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Flann O’Brien: An Béal Bocht (The Poor Mouth)

This book was a blatant satire on The Islandman by Tomás Ó Crohan and other Irish language memoirs. It was the only work he published in Irish but was not translated into English till after his death. O’Brien satirises his Irish-speaking, memoir-writing fellow countrymen (and -women) in the autobiography of the improbably named Bonaparte O’Coonassa. O’Coonassa grows up in the poverty described in various Irish memoirs but O’Brien mimics the standard formula of these works. It is not just the Irish speakers that O’Brien satirises. Bonaparte’s first contact with the English style school system is also mocked. The foreigners who learn Irish and who come and study Irish culture are also savaged. One of them, for example, records the grunts of a pig, thinking that it is speaking Irish. But with his Irish legends, improbable geography, satire on all and sundry and Irish traditions, real and imagined, O’Brien is definitely having fun in this novel.

Publishing history

First published 1941 by National Press
First English translation in 1973 by Hart-Davis, MacGibbon