Fate of Canon Sheehan’, in The Bell, 15 (Nov. 1947), pp.16-17.
  • ‘Imaginative Literature and the Revolution’, in The Irish Struggle 1916-1926, ed. Desmond Williams (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1966) [q.pp.].
  • ‘The Literature of the Period’, in The Years of the Great Test 1926-39 (Cork: Mercier 1967), pp.115-26.

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  • Benedict Kiely, ‘Praise God for Ireland: The Novels of Francis MacManus’, in Irish Monthly, 76 (Sept. 1948), pp.402-06; Do., [enl.], in Kilkenny Magazine, 14 (Spring-Summer 1966), pp.121-36, and Do., rep. in as ‘Praise God for Ireland: The Novels of Francis MacManus’, in A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays (Cork UP 1999), pp.95-106.
  • Sean MacMahon, ‘Francis MacManus’s Novels of Modern Ireland’, in Eire-Ireland, 5, 1 (Spring 1970), pp.116-30.
  • Tom Halpin, Men Withering [Study Guide Ser.] (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1973).
  • Denis Cotter, ‘Francis MacManus’, in Dictionary of Irish Literature, ed. Robert Hogan (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979) [Cotter was a school contemporary and lifelong friend].
  • John Broderick, review of Watergate [rep.], in Irish Times (31 May 1980), [q.p.].
See also Benedict Kiely, Modern Irish Fiction: A Critique (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1950), 179pp., and Augustine Martin, Bearing Witness: Essays on Anglo-Irish Literature (UCD Press 1996), 274pp.

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Benedict Kiely in ‘The Historical Novel’ in Augustine Martin, ed., The Genius of Irish Prose (Cork: Mercier 1985), pp.53-66, espec. pp.62-65: ‘MacManus built up the most notable historical novel written by an Irishman in our times, the trilogy Stand and Give Challenge, Candle for the Proud, and Men Withering, which we may accept as one novel. Or were the sources so slender: a handful of poems, a headful of folklore, a scholar’s knowledge of the century in which the poet lives. There can be even in one poem a world of information a inspiration’. Kiely quotes the foreword of Stand and Give Challenge (1924): ‘This book may send shivers of pedantic disapproval up and down the spines of historians and biographers. It is not an essay in history of which I have been very sparing; still less an essay in biography of which we possess but rags and tatters; and against still less an essay in Gaelic literary criticism. It is an attempt to present the lives of a few people, as I have conceived them, of the hidden Ireland. You and I, had we been alive and Irish and troubled with song, might have been such a person as the chief character who lived when a dark nightmare was on this nation.’

James Cahalan, Great Hatred, Little Room: The Irish Historical Novel (1983): In The Years of the Great Test, 1926-39 (Cork 1967), MacManus wrote, ‘In the ten or fifteen years after the establishment of the Irish Free State, the unhealed wounds of the civil war seemed beyond even the slow medicine of time. Time was at work, however. The conflict of black and white idealisms, the inhuman war of the angels, was becoming blurred by the everyday business of living ..rebuilding [and] making money. ... There was reaction against the idealism that led to war and civil war. Denis Johnston’s play ... belongs to the new mood. What he was saying is that patriotism isn’t enough and he said it with all the weirdness and baroque elaboration of a dream. (Chap, ‘The Literature of the Period’, op. cit. p.116). Further, In ‘The Literature of the Period’ chapter The Years of the Great Test MacManus recalls Yeats at a banquet bequeathing the mantel of the laureate - in Hone’s phrase - to Ó Faolain and O’Flaherty and ‘stating to the stupefaction of his listeners [that] the future of Irish literature was with the realistic novel.’ MacManus continues, ‘the ageing poet must have genuinely believed that the realistic novel ... would dominate Irish literature. After all, Joyce’s Ulysses was then first being recognised as the novel of the age’ (op. cit., 123) [111]. MacManus was influence by Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter [113]. Admiring comments on A Nest of Simple Folk in MacManus’s essay ‘Literature of the Period’: ‘a massive novel in human terms about the humus, the roots, of Irish patriotism, as manifested by the Fenians, the Parnellites and the mend of Easter Rising ... This is the kind of historical borrowing which O’Connor never attempted.’ (The Years of the Great Test 1926-39, 1967, p.122) [121]. (Cont.)

James Cahalan (Great Hatred, Little Room: The Irish Historical Novel, 1983) - cont.: MacManus’s fiction is unashamedly Catholic; he follows the lead of the woman writer, Sigrid Undset, convert to Catholicism in 1924, who repudiates all the modern forces which deny the intrinsic worth of the free human soul. He advanced such arguments in articles such as ‘Communism: The Monstrous Parody’ (The Irish Monthly, 63, 1935, pp.79-85); ‘The Conflict and the Hidden Enemy’ (Do., 1936, pp.216-23; and ‘The Shape of Nonsense to Come’ (Do., 65, 1937, 181-85. His literary opinions were expressed in another group, in ‘Arrows for the Target’, for The Irish Monthly 62, 1934, p.542 [recte, pp.541-47]); MacManus declared that Zola’s ‘cult of realism’ was ‘a straight-jacket’ because ‘[he] perceived but observed little more, that men sin. It is true that mankind leans towards evil by reason of the Fall, but that truth must be regarded in the great network of truths woven about the Incarnation and the Redemption. Zola, however, stressed the degeneracy of men without counterbalancing that stress.’ In ‘The Novelist of Vast Landscapes: A Note on Sigrid Undset’ (The Irish Monthly, 62, 1934, p.366), he criticised the ‘eroticism’ of his favourite writer, adding, ‘the points I make are aesthetic as well as moral. He condemned Lawrence, ‘by sex he interpreted the world, and by the dark gods of the blood he promised a redemption. I could multiply these examples from Joyce, Proust, or from the dreary horde who harry the world with eroticism.’ On the other hand, he recommended the example of Undset, ‘If Ireland is ever to possess an historical novelists who will adequately express the life of her people, that novelist must at least be of the power and calibre of Sigrid Undset, the Norwegian. Her historical writings have an immediacy for our country that is twofold; she writes of a past age that is closely akin to Gaelic Ireland in religion and somewhat in customs; and she offers an example, with reservations, of what might be done by our native writers in respect of method and achievement.’ (361). In ‘The Background of the Catholic Novel’, in The Irish Monthly 62 (1934), p.437, he propounded the connection between Catholicism and realism in fiction, ‘The highest compliment that you can pay to a novel ... is that it is true to life ... The novel can be true to life only when the author’s conceptions conform with reality ... Behind and infusing all this seeming tumult and turmoil, the apparent aimlessness and quivering pain, there is spiritual reality, the background of Being whereby things are thrown into significant relief. There is God, and life mirrors Him.’ (See Cahalan, pp.123-25.) [125]

James Cahalan (Great Hatred, Little Room: The Irish Historical Novel, 1983) - cont: Cahalan quotes Benedict Kiely: ‘there is less softness of feeling in the acceptance displayed by Francis MacManus than in the rejection made classical by James Joyce and so subtly analysed and sensed like a burning in the bowels, in Sean Ó Faolain’s Come Back to Erin.’ (Kiely, Modern Irish Fiction: A Critique, 1950, p.83; see further under Kiely, q.v.] [124]. MacManus’s character Donnacha Ruadh MacConmara is derived from Corkery’s The Hidden Ireland (1941), pp.262-264. Donnacha is progressively Odysseus, Job, and Lear. In Stand and Deliver he is an arrogant young rebel; in Candle for the Proud, he is poor, oppressed, long-suffering; and in Men Withering he rages against the neglect of his grandchildren. MacManus’s version of the story includes some verses in English expressing Donnacha’s feelings and resolves. [127]; set in Co Waterford; Donnacha first returns from the Continent to be schoolteacher in Slieve Gua; lives with his daughter in Kilmacthomas and serves as Rev. Grimshaw’s sexton; finally, having reconverted, he joins his son in Knockanee before spending his last days at his daughters. Corkery had notes his Duain na hAithrighe (Song of Repentance), suggesting that the author of Eachtra Ghiolla an Amaráin (Adventures of a Luckless Fellow) may not have been so unlucky after all. [127]. MacManus provided his character with a wife (Máire), a daughter (Máire Óg), and a son (Donnacha Óg). In the preface to Stand and Give Challenge - which ends with the his dying wife speaking those words - he wrote, ‘This book may send shivers of pedantic disapproval up and down the spines of historians and biographers. It is not an essay in history of which I have been very sparing; still less an essay in biography ... It is an attempt to present the lives of a few people, as I have conceived them, of the hidden Ireland. You and I, had we been alive and Irish and troubled with song, might have been such a persona as the chief character who lived when a dark nightmare was on the nation.’ (Stand and Give Challenge, 1964, p.5) Donnacha’s crime is to be a Catholic schoolteacher in the days of the Penal Laws. The heroism of the trilogy is a Catholic heroism, but MacManus is not anti-Protestant polemicist [131].

Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature (London: Pluto Press 1998), quotes MacManus’s review of Benedict Kiely, Modern Irish Fiction, in Studies (March 1952), pp.121-22: ‘Do I accept the material that is to my hand and that lies dormant inside me as unformulated and artistically unexpressed experience with all its [137] burden of history and tradition, society and religion, its implications and contradictions and echoes? Or do I for the most part reject and manipulate the material satirically in the spirit of a reformer or with the primitive zeal of the iconoclast? [...]. The theme is universal in criticism as in creativeness. Across Mr Kiely’s period of study falls the influence of two writers, one a Corkman, the other a Dubliner; one seldom saluted for his worth, the other continually and tiresomely celebrated, and the writers are Daniel Corkery and James Joyce.’ (Smyth, op. cit., pp.137-38.)

Benedict Kiely, ‘Praise God for Ireland: The Novels of Francis MacManus’, in A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays (Cork UP 1999), pp.95-106: ‘McManus accepted his people without any reservation; without the nationalist enthusiasm, that, for Daniel Corkery, could transform louts into mystics, without O’Faolain’s stipulation that the people would be more acceptable if they were more continental. MacManus took them as he found them, and if it is clear that in The Greatest of These he found them with charity blossoming in their souls, it is equally clear that in This House was Mine he found them as mean as dirt, as means as the dirt of the land-hungry and the worldly-wise can pride themselves on possessing.’ (p.102.)

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Fourteen Thousand N.T.’s’, in The Bell, 1, 2 (Nov. 1940), gives account of the construction of the Catholic teachers’ colleges for men and for women under Gladstone, done ‘ungenerously because the Catholic colleges had to be built and equipped from private sources.’ (p.33). Describes author’s experiences at St. Patrick’s Training College , Drumcondra, c.1928: ‘First, you found you were a junior, a first-year man, at whom all the seniors - men a mere year or two older but apparently much more seasoned - would bawl “Hedger” if you banged your desk in the silence of study, or walked (p.36) on the senior staircase, or entered the senior dormitory. The nickname, meant to be opprobrious, was said to be a link with the time when hedge-schoolmasters came among the townies to be trained; townies who were supercilious, and who must have had no inkling of the stature of the rustic pedagogue.’ (pp.35-36; supplied by Kelly Matthews, DPhil. prep. UU 2006.)

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Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt II] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985), lists Stand and Give Challenge, on the 17th c. poet Donnacha Rua Mac Conmara (Talbot Press Press 1934); Candle for the Proud (Talbot Press 1936) and Men Withering (Talbot Press 1937), sequels; This House was Mine (Talbot Press 1937); After the Flight (1938) [manner of Belloc’s Eye Witness applied to 1603]; The Wild Garden (Talbot Press 1940) [gentle romance with tinkers set in Kilkenny]; Flow on Lovely River (Dublin: Talbot Press 1941); Watergate (Talbot Press 1942) [set in America and Kilkenny, featuring a returning emigrant who finds Ireland not as blesséd as she remembers it]; The Greatest of These (Talbot Press 1943) [clerical life in Kilkenny]; Pedlar’s Pack: Stories, Sketches, Essays, Verse (Dublin: Talbot Press 1944); Statue for a Square (Dublin: Talbot Press 1945) [concerns frustrations of visiting American]; The Fire in the Dust (London: Jonathan Cape 1950) [agnostic Mark Golden returns to Kilkenny, and ultimate tragedy]; American Son (London: Jonathan Cape 1959) [USA, Mexico and Dublin, includes a silenced priest. Also Boccacio (London: Sheed & Ward 1947) and St Columban (Dublin: Clonmore & Reynolds 1963). [Titles &c. adjusted by FDA2.]

Brian Cleeve & Ann Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1985), calls him a school-teacher, later Director of Talks and Features, Radio Eireann; created Tomas Davis Lecture; formative influence on Irish education; The Greatest of These (1943, rep. Cork 1979); Men Withering (1939, rep. Cork 1981); non-fiction incl. Boccaccio (1947); St. Columba (1962); The Irish Struggle 1916-26 (1966); ed. The Years of the Great Test, Ireland 1926-37 (1966), and ed. The Yeats We Knew (1965). In Irish, Seal Ag Rodaiocht [On the Road for A Time] (Baile Atha Cliath 1955).

The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed., Seamus Deane (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, selects “Old Clothes - Old Glory” from The Pedlar’s Pack [1209-11]; 1024, 1222, BIOG & COMM, Benedict Kiely, op. cit. [1950] supra; also Kiely, ‘The Irish Historical Novel’, in Augustine Martin, The Genius of Irish Prose (Cork 1985). NOTE FDA3, cites J. W. Foster: ‘Beginning with MacNamara and continuing (between the 1930s and 1970s) with Kavanagh, MacManus, Mervyn Wall and John Broderick, the literary image of the provinces has been a caustic reply to the extravagant Revival love of Ireland.’ (FDA3, p. 938.)

British Library holds Francis MacManus, After the Flight, being eye-witness accounts of Irish history from AD 1607 to 1916 (Talbot Press 1938), 214pp.

Belfast Central Public Library holds The Fire in the Dust (1950); The Greatest of These (1944); Men Withering (1944); Pedlar’s Pack (1945); Stand and Give Challenge (1944); Statue for a Square (1945); This House was Mine (1937); Watergate (1946); The Wild Garden (1940) [all reissues]. See also post-1956 CAT.


Sean O’Faolain notes that the satire Clan Thomas was translated by MacManus and appeared in The Bell from Sept. 1943; further cites a complete edition by Rev. H. McAdoo, awaiting publication. (The Irish, 1947, p.77.)

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