Laughing matter – An Irishman’s Diary on a Mylesian symposium in 1986

There were 150 “Mylesians” registered for the symposium, which took place at Newman House on St Stephen’s Green, where the great man spent much time in his student days.

There were 150 “Mylesians” registered for the symposium, which took place at Newman House on St Stephen’s Green, where the great man spent much time in his student days.

 

Imagine spending three days laughing your head off – and getting paid for it. Such was the happy fate of the present writer when reporting for this newspaper on a symposium devoted to the life and work of Flann O’Brien, otherwise known as Myles na Gopaleen and, less often, under his real name of Brian Ó Nualláin/Brian O’Nolan.

Proceedings

There were 150 “Mylesians” registered for the symposium, which took place at Newman House on St Stephen’s Green, where the great man spent much time in his student days.

Tonic

“Almighty God, are your trying to drown the gin entirely?” protested Myles.

Ryan reeled off a list of Dublin pubs that Myles frequented in his day. Novelist Benedict Kiely, who was chairing the lecture, commented that he felt the urge to say “Pray for us” after every name.

The illustrious Canadian scholar Hugh Kenner was another lecturer and his presence was a further indication that, as well as being a “character” and “a gas man”, Myles/Flann was also a literary heavyweight.

Kenner devoted his attention to The Third Policeman and noted that the word “Garda” does not appear anywhere in the text. Meanwhile, in the best Mylesian tradition, a plan was hatched among the participants to have a man in Garda uniform arrive at Newman House after the lecture, to “take particulars”. Myles would have enjoyed that, but the prank was aborted and we were told that the real Garda Síochána refused to supply the uniform.

Column

The Irish Times

Working as a civil servant, as he did for many years, it was no doubt essential to use pseudonyms for his literary and journalistic output.

Mac Aonghusa told us how the author had a row with The Irish Times over his column and swore that “Myles na gCopaleen” (spelt with a “c”) would never write for the newspaper again. Subsequently the dispute was settled but, in order to keep his pledge, the columnist changed the spelling to “Myles na Gopaleen”.

Election

No Laughing Matter

The chief organisers of the symposium were Anne Clune and Tess Hurson, and among the writer’s relatives who attended were his widow, Evelyn, and three brothers.

Micheál Ó Nualláin, who died last July aged 88 years, gave a lecture on the life of the family and described his sibling as “the shyest man in Ireland”.

Motto