Tag: Frank O’Connor

The violent passion of a learned mistress

Saturday, 13 April, 2019

The Irish writer Frank O’Connor (1903 – 1966) is best known for his short stories. Neil Jordan’s award-winning film The Crying Game was inspired in part by O’Connor’s short story, “Guests of the Nation”, which is set during the Irish War of Independence and recounts the doomed friendship between members of an IRA unit and the two British Army hostages they are holding.

O’Connor’s work as a teacher of the Irish language provided the linguistic basis for his many translations into English of Irish poetry, including his initially banned translation of Brian Merriman’s Cúirt an Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court). A Learned Mistress is the work of an anonymous Irish poet from the 17th century and it’s filled with the murderous passion expressed by the spokeswoman of a ménage à trois.

A Learned Mistress

Tell him it’s all a lie;
I love him as much as my life;
He needn’t be jealous of me –
I love him and loathe his wife.

If he kills me through jealously now
His wife will perish of spite,
He’ll die of grief for his wife –
Three of us dead in a night.

All blessings from heaven to earth
On the head of the woman I hate,
And the man I love as my life,
Sudden death be his fate.

(Translated from the Irish by Frank O’Connor)


The game of cards and the call of duty

Saturday, 13 January, 2018 0 Comments

The Irish writer Frank O’Connor began his career with a book of stories called Guests of the Nation (1931) and the title story begins:

“At dusk the big Englishman, Belcher, would shift his long legs out of the ashes and say, ‘Well, chums, what about it?’ and Noble and myself would say ‘All right, chum’ (for we had picked up some of their curious expressions), and the little Englishman, Hawkins, would light the lamp and bring out the cards. Sometimes Jeremiah Donovan would come up and supervise the game, and get excited over Hawkins’ cards, which he always played badly, and shout at him, as if he was one of our own, ‘Ah, you divil, why didn’t you play the tray?'”

Belcher and Hawkins are two English prisoners taken during the Irish War of Independence, being guarded by three Republican militants, to use today’s PC term, and they have all become friends. Then, news comes that some Irish prisoners have been shot by the English and orders arrive for the Republicans to shoot Belcher and Hawkins in reprisal. No one can quite believe it. None of the Republicans seem to understand what they are doing and none of their victims can comprehend what is being done to them. Belcher asks for a handkerchief to tie around his eyes as his own is too small. His captors help him tie it.

“You understand that we’re only doing our duty?” said Donovan.
Belcher’s head was raised like a blind man’s, so that you could only see his chin and the top of his nose in the lantern-light.
“I never could make out what duty was myself,” he said. “I think you’re all good lads, if that’s what you mean, I’m not complaining.”

The card players of Galbally