Rearden Conner (1905-91)

[Patrick Rearden Connor; also pseud “Peter Main”; var. b.1907;] b. Dublin; son of an RIC policeman; educ. Presentation College [CBS], Cork; m. Gipsy Farrell; emig. to London, 1941; served with the Red Cross during the Blitz; worked as landscape garden in London; turned novelist, critic and broadcaster; wrote books about tramps and gipsies; reviewed for many British, Irish and American papers; worked as a broadcaster for BBC, RTÉ, and South African Broadcasting; contrib. short fiction, articles, and reviews to Fortnightly Review, The Star, John O'London's, Johannesburg Sunday Times, Irish Bookman, Men Only, Toronto Star, Lilliput, The New Strand, and contrib. 188 stories to Evening News from 1937 to 1980.
issued Shake Hands with the Devil (1933), his novel of the 1919-1922 Troubles, which became the Literary Guild Choice and was later filmed with James Cagney as a pathologically violent, woman-hating IRA-man in 1959 - moving the setting of the events of 1918-1920 and the Black & Tan War; his other novels are Rude Earth (1934); Men Must Live (1937); The Devil Among the Tailors (1947); My Love to the Gallows (1948); The Singing Stone (1951); River, Sing me a Song (1939), and The House of Cain (1952), while A Plain Tale from the Bogs (1937) is an autobiography; also many short stories; Epitaph (1994), concerning rising against the penal laws in Kenmare during 1701. IF DIW OCIL

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  • Shake Hands with the Devil (London: Dent 1933), and Do. [The Literary Guild] (NY: Morrow 1934), 304pp. [Rhapsody In Black And Tan; Symphony On Machine-Guns; The Devil Plays The Harp].
  • Rude Earth (London: Dent 1934), and Do., as Salute to Aphrodite (NY 1935); Do., as Rude Earth: A Novel of Ireland [rep. edn.] (Janus 1994), 256pp.
  • I Am Death (London: Chapman & Hall 1936);
  • Time to Kill (1936);
  • Men Must Live (London: Cassell 1937) [extract];
  • The Sword of Love (London: Cassell 1938);
  • The Devil Among the Tailors (London: MacDonald 1947), pp.239;
  • My Love to the Gallows (London: MacDonald 1948);
  • Hunger of the Heart (London: MacDonald 1950);
  • The Singing Stone (London: MacDonald 1951);
  • To Kill is My Vocation (London: Cassell 1939);
  • River, Sing Me a Song (London: Cassell 1939);
  • Kobo the Brave (London: Warne 1950);
  • The House of Cain (London: MacDonald 1952);
  • Epitaph (London: Janus 1994), 252pp.
  • A Plain Tale from the Bogs (London: John Miles 1937), 256pp. [extracts in Liam Harte, The Literature of the Irish in Britain (Palgrave Macmillan 2009, pp.193-197v- as infra].

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A. N. Jeffares, Anglo-Irish Literature (1982): ‘[...] detail of observation rather than portrayal of character is found in Shake Hands ... (1933), a realistic novel set in time of Black & Tans by Rearden Conner, the first of several powerfully-written novels. A Plain Tale from the Bogs (1937) is a more directly autobiographical description of this troubled period, which repays reading more than his fiction.’

The reviewers said ...


Mr. Rearden Conner has had rather a wretched time and wants to tell everyone about it. He was persecuted by his schoolfellows in Dublin because his father was a Government Servant, and at home was ill-treated by the father for whom at school he suffered. The horrors of the Black and Tan regime and the tragedies of the Civil War came upon him at almost the most impressionable age. His misfortunes did not end with his youth. He migrated to England in pursuit of fortune, but at first found only unemployment or unvongenial jobs. Once he attempted suicide, but that like his other plans miscarried. Not until quite recently did he escape from the rut of misfortune and emerge as a reasonably successful author - and even the the literary circles in which he found himself moving were not, alas, congenial. This book (John Miles, 8s.6d.) modulates between keys of self-pity and ill-temperl; it would be easier to sympathise with Mr. Conner if he did not condole with himself so much; it would be more worth while listening to his fierce denunciations of the world if he could learn that, the bitterest comment is often also the most obvious. The title, one is glad to be able to reassure prospective readers, has no connection with the the book.

The Spectator (12 Nov. 1937), p.38; available online; accessed 26.01.2021.

Liam Harte, The Literature of the Irish in Britain: Autobiography and Memoir, 1725-2001(London: Palgrave Macmillan 2009, pp.193-197: ‘Dublin-born Patrick Rearden Conner (1907-1991) was the only child of a Royal Irish Constabulary policeman, a fact which led to him being bullied at school and socially ostracised during his adolescent years in a city convulsed by political turmoil. The first part of his autobiography forms an absorbing record of the insurrectionary drama being played out on the streets of post-1916 Dublin and Cork, where he was sent to be educated, and his changing responses to it, responses that were deeply coloured by his estrangement from a father who was hostile to his son ”s literary ambitions. Disillusioned by the suffocating conservatism of post-revolutionary Irish society, Conner emigrated to London in the mid-1920s, where he endured periods of unemployment, homelessness and depression before finding regular work as a landscape gardener. All the while, the urge to write persisted, as the following extract from his autobiography attests. The success of his debut novel, Shake Hands With the Devil (1933), a melodrama set during the War of Independence, was the turning point that launched him on a writing career that quickly became prolific: Conner published a further five novels in the 1930s alone, as well as A Plain Tale from the Bogs. Outspoken and forthright, the book is both a document of artistic development and a self-portrait of an outsider ”s struggle to assert himself creatively in the face of poverty, social prejudice and a predilection for existential despair. Having charted his circuitous route to literary success, Connor offers a critical overview of social and cultural trends in 1930s Britain in the closing chapters, and concludes with a forceful left-wing critique of the anaesthesising effects of a “sugary” commercialised culture, which he sees as stifling individualist thought and collective action in equal parts.’ (pp.193; ensuing extracts being A Plain Tale from the Bogs, 1934, pp.217-23; 226-27; see extract -as infra. Note that the above is reproduced at ResearchGate - online.)

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Men Must Live (1937): ‘John Brannigan was shopkeeper like his father before him. But now that the old man had died he had decided to leave the back of beyond and try his luck in the little town that many said was a coming place. He had bought at a cheap price a general store which had belonged to an old half-blind woman [...]. John Brannigan was determined to make a success of his life in the town of the plain. [3] ‘[...] I see these men not as dirt-grimed peasants, but as men from whose seed will spring the race that’ll make Ireland a country able to raise its head among the other nations of the earth, and even though [sic] in that very making the ground under our feet at this moment may have to run with the blood of the new generation ...!’ [81]

Men Must Live (1937), cont. - [O’Mara: ‘...] that’s where we score, because our strength comes from the spirit. We’re willing to shed our blood, to set up a nation - when we’ve won our fight - that’ll lose heavily in material advantages. But we’re ready for these sacrifices. Is that not a spiritual readiness? Our blood will water the earth of this land and great seed will come to life in it and bear fruit beyond even our understanding. [300-01]

Men Must Live (1937), cont.: ‘He [Brannigan] remembered how, after Moynihan’s death in jail in England, he had decided that it must be his endeavour to live life as near as possible to the verge of nobility. That thought would sound almost insincere if he uttered it aloud, he knew. Yet it came to him with deep sincerity. He saw in it his spiritual salvation. It was not mrely the justification of his existence, but the purpose which he saw in the life ahead of him. It was no longer the time for looking back into the past, muttering about Ginkel and Cromwell and going into fervid ecstasies over Sarsfield or Tone. It was the time for men to look forward as intently as possible.’ [390]. ‘The wheel of Fate must turn ... men must live on and one so that the world of which these things are a part may endure until the human race has achieved its purpose in the scheme of the Universe.’ [392] (For longer extracts, see RICORSO, Library, “Authors”, supra.]

A Plain Tale of the Bogs (1937): Life proceeds almost to a pattern. Nineteen twenty-nine, “thirty”, and ”thirtyone” are “boom” years for me. The suburb around us grows under our very eyes. I am kept busier than any bee all through the winter months, laying out or helping to lay out gardens. Throughout the spring and summer months I have little time to spare of an evening. But then comes a pause. The suburb [193] is reaching its boundaries. There are only a few more houses to be built. The “boom ” is at an end. [...] During the “boom ” period, although labouring very hard, I found time to read the works of contemporary authors from the local Boots ” library. I have still with me the desire to write, sometimes even stronger than ever. In slow stages I scribble off a novel about suburban life in London. I buy a rebuilt typewriter on the pay-by-the-month system. The old game starts afresh. The MS. is sent off, and comes bouncing back again and again like a large rubber ball in a spell of catch-as-catch-can. I dash off short stories, tales of detection and adventure. They are seeds that fall on rock. My wife points out that I never say, “If this comes back from So-and-So I’ll send it to So-and-so,” but always “When this comes back ...”. Yet, I do not lose hope. I am a pessimist by training, if not by nature. I have found so often the sneer behind the smile, the sting in the smooth phrase, that my belief in the goodness of Man is badly shaken. But I am unable to bring my pessimism to my writing. It colours it; but it does not prevent me from going on and on with it in the hope of eventual success. The world around us changes. Its hectic pace is slowing down. Short skirts, showing knees and legs that sometimes charmed and often disillusioned men, have passed away. “Talkies” have come to the cinemas. “Sonny Boy” has washed its saccharine waves over our world. “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” becomes as significant as “Alexander’s Rag-time Band ”. Errand boys go around whistling “If I had a talking picture of you-ou ...! ” or “Just like in a story-book ...”. The age of film “musicals ” has replaced the age of film “epics”. Paul Whiteman2 begins to mean more than D. W. Griffith.3 Hollywood is ruling our world at last, giving its inhabitants new manners, a new mode and code of life, even a new accent. Young girls cast aside their personalities and change their spots as rapidly as any chameleon. They are Clara Bows one week, Greta Garbos the next, Janet Gaynors another week. The menace of “crooning” creeps into our lives. This is the dawn of the Romantic Age. We have been told over and over again that there aint no sense in sittin’ on the fence all by ourselves in the moonlight. Six-wheeled buses are on the streets of London. On the Underground trains sliding automatic doors have replaced the old cage doors at which a guard used to stand. Long escalators in the stations make country cousins giggle nervously. Marble-walled palaces, with jazz music poured out by gaily-clad bandsmen, raise their elaborate outlines in the name of Food at Popular Prices. Cinemas become sup;er cinemas. Film critics are on the verge of [...] (Liam Harte, The Literature of the Irish in Britain, Palgrave Macmillan 2009, pp.193-97; pp.193-94; end of extract - online. See bio-note - as supra.)

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Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. II, by Desmond Clarke] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985): Clarke regards Conner's novels as a melange of violence, melodrama, and sentiment, occasionally derogatory towards Irish Catholics and clergy, full of unbelievably wicked persons, male and female, and fuelled by gelignite explosions; Clarke regards his novels as a melange of violence, melodrama, and sentiment, occasionally derogatory towards Irish Catholics and clergy, full of unbelievably wicked persons, male and female, and fuelled by gelignite explosions. The Telegraph thought Shake Hands a notable picture of Ireland, and the Tablet though the it showed how demoralised the Irish were after the Troubles; The Telegraph thought Shake Hands a notable picture of Ireland, and the Tablet though the it showed how demoralised the Irish were after the Troubles.

There was a biographical notice on Reardon Conner in the “Evening News Short Story Index” [online at GeoCities; accessed 12.07.2009; defunct at 09.09.2010].

Kevin Rockett, et al., eds, Cinema & Ireland (1988), Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), 100 [first international production made at Ardmore, in 60 days with budget of £600,000], 111 [dir. Michael Anderson 1959; a commercial success for his British company, Troy Films], 164-7 [Kerry O’Shea (Don Murray), initially opposed to violence, joins the IRA after his friend is shot attending a wounded man in Dublin and he himself beaten by the Black and Tans; at the end he throws away his revolver; he falls in love with the IRA hostage, Jennifer Curtis (Dana Wynter), and when she is threatened with execution, he saves her; the commandant, Lenihan, played by James Cagney, is sadistic with the prostitutes in the house where they hide; it is women rather than the British which most unsettle him and inspire his violent outbursts]; 168 [Lenihan has shed blood for so long he can’t lose the taste of it], 175-6 [romance between political opponents undercuts political relationship; structural relations are collapsed into individual emotions], 182 [sees potential of love to triumph over political divisions, 231-34 [dénouement in which young woman is at the receiving end of a psychotic IRA leader’s bloodlust ... Lenihan the misogynistic IRA leader who also happens to be one of Ireland’s leading surgeons[!] ... in a scene which fell foul of the censors, the camera lingers on Kitty’s legs as she caresses herself while lifting her clothes on the beach ... at this point Lenihan appears on the scene ... attempts to strangle her [as an informer].

Anthony Slide, The Cinema and Ireland (1988), p.188 n.36 [in Plain Tale from the Bogs (London: John Miles 1937), Connor’s explains that he intended to write in a way that would ‘not shield the brutalities nor the courage of the men on either side’ and how this resulted in a book pleasing neither the ‘Imperialists’ nor the ‘extremist Irish’ (pp.237-41).]

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Shake Hands with the Devil (1933; filmed 1959) - Summary of film-plot: Irish-American Kerry O’Shea (Don Murray) is studying at the College of Surgeons in 1921 during the Irish War of Independence. He is apolitical and sick of killing after fighting in World War I. He and his friend and fellow medical student, Paddy Nolan (Ray McAnally), are caught in the middle of an IRA ambush against the Black and Tans and Nolan is shot by the British. Nolan tells O’Shea to fetch Sean Lenihan (James Cagney), one of their professors. Lenihan turns out to be a high-ranking IRA leader known as the Commandant. He removes Nolan’s bullet but Nolan dies anyway. O’Shea has left a textbook ith his name inscribed at the scene of the ambush and is now a wanted man. Lenihan takes him to meet his superior, called the General. (Michael Redgrave), an old comrade-in-arms of O’Shea’s father. O’Shea refuses his invitation to join the IRA and the General arranges for a boat passage out of Ireland. Lenihan takes him to a hideout by the sea under the control of an IRA unit commanded by Chris Noonan (Cyril Cusack). Lenihan finds a local barmaid called Kitty Brady (Glynis Johns) consorting with the men there and is furious about it. When Liam O’Sullivan (Noel Purcell), a leading IRA chief, is wounded escaping from prison, O’Shea agrees to accompany the unit to the rendezvous point to treat him but O’Sullivan is discovered in the boot of the car of aged Lady Fitzhugh (Sybil Thorndike) and killed in a shootout by the British. When the soldiers check the nearby pub, where the IRA men are waiting, Terence O’Brien (Richard Harris) attempts to hide a pistol he has brought, against Noonan’s explicit orders. The pistol is found but it s O’Shea who is taken away. He refuses to talk and is brutally beaten by the Black and Tans commander Colonel Smithson (Christopher Rhodes). Lenihan then leads a raid to rescue him at which point O’Shea decides to join the IRA. When Lady Fitzhugh is sentenced to prison and goes on a hunger strike, Lenihan kidnaps Jennifer Curtis (Dana Wynter), the widowed daughter of a top British adviser, to try to force a prisoner exchange. In their ensuing encounter, Kerry O’Shea falls for her. Meanwhile Kitty gets into trouble, both with Lenihan and the British, and decides to leave Ireland. She is trying to board the ship when Lenihan arrives to assassinate Colonel Smithson at the dockside. Suspecting he has been betrayed when Kitty - whose appearance his pure oincidence - he shoots her in cold blood in the ensuing firefight. Reassembling at the lighthouse hide-away, the IRA-men now hear two bits of news: firstly, Lady Fitzhugh has died; secondly, the British have offered a treaty. The General is happy enough with the offer but not so Lenihan who now decides to execute Mrs. Curtis. O’Shea has to stop him and, in the ensuing exchange of shots, Lenihan is killed. (Adapted from Wikipedia - online; accessed 24.01.2021.)

Rod Crawford - review-notice of Shake Hands with the Devil: ‘In 1921 Dublin, the I.R.A. battles the “Black & Tans”, special British forces given to harsh measures. Irish-American medical student Kerry O’Shea (Don Murray) hopes to stay aloof, but saving a wounded friend gets him outlawed, and inexorably drawn into the rebel organization under his former professor Dr. Sean Lenihan (James Cagney), who has ‘shaken hands with the devil’ and begun to think of fighting as an end in itself. Complications arise when Kerry falls for a beautiful English hostage, and the British offer a peace treaty that is not enough to satisfy Lenihan. (Goodreads online, citing Rod Crawford <>) [Also copied at ChasingtheFrog; Films from Books > 1950s - online - all accessed 25.01.2021)

Shaking Hands with the Devil in Kigali: Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003) is the title of a book by Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire of the Canadian [Armed] Forces, written with Major Brent Beardsley and published by Random House (Canada). It tells of the gross mismanagement of the crisis when an estimated 800,000 Tutsis were massacred by Hutu militia in 1993.

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