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Seán O’Faoláin: Bird Alone

The story of Corney (short for Cornelius) Crone, growing up in Cork at the end of the nineteenth century, doesn’t quite work for me. The title and build-up lead you to expect a story of a lonely old man and, while that theme is touched upon, as he fails to find the right woman and his friends move away – willingly or unwillingly – it is only in the last few pages that the loneliness theme comes to the fore. We follow his growing-up, with the influence of his father, an unsuccessful builder, particularly of churches, and his larger-than-life grandfather, an enthusiastic support of Parnell, a brother who is a simpleton and his sister who is set to become a nun till she runs off to London to become an actress. He has one affair, with Elsie, a good Catholic girl whom he gets pregnant, but their relationship breaks up when he is involved in helping a friend who is a Fenian and almost kills a policeman, for which the friend is sent to jail in England. But, working for his father, losing Elsie and his friends, poor Corney eventually drifts along, alone. Yet, somehow, his story is not as moving as that of the decidedly less sympathetic Leo O’Donnell.

Publishing history

First published 1936 by Jonathan Cape