Hopes for nothing lost in Flannslation as ‘Flannoraks’ gather in Salzburg

Biennial academic conference on Flann O’Brien in Austria shows his global appeal

Brian O’Nolan: wrote his long-running ‘Irish Times’ column, ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’, from 1940 until 1966 under the pseudonym of Myles na gCopaleen.

Brian O’Nolan: wrote his long-running ‘Irish Times’ column, ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’, from 1940 until 1966 under the pseudonym of Myles na gCopaleen.


Myles na gCopaleen meets Mozart, at least in spirit, this week, as the latest International Flann O’Brien Society conference gets under way in the picturesque surrounds of Salzburg.

Eighty scholars from at least three continents will spend five days dissecting the life and work of Brian O’Nolan, including the novels he wrote as Flann O’Brien and his long-running Irish Times column, Cruiskeen Lawn, written from 1940 until 1966 under the pseudonym of Myles.

The now-biennial conference is the fourth in a series that began during his centenary year 2011, with an event hosted by the University of Vienna. Sequels have since have been held in Rome and Prague, and the organisers plan to bring the subject back home in two years time, when the 2019 conference takes place in Dublin.

In the meantime, the growing number of overseas “Flannoraks”, as his more committed fans are known, testifies to the surprising global appeal of a writer who for most of his life was one of Ireland’s better-known secrets.

But after spending his literary career in the shadow of the James Joyce industry, O’Nolan might have been especially astonished to see the new wave of interest in his work among academics.

Papers to be presented this week include one on Flann O’Brien’s Metaleptic Puppet Theatre and its Möbian Scenography’ and another with the subtitle Augustinus Hibernicus, Pseudepigraphical Method, and the Expanding Universe of Dalkey’.

There will also be a round-table discussion, Lost in Flannslation, on the challenges of communicating such concepts as “A Pint of Plain is Yer Only Man” in Turkish and Romanian.

On the other hand, lest anyone miss the point that most of his work was intended to be funny, the programme will also include a large performance element, with contributors including Arthur Riordan, Val O’Donnell, and the Liverpool Irish Literary Theatre (LILT).

‘Big Fahrt’

Then there is the biennial corrective of the awards for outstanding Flann O’Brien scholarship, presented during each conference. There are two of these – one for a book-length work, the other for an essay – and they attract serious competition. But to keep participants grounded, the prizes are named after Father Kurt Fahrt SJ, a character from O’Brien’s novel The Hard Life, and are known popularly as the “Big Fahrt” and “Little Fahrt”.

That’s the sort of joke Mozart, who had a famously scatological sense of humour, would have enjoyed. He also enjoyed the old Irish drinking song Cruiscín Lán (which inspired the title for Myles’s newspaper column) enough to use the tune in one of his masses. So Na gCopaleen in Salzburg may not be such a clash of cultures after all.

The real-life Brian O’Nolan may never have visited the city, but his late brother Micheál, who died last year, did. Attending an art conference in 1964, he felt guilty at the luxury of his accommodation compared with the poverty in which the city’s greatest composer lived.

During an exchange of postcards, in German, Brian assured him he was using his influence with the Irish Arts Council to get Mozart a pension.

Flann 2017 is “the biggest since Vienna”, according to the event’s joint-founders (along with the late Werner Huber) Paul Fagan and Ruben Borg. The conference began Monday with a day of talks, a Flann-themed art exhibition, and a reception hosted by the Irish Embassy.

Later highlights of the week will include a screening of the Austrian film version of At Swim-two-birds, In Schwimmen-Zvei-Vögel, followed by a Q & A with its director Kurt Palm.