Confronted by all sorts of anniversaries this month: the centennial of California’s much-overexercised initiative system; the centennial of women’s suffrage in California; the twentieth anniversary of the Oakland-Berkeley Hills fire disaster; the twenty-second anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake; the twenty-fifth of Bill Buckner’s Error; the eighth of Steve Bartman catching hell; the five hundred ninety-sixth of the Battle of Agincourt (despite what Henry V said, I don’t feel accursed or hold my manhood cheap for not being there).
But there’s one I overlook every year: the birthday on October 5 of Brian O’Nolan, better known to many as Flann O’Brien or Myles na gCopaleen (that last name, O’Nolan’s Irish pseudonym for his long-running Irish Times column, is pronounced GAHP-a-lean, and the pseudonym is supposed to mean “Myles of the Little Horses.” Why “the Little Horses”? I cannot tell you).
It’s especially annoying to have missed his birth this time around: O’Nolan/O’Brien was born one hundred years ago this month. I have not time now to indulge in offering a passage of his work. My favorite has long been “At Swim-Two-Birds,” which has been featured at many a St. Patrick’s Day reading; I’d also recommend his collected newspaper columns (reprinted in “The Best of Myles” and other volumes) and the nightmarish “The Third Policeman” as well. Here are a couple decent posts that give some insight into his work and who he was:
Slate: “Why Flann O’Brien Is So Funny“
A fan’s blog post: “Flann O’Brien Centennial“
BBC Radio 4: “The Man with Many Names“