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January 1, 1999

Flann O'Brien: Shameless Hijack

Posted by daev

We will come clean this week, and enlighten the readership as to how the name Blather was arrived at when naming this vitriolic vessel of the various.

The original Blather was the title of a short-lived Dublin monthly periodical, published in 1934 by one Brian O'Nolan, better known as Flann O'Brien or Myles na gCopaleen (1911-66). Devoted to the absurd and the satirical, Blather purported to be (amongst many other things) 'The Only Paper Exclusively Dedicated to Clay-Pigeon Shooting in Ireland'. In his brother Ciarán Ó Nualláin's The Early Life of Brian O'Nolan - Flann O'Brian - Myles na gCopaleen, we find an extract from the Editor's introduction in the first issue:

Flann O'Brien - from the cover of <em>The Early Life of Brian O'Nolan/Flann O'Brien/Myles na gCopaleen*

'Blather is here. As we advance to make our bow, you will look in vain for signs of servility or of any evidence of a desire to please. We are an arrogant and depraved body of men. We are as proud as bantams and as vain as peacocks.

'"Blather doesn't care." A sardonic laugh escapes us as we bow, cruel and cynical hounds that we are. It is a terrible laugh, the laugh of lost men. Do you get the smell of porter?

'Blather is not to be confused with Ireland's National Newspaper, still less with Ireland's Greatest Newspaper. Blather is not an organ of Independent opinion, nor is Ireland more to us than a Republic, Kingdom or Commonwealth. Blather is a publication of the Gutter, the King Rat of the Irish Press, the paper that will achieve entirely new levels in everything that is contemptible, despicable, and unspeakable in contemporary journalism... In regard to politics, all our rat-like cunning will be directed towards making Ireland fit for the depraved readers of Blather to live in...

'We have probably said enough, perhaps too much. Anyhow, you have got a rough idea of the desperate class of men you are up against. Maybe you don't like us? A lot we care what you think.'

Blather was, as aforementioned, short-lived - a mere six issues. While in no way claiming to stroll the same sodden streets of political satire as the original Blather, it more was the general air of irreverence that drove the swarthy knaves of Blather II to hijack such a grand tradition of not-caring.

O'Nolan - or rather Flann O'Brien - is perhaps better known for his novels. There is no great interest in the paranormal alluded to in his work, but that isn't to say that his writings were in anyway sober - not with country policeman who spend their time caretaking eternity, battling the atomic theory and stealing bicycles in The Third Policeman, cowboys, pookas and giants running riot around Dublin in At Swim-Two-Birds (a book about an young author penning a story about a nasty writer who creates flesh and blood characters - and it has four beginnings on the first page), encounters with St. Augustine (The Dalkey Archive), the pope himself (The Hard Life) and the 'Sea-cat' - a Gaelic cryptozoological nightmare (An Béal Bocht).

O'Brien/O'Nolan/na gCopaleen is often attributed with the public immortalisation of the great philosopher and inventor De Selby, but the late Professor Timothy F.X. Finnegan, Dean of the Royal Sir Myles na gCopaleen Astro-Anomalistic Society has been known to dispute this, usually after closing time in the snug of Kehoes, South Anne St. Dublin 2.

Ciarán Ó Nualláin's The Early Life of Brian O'Nolan - Flann O'Brian - Myles na gCopaleen tells us of one family fortean event, at a rented house in Strabane, Co. Tyrone around 1917.

'There was a ghost in the house - a poltergeist. As I cannot make any judgment on the matter I will simply record the facts. My mother and my sister Roisin, who was about four years old, slept upstairs in the high part of the house. Brian, Gearoid, myself and another brother - that was the extent of the family at that time - slept downstairs in the front part of the house. We heard nothing unusual and were told nothing of the strange events that occurred until long afterwards.

'I do not know how soon it was after our arrival that my mother first became aware of the ghost, but it was not long before she asked her sister, our aunt Teresa, to come and sleep in our house. Mother was afraid to be by herself at night without another adult for company [The O'Nolan's father was a customs and excise official, and spent much time travelling]. Aunt Teresa would come to our house every night after she closed the shop she managed in Market Street. What form did the haunting take? I simply repeat the story as I often heard it from my mother and my aunt:

"You would waken in the darkness, knowing that something had just woken you. You would be there waiting - full of anticipation. Presently, you would hear the sash of a window being pulled up roughly, even though you knew all the windows were closed and locked. Then the sound of a small iron ball being rolled across the bedroom floor. This would be followed by the sound of something heavy falling down the stairs making massive thumps."

'Things used to happen during the day, too. Occasionally if my mother was in the drawing-room she would hear a great commotion coming from the kitchen as though a couple of hens had come indoors and were flying about. On going to the kitchen to investigate she would find nothing. There would be no hens near the door - indeed the door itself would often be closed. On other occasions she would find everything from the mantelpiece in the drawing-room thrown onto the floor.

'Aunt Teresa used to come up from town at about eight o'clock. Usually she'd come in the back door. An odd night my mother would hear her step on the gravel at the side of the house but she would not come in. Again, on going to the kitchen, my mother would find nobody there. Half an hour later she would hear the step again and Teresa would appear.

'There was a room in the house that was locked - the landlord neither supplied a key nor said why it was locked. It was a small room close to the kitchen, and you could see into it through a window on the outside of the house. The window was high up in the wall and had iron bars on it, as did all the lower windows except for a few at the front of the house. I remember a day - it must have been after a bad night's visitation by the ghost - when my mother took a kitchen chair and stood on it to look into the room. Later, we copied her as children do, without knowing why. I could see nothing through the window other than a piece of shelf and the floor.

'Uncle Peter, a Carmelite from Aungier Street in Dublin, visited us and was asked to say Mass in the house. He did and I remember the occasion very well because I had to learn the Latin responses so that I could serve the Mass. The Mass was celebrated in the drawing-room.

'There was another odd thing about our haunted house in Strabane. My mother had a clutch of hens with a hen-house near the house itself. Foot nor claw would any of those hens put inside that hen-house. I often tried to coax them into the house with no success - they refused to shelter in it at night. Instead they flew up into the trees at the side of the house and roosted there. Nights of hard frost or strong gales made no difference - they elected to roost in the trees.'

Ciarán Ó Nualláin's The Early Life of Brian O'Nolan - Flann O'Brian - Myles na gCopaleen
ISBN 1-901866-18-1
The Lilliput Press

The Early Years of Brian O'Nolan / Flann O'Brien / Myles Na GCopaleen (
The Early Years of Brian O'Nolan / Flann O'Brien / Myles Na GCopaleen (

The No-Bicycle Page

De Selby: Canned Darkness

Earlier emissions of Blather are guilty of unnecessary worry - Blather HQ is not, as was thought, sitting atop a mass grave of some 300 Croppies of the 1798 Rebellion, according to a November 30th letter to the Irish Times from one Aengus Ó Snodaigh, of Dublin '98 Commemoration Committee. It is indeed thought to be at the original location, in front of Collins Barracks, where a recent archaeological search (and not a dig, whatever the difference is) located no bodies. That puts the kibosh on Blather's theories concerning the finding of a human skull by the Wellington Memorial (as mentioned in the Irish Times, Friday June 19th 1998).

kibosh/kybosh[noun, derivative disputed but possibly from Irish caipín báis, cap of death, or pitch cap, as employed by British forces against 1798 insurgents; verbal usage other origin and not general Hiberno-English].
Final destructive action/utterance, as in 'put the kibosh on' [verbal phrase].
1966 Séamus Murphy, Stone Mad; "'We'll get nothing done today. This will put the kybosh on everything.'"
More on KIBOSH

- Slanguage - a Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English in Ireland , Bernard Share, Gill & MacMillan 1997, ISBN 0-7171-2683-8

Dave (daev) Walsh
1st January 1999

Posted by daev at January 1, 1999 1:29 PM

post<li> - Post to Social Networking Sites


Hi - can you remind me of the corect version of
"mais ou sont la niege d'antan" - where are last years snows?
and where did he first quote it?

Posted by: dave andrews at January 27, 2007 9:42 PM

les neiges d'antan is from Villon's Ballade des Dames de Temps Jadis. You can find it in German as Wo ist der Schnee vom verganenen Jahr? in Brecht/Weill's Nanas Lied...

Posted by: aynur at June 5, 2007 4:40 AM

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