Flann shows his staying power in eternal city

Scholars gather in Rome for three-day conference on writings of Brian O’Nolan

Brian O’Nolan aka Flann O’Brien and Myles Na Gcopaleeen

Brian O’Nolan aka Flann O’Brien and Myles Na Gcopaleeen


The man himself never made it that far, but scholars from all over the world will gather in Rome this morning for a three-day conference on the writings of Brian O’Nolan, better known as Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen. The second International Flann O’Brien conference follows the success of the inaugural event, held two years ago in Vienna.

His global fame continues to grow, however. And to prove it, the 100 or so academics attending represent universities from California to Singapore.

If he never went there in person, Rome did at least feature in one of O’Nolan’s novels, The Hard Life (1960).

By giving one of his religious characters a rude name – Fr Kurt Fahrt SJ – he hoped to earn a ban and then have it legally overturned, amid much free publicity. In the event, the censor failed to rise to the bait.

First award
But the International Flann O’Brien Society has now immortalised the priest’s name in a biennial award for works of scholarship about the writer, the Father Fahrt Memorial Prize, the first award of which will be made this week.

The theme of the conference is “Problems with Authority”. and it begins today with an address by Jed Esty, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.

The many academic papers range from one by a Turkish scholar discussing “The Third Man argument: Problems of O’Brien’s Dualistic Ontology”, to a talk by an assistant professor from the University of Southern Mississippi: “The Artificial Manure Ring: Agriculture in O’Brien.”