Sean Proinsias O’Faolain (baptised John Francis Whelan) enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer of fiction spanning over sixty years. O’Faolain was born in Cork on 22nd of February 1900 and educated at the Presentation Brothers Secondary School in Cork. He went on to receive degrees from both the National University of Ireland and Harvard University. Prior to leaving Irish soil he had also served in the Irish Republican Army and fought in the War of Independence.
After his studies, O’Faolain went on to lecture in English at Princeton University (1929), Boston College (1929) and St. Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill in London (1929-1933). He married children’s writer, Eileen Gould, in 1929 and the couple returned to Dublin in 1933.
O’Faolain published his first collection of short stories, Midsummer Night Madness and Other Stories, in 1932. Three early novels were to follow, A Nest of Simple Folk (1933), Bird Alone (1936), and Come Back to Erin (1940). Further collections of stories include A Purse of Coppers (1937), Teresa (1947), and The Man Who Invented Sin (1948). Much later works include The Talking Trees (1971), Foreign Affairs and Other Stories (1976), and the novel And Again? (1979). His collected stories were published in three volumes between 1980 and 1983. The author filled his work with images of life in modern Ireland, and retained a life-long interest in Irish nationalism and republicanism.
O’Faolain was regarded as Ireland’s leading short-story writer, however, his work was not confined to fiction. Between the 1930s and 1960s, the Irish writer also produced works of non-fiction, including travelogues, literary criticisms, and historical biographies. He produced biographies of important figures in Irish history such as Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell, Hugh O’Neill, Constance Markievicz, and Eamon DeValera. O’Faolain also published his own autobiography entitled Vive Moi! in 1964.
As founder and editor of the Irish periodical The Bell from 1940-1946, O’Faolain was in direct contact with emerging Irish literary talent. He served as director of the Arts Council of Ireland from 1957 to 1959, and was elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1986. He died on 20 April 1991.
Munira Hamud Mutran was first introduced to the work of Sean O’Faolain, in 1970, having just completed a Masters Degree in American and English literature. Three years later, Mutran wrote her first letter to O’Faolain and commenced a correspondence between Brazil and Ireland that was to continue for fourteen years. She completed her PhD thesis on O’Faolain’s short stories in 1976.
Mutran has been an important figure in the development of Irish studies in Brazil and other South American countries. She has published extensively on the subject of Irish studies, and is an active member of both the International Association for the Study of Irish Literature and the Spanish Association for Irish Studies.
Archival History ↴
The Sean O’Faolain Archive was donated to the Library, National University of Ireland Maynooth in 2008 by Munira Hamud Mutran, Professor of Literature in English at the University of São Paulo in Brazil.
The O’Faolain letters address a variety of different subjects, including art, Irish literature, the writing process, aging, health matters, travel plans and O’Faolain’s own work. On the subject of Irish literature he observes the following in a letter to Mutran, dated 17 February 1973, ‘Shaw, Joyce, O’Casey, Synge, Yeats: these are the big 5…Like Wilde, Goldsmith, Congreve, Sheridan, Swift, and so forth. The rest of us are minor writers, talented perhaps, but not men of genius…men of talent often write better than men of genius; but not with the same fire.’ (NUIM/PP/4/1).
The collection also offers a glimpse into O’Faolain’s private life, with references to his wife Eileen and their daily routine. A letter to Mutran, dated 18 September 1980, reveals how the author met his wife ‘beyond the bounds of Cork’ when they were in their teens, noting ‘In those days, 1918 and after, we had both felt ourselves ardent revolutionaries. There is so much of that idealism behind those first tales, written – alas! – after the idealism had been if not shattered deeply wounded by the grimmer realities of the 20’s.’ (NUIM/PP/4/18).
Appraisal Destruction ↴
No further accruals are expected
The collection is arranged as follows:
A. Letters (1973 – 1986)
B. Other Documents (2008)
C. Publications (1999 – 2008)
Conditions of Access & Use
Open to students of Maynooth University and Saint Patrick's College Maynooth. Open to external readers by appointment. Please contact: email@example.comPlease see our website for Reading Room opening hours.
Further material is held at University College Cork, UCC Library Archive Service: IE BL/L/GF Seán O’Faolain/Major Gerald Fox Correspondence
Descriptive Control Area
ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.National Council on Archives: Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names. Chippenham: National Council on Archives, 1997.