Posted by: Pam Hackbart-Dean | September 15, 2011

Brian O’Nolan papers: A Researcher’s Perspective

Brian O'Nolan

In fall 2009, I was awarded a fellowship to research the Brian O’Nolan Manuscript Collection at Morris Library’s Special Collections and Research Center (other major archives for O’Nolan in America being in Boston College’s Burns Library and the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center.) This was directly after I had researched in Ireland on an assistantship in the National Library of Ireland and Radio Telefís Éireann’s Television Archives.

My work on O’Nolan has been completed at a critical point in O’Nolan studies when he is beginning to be recognized as a major Irish writer. I explore overlooked works and endeavors of O’Nolan’s career, including his last work of fiction, his controversial journalism, and his television writings. I have benefitted from the holdings in Morris Library’s SCRC in particular areas: O’Nolan’s last work of fiction, Slattery’s Sago Saga; a wealth of personal correspondence and personal papers, particularly those highlighting O’Nolan’s feelings on writing for different purposes (journalism, fiction, and television); and his vast television writings, including his series that were aired on Telefís Éireann and the longer, more experimental plays.

Most exciting were the personal correspondence and papers. In these letters and materials, O’Nolan’s varying personality shines through. Several studies have made use of these documents, and they continue to be brought to light in O’Nolan studies; yet, a wealth of opportunity still awaits new scholars there. For instance, my study is among few that call attention to how O’Nolan viewed his writing for journalism and television; that they helped him keep the wolves at bay.

Another valuable area for my research was the television writings. These transcripts and longer-length plays had not been examined in any full-length study published on O’Nolan. In these materials, I found how O’Nolan, always ambivalent, moved among themes that appear to support the administration that was so controversial at the time as well as those which ask his audience to be open to changes that came to Ireland from elsewhere. These materials in Morris Library’s SCRC show an individual who was creating in the new medium of television during a time in Ireland when many conventions were coming into question. Whether we eventually come to believe him simple-minded or far-thinking, these materials help us in O’Nolan studies understand what the television companies and he himself were working at, and in what type of environment.

From what I found in Morris Library’s SCRC, I published one article in the edition Is It about a Bicycle?: Flann O’Brien in the Twenty-First Century (Four Courts Press, March 2011) with another due in Autumn 2011 in the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

I had a great experience working at SCRC, and I hope wherever I end up, that I might come back and look at some of the other materials there!

Amy Nejezchleb, PhD


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