Arts interview: Críostóir Ó Floinn

John Rainsford

Reporter:

John Rainsford

Arts interview: Cr�ost�ir � Floinn
My education took place firstly at the Sisters of Mercy Infant School in St. Mary’s Parish.

My education took place firstly at the Sisters of Mercy Infant School in St. Mary’s Parish.

Next, I attended Quay Lane Christian Brother’s School (CBS), also called the Gerald Griffin Memorial School and Sexton St. CBS. I qualified, then, as a National Teacher from St. Patrick’s Training College, Drumcondra, later, acquiring an honours degree, in English, from University College Dublin (UCD) and a Higher Diploma in Education (H.Dip.Ed.) from Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

My older brother, Joe, once won a prize for a poem he had published in the children’s section of the Irish Press.

It was called By Shannon Shore. That would have been in 1935, when he was only twelve years old. I don’t think he wrote any other poems; sadly, he died of TB, in 1942, aged only nineteen. Perhaps, if he had lived, Joe might, also, have turned out to be afflicted with the creative impulse. I sometimes wonder if it was his poem that switched on the impulse in me.

Music was a big thing in our house.

My father and uncle Danny were members of the Sarsfield Band in the Irishtown. They taught us to play the Piccolo and Flute and to read music. My father taught himself to play the saxophone, in order to add to his income from selling coal by horse and cart. He played with a small dance band called the Sylvians, headed by the late Earl Connolly who was, incidentally, the entertainment columnist with the Limerick Leader. My mother was, also, a lovely singer.

Writing is a sort of congenital affliction for which, as Cervantes and others have said, there is no cure.

Indeed, I was never able to earn a living from it, apart from a brief interlude, when I worked as a writer for the Irish Tourist Board dealing with cultural affairs. I, also, worked freelance in journalism and broadcasting. Indeed, I wrote a weekly column, in Irish, for eight years for the Irish Press, and broadcast many short stories and talks, in both Irish and English, while occasionally giving lectures. Thank God that none of our seven children have been similarly afflicted.

My latest book is entitled Meeting Mrs Zebedee: A Personal Guide to Faith.

It deals with an examination of the Gospels from the point of view of a creative writer. My own crisis of faith, resulting from being twice sacked from teaching posts, directly by the Archbishop of Cashel in 1962, and indirectly by the Archbishop of Dublin in 1968, was its inspiration. This followed on from the production of plays of mine, which had been foolishly rejected on moral grounds, by the directors of the Abbey Theatre. The book was rejected by two religious publishers, Veritas and Columba, so I published 300 copies of it, at my own expense, as a contribution to the Year of Faith (2013). Publishers tend to be only interested in books that are likely to sell quickly and in large quantities, rather than in works of literary merit.

My interest in Michael Hogan’s poem, Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady, dates from hearing a couplet by the fireside as a child.

We lived next door to the Bishop’s Palace, then, which had been the residence of the naughty lady, and adjacent to Thomond Bridge, which was the scene of Thady’s encounter with her ghost. Our older siblings terrified us by fitting our fingers into the grooves on the stone parapet of the bridge which, they assured us, were the actual marks of the ghost’s fingers when she threw Thady into the Shannon. Later, as a professional writer, I came to consider this work as the greatest comic poem in the English language, albeit relatively unknown. In 1977, I published an edition of the poem with an introduction and notes. In 1992, I published the text again in a selection of twenty poems from Hogan’s Lays and Legends of Thomond.

Themes or topics seem to come almost accidentally to me.

For instance, the seed for what I consider to be my best play, The Order of Melchizedek (Cóta Bán Chríost) dropped into my brain one day when I was on the train from Dublin to Limerick. I happened to see a priest far down the carriage reading his breviary. I began to think about the priest’s role in human society, that he is either the link between humanity and God or else, if there is no God, he is either a fool or a confidence trickster.

My parents were the most important influence in my life.

Their religious faith and selfless labour in rearing a large family, in difficult circumstances, was extraordinary. However, they were devout without being Jansenistic, and they laid great stress on the natural virtues of honesty, truthfulness, and personal integrity. They regretted not knowing Irish, but like our maternal Granny Connolly from Crosby Row, they were delighted that the language was now being taught in school. Indeed, they believed that the day would come when everybody in Ireland would know Irish. I was, also, influenced by two great teachers, Sister Felicitas Molony, principal of the Infant School, and John Liddy who was my teacher for three of the four years that I spent in Quay Lane CBS.

The writer who joins a political party forfeits his intellectual independence and freedom of conscience.

As a young writer, I was co-opted on to the committee of the Gaelic League, in Limerick, by my friend and former schoolmate, Seán South. Later, I was a member of writers’ groups such as the PEN club, Cumann na Scríbhneoirí, and the Society of Irish Playwrights. Indeed, I am currently a member of Aosdána. However, such literary groupings are liable to be affected by cliques. A writer should, ideally, be a hermit or a lone wolf!

Críostóir Ó Floinn will have two books (Drunken Thady and Remember Limerick) published in Limerick by Revival Press on Saturday July 19 and in October respectively, as part of his contribution to Limerick City of Culture 2014. For further details please see: www.limerickwriterscentre.com