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LEGLESS IN LONDON: PÁDRAIC Ó CONAIRE AND ÉAMON A BÚRC1 ANGELA BOURKE padraic Ó Conaire’s short novel, Deoraíocht [Exile] (1910), written in London and published when he was twenty-eight, is the earliest example of modernist fiction in Irish.2 Its narrator, Micil Ó Maoláin, has been hit by a car shortly after arriving from Galway to look for work; emerging from hospital, he has lost an arm and a leg, and his face is casta millte scólta: “twisted, warped and ruined.” He becomes a sideshow freak to support himself, traveling around England and even back to Galway, but returns eventually to London, where he dies, down and out, in one of the city’s parks. “Seoirse Lap agus Banríon na Bruíne” [Seoirse Lap and the Fairy Queen], on the other hand, is an oral legend told in Connemara in September 1937 by Éamon Liam a Búrc, of Aill na Brón, near Carna, County Galway, and recorded on wax cylinders with an Ediphone machine by Liam Mac Coisdeala, a thirty-year-old collector for the Irish Folklore Commission. Seoirse Lap is a young rural tradesman: a maker of nets and of the rope harnesses used on looms, who travels on foot around the West of Ireland to sell his work. His home is beside a fairy hill, however (perhaps Knockmaa, in East Galway), and one night its occupants carry him by magic to Dublin. Further “trips” take him to Scotland, where the LEGLESS IN LONDON: PÁDRAIC Ó CONAIRE AND ÉAMON A BÚRC 54 1 I thank University College Dublin, The National University of Ireland, Dublin, for a President’s Research Fellowship in 2002–03, during which I prepared this paper for publication . From an early version, presented at the IASIL annual meeting in Dublin in August 2001, I developed the arguments in a seminar for the MA in Culture and Colonialism at the National University of Ireland, Galway, in February 2003. I am grateful to those who attended , and participated in the discussions that followed, and especially to Dr Lionel Pilkington for his invitation. 2 Pádraic Ó Conaire, Deoraíocht (Réamhrá le Micheál Mac Liammóir) (Baile Átha Cliath: An Comhlacht Oideachais, 1994 [1910]). Translations used here are from Exile, translated from the Irish by Gearailt Mac Eoin (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 2001 [1994]). fairies need his help to abduct a king’s daughter, and to London, where they abandon him in the cellar of a public house after drinking it dry. Much longer, at over half an hour (fifteen printed pages), than the average legend performance, and with many meditations on right and wrong, and the individual’s entitlement to work and earn a living, “Seoirse Lap agus Banríon na Bruíne” is this storyteller’s elaborate version of the migratory legend folklorists refer to by number as ML5006.3 Éamon a Búrc was seventy-one when he told the story of Seoirse Lap for Liam Mac Coisdeala, and its length and complexity suggest that the legend may have been in his repertoire for many years. Pádraic Ó Conaire, author of 26 books, 473 stories, 237 essays and 6 plays, had been dead since 1928.4 He had spent the last thirteen years of his life in Ireland, mostly in County Galway, and at least some of the time in Carna.5 Like most Irishlanguage writers of his generation, he had drawn on the modes and motifs of oral storytelling in some of his writing. Unlike them, however, he had spent fourteen years in London, and was a committed socialist, widely read in contemporary European and Russian literature.6 His best prose, including Deoraíocht, moved decisively away from oral tradition to deal with the preoccupations of urban life in spare, descriptive language with many neologisms; even there, however, references to oral stories and songs mark moments of liberation for his characters. His first readers were the men and women whom the Gaelic League’s language classes had made literate in Irish, but Éamon a Búrc was not among them. The storyteller LEGLESS IN LONDON: PÁDRAIC Ó CONAIRE AND ÉAMON A BÚRC 55 3...


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