1 April 1966 – The death occurred of Brian O’Nolan aka ‘Myles na Gopaleen’ and ‘Flann O’Brien’ [above]. He was an Irish Times columnist who also published bizarre and strange works of comic genius.
Born in Strabane, County Tyrone, he is regarded as a key figure in postmodern literature. His English language novels, such as At Swim-Two-Birds, and The Third Policeman, were written under the nom de plume Flann O'Brien. His many satirical columns in The Irish Times and an Irish language novel An Béal Bocht were written under the name Myles na gCopaleen.
O'Nolan's novels have attracted a wide following for their bizarre humour and Modernist metafiction. As a novelist, O'Nolan was powerfully influenced by James Joyce.
A key feature of O'Nolan's personal situation was his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father's relatively early death, was obliged to support ten siblings, including an older brother who was an unsuccessful writer.
Although O'Nolan was a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. He joined the Irish civil service in 1935, working in the Department of Local Government. From the time of his father's death in 1937, he supported his brothers and sisters, eleven in total, on his income. On 2 December 1948 he married Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moved from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Avenue, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple had no children.
At Swim-Two-Birds was one of the last books that James Joyce read and he praised it to O'Nolan's friends - praise which was subsequently used for years as a jacket blurb on reprints of O'Brien's novels. The book was also praised by Graham Greene, who was working as a reader when the book was put forward for publication and also the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who might be said to bear some similarities to O'Brien.
The British writer Anthony Burgess stated, "If we don't cherish the work of Flann O'Brien we are stupid fools who don't deserve to have great men. Flann O'Brien is a very great man." Burgess included At Swim-Two-Birds on his list of Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939.