The source of many of Liam O’Flaherty’s achievements is his birthplace off the coast of the west of Ireland. The Aran Islands’ remoteness and stark natural beauty, the dependence of their scattered population on the vagaries of wind and sea, the inhabitants’ preservation of the Irish language as their primary means of communication, and the virtually mythological status accorded such phenomena by leading figures in the Irish Literary Revival such as William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge, all exerted a crucial influence on the development of O’Flaherty’s work.
Both his short fiction and novels are noteworthy for their unsentimental treatment of island life, the vivid directness of their style, and their attention to natural detail. While by no means all, or even all the best, of O’Flaherty’s work draws on his Aran background, the marked degree to which all of his work emphasizes the spontaneity and volatility of all living things is the product of his formative exposure to the life forces of Aran. One of the consequences of this background’s influence is plots that deal with the problematical socialization of natural energy. These plots tend to take on a melodramatic or expressionistic coloration that can mar the overall balance and objectivity of the work. Such coloration also, however, unwittingly reveals O’Flaherty’s essential opposition to the aesthetic and cultural codes of the Irish Literary Revival and lends his work an often overlooked but crucial, critical dimension.
O’Flaherty won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1926 for his novel The Informer. That same novel won him several other awards and honors in France and England, including two Academy Awards in 1935. O’Flaherty was honored with a doctorate in literature from the National University of Ireland in 1974, and with the Irish Academy of Letters Award for literature in 1979.