Brian O’Nolan, in his guise of Myles na gCopaleen, once wilfully mistranslated “Vienna,” that town of schnitzel and strudel, as Cathair na Féinne, otherwise a mountain peak in the Kerry MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. Myles, if not his flesh-and-blood counterpart, was no stranger to the city. In 1815, he attended the Congress of Vienna with Talleyrand. Something of a balletomane, he met Anna Pavlova there at the end of what must have been an especially long nineteenth century. And, though a graduate of the National University of Ireland, his student days were spent roving between Paris, Bonn, Bologna, and Vienna.1 However unlikely a résumé Myles might have amassed, late last July, the Mylesians and “Flanneurs” of seventeen countries found purchase on his Hiberno-Austrian footholds and, “following the wie-ning courses of this world” (FW 546.31), traveled to the capital on the Danube for “100 Myles: The International Flann O’Brien Centenary Conference.”
Flights of Mylesian fancy aside, Vienna enjoys many more enduring connections with Ireland and Irishry, from the fiacre hackney carriages named for St. Fiacra to the oft-touted origin of “Wien” in a Celtic place name. Sir William Wilde and Oliver St. John Gogarty both completed postgraduate study at the Viennese Medical School so it felt entirely fitting that the conference took place in what were once the lying-in chambers of the Vienna General Hospital.
The brainchild of Paul Fagan and Werner Huber (both at the University of Vienna) and Ruben Borg (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), the idea for a conference devoted to Brian O’Nolan was conceived at the International James Joyce Symposium in Prague last year and brought to term with the aid of the Vienna Centre for Irish Studies, the Irish Embassy in Austria, and the postgraduate community at the University of Vienna. Three days of first-rate panels were complemented by a robust arts program of performances, screenings, readings, and adaptations. This “Fringe Flann” began with “Myles Away From Illustration,” an exhibit of contemporary art that took wing from O’Nolan’s writing and continued into a screening of David O’Kane’s trilingual Babble (2008), a short film consisting entirely of quotations from O’Brien, Franz Kafka, and Jorge Luis Borges that pitted all three in impossible converse. Conference-goers then adjourned to Charlie P’s Irish Pub, Vienna’s answer to the Scotch House, for a two-hander based on “Cruiskeen Lawn” by Gerry Smyth and David Llewellyn and directed by Andrew Sherlock. That perennial sibling [End Page 16] the Brother’s brother (Smyth) enjoyed a near monologue in the hushed pub basement, but the interjections of his ostensible straight man (Llewellyn) garnered as many laughs.
The hospitality was Irish, though not excessively so, whereas the tenor of the following morning was nothing if not international. Keith Hopper, in a keynote talk entitled “A Thing of Triads,” revisited three generations of O’Brien scholarship to argue that, despite a vibrant ongoing reception, commonly held notions of O’Nolan as a purely local writer are still desperately in need of revision. Partly to blame for the perpetuation of this fallacy is the fact that, one hundred years after his birth, the contours of O’Nolan’s oeuvre have yet to be fully mapped and, by the same token, a complete dossier of the pseudonyms he employed across his writing life is also wanting. Hopper concluded his keynote with a screening of “John Duffy’s Brother” (2006), a twelve-minute film based on the 1941 short story,2 and eloquently made the case for adaptation and translation as promising byways into O’Nolan’s texts. This provided but one more point of contact with Vienna because, while we wait for Brendan Gleeson’s imminent directorial debut, the city is home to the only feature-length adaptation of an O’Nolan work, Kurt Palm’s German-language In Schwimmen-Zwei-Vögel (1997), the subject of Monday evening’s plenary Q and A. That same night, conference attendees repaired to the residence of...