John Francis Whelan Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Seán O’Faoláin (oh-fuh-LAWN) was born on February 22, 1900, in Cork, Ireland, to poor but hardworking parents. His given name was John Francis Whelan, but when he began to sympathize with those who fought for an independent Ireland, he changed it to its Gaelic variant. Living near the Cork Opera House, O’Faoláin got his first taste of theater in his teens, when his parents sublet part of their living quarters to touring actors. According to O’Faoláin, his first sense of it being possible for someone to write about the everyday reality of Irish life came from seeing a performance of Lennox Robinson’s Patriots (1912) when he was fifteen years old. When the Irish began to rebel against the British in 1916, O’Faoláin became a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). During his time with the IRA, he met the patriot writer and schoolteacher Daniel Corkery. He and another new friend, Michael O’Donovan (Frank O’Connor), became staunch disciples of Corkery. O’Faoláin became disillusioned, however, when the IRA failed in their efforts to win independence for all of Ireland, and he went to the United States on a fellowship in 1926 to study at Harvard University. While living in Boston, he began his most serious and intense writing about Ireland. It was also while living there that he married Eileen Gould. In 1929, the couple returned to Cork, where O’Faoláin took a teaching job and worked on the stories that were later to appear in his first collection, Midsummer Night’s Madness, and Other Stories.{$S[A]Whelan, John Francis;O’Faoláin, Seán}

O’Faoláin soon quit teaching to...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Seán O’Faoláin was born as John Francis Whelan in the city of Cork, Ireland, in 1900. His parents led an untroubled conventional life; his father was a constable for the Royal Irish Constabulary and his mother a pious Roman Catholic. By the time that John grew up, however, the problems of Ireland and England were becoming acute. The 1916 uprising in Dublin declared an Irish Republic, and a war broke out between Irish revolutionaries and British soldiers. John Whelan knew on which side he had to be and joined the Irish Volunteers in 1918 and later the Irish Republican Army. He changed his name to its Gaelic form of Seán O’Faoláin in 1918 to signal his new identity.

During the Irish troubles, O’Faoláin was educating himself; he received his B.A. and M.A. from University College, Cork, and a fellowship to Harvard University in 1928. In 1932, he published his first collection of short stories, Midsummer Night’s Madness, and Other Stories. After that O’Faoláin became a prolific writer, as he produced novels, travel books, biographies, and studies of the national character of Ireland. Above all, however, he was a masterly writer of short stories.

O’Faoláin’s Midsummer Night’s Madness, and Other Stories contains a number of stories dealing with the Irish Civil War. Most of these treat broken promises and the destruction of idealism and romantic dreams. The later collections contain a considerable amount of irony, as the ordinary Irishman, with little hope of engaging in a historic event, tries to find some distinction in a bleak society. O’Faoláin, however, often modulates his irony and finds some compensatory victory even in defeat.

After having found his style and subject matter, O’Faoláin published a number of excellent collections of stories, culminating in The Collected Stories of Seán O’Faoláin. O’Faoláin has become one of the finest Irish writers of the twentieth century and a master in his chosen genre, the short story.