Frank O'connor, pseudonym of Michael Francis O'donovan Biography
(1903–66), pseudonym of Michael Francis O'donovan, Guests of the Nation, Irish Statesman
Irish short-story writer, critic, and novelist, born in Cork into a poor family. He left school at 12 and was largely self-educated, making good use of a spell of imprisonment in 1923 after he had taken the Republican side in the civil war. The Irish language was of early and lasting importance to him, and on his release he became a teacher of Irish. Subsequently he started a theatre group in Cork, then began to write, working as a librarian to support himself. His first volume of stories, Guests of the Nation (1931), was fired with Republican romanticism and the thrill of idealistic combat, although by this time O'Connor was disillusioned with de Valera's leadership of the nationalists. In the early 1930s he began to contribute to the Irish Statesman and, along with Sean O'Faolain and Liam O'Flaherty, rapidly became a prominent figure in the literary world of Dublin. Over the following decade O'Connor produced another collection of stories; two novels; The Big Fellow (1937), a biography of Michael Collins; a volume of poetry; several plays; and three volumes of verse translated from Irish Gaelic. At the same time he was contributing articles and stories to newspapers, and was on the Board of Directors of the Abbey Theatre. In 1939 he resigned from the Abbey after a feud over censorship, married a young Welsh actress, and moved to Wicklow. His most interesting work from this time appeared in Crab Apple Jelly (1944), an appropriate title for a diverse collection of bittersweet stories; in Irish Miles (1947), a lively record of cycling trips across the country in search of historical sites; and in The Bell, the important literary magazine published by O'Faolain, of which O'Connor became poetry editor, and to which he contributed stories, letters, articles, and poems. In 1951 O'Connor left Ireland to teach in America. Having gained a reputation for unpatriotic and iconoclastic writing, he had suffered the pressures of the censor and subsequent financial difficulties. In the USA he published some of his most charming stories, based on his childhood, and produced his two fine volumes of literary criticism, The Mirror in the Roadway (1956) and The Lonely Voice (1963). In 1967 he published The Backward Look, a history of Irish literature, and a personal appraisal of his native culture. O'Connor returned to Ireland in 1961, and despite suffering a stroke he continued to write. A Set of Variations (1969) was published posthumously and in its simplicity and intensity recalled his finest short stories. Like all his work, they are deeply rooted in the Irish landscape and character.
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