“If you throw a stone, no one knows where it will land.”
The Poor Mouth (An Béal Bocht, 1941.) is the best known literary work written in Irish and also the only work by Brian O’Nolan (better for his literary pseudonym Flann O’Brien) written in that language, signed as Myles na gCopaleen. Although O’Nolan used several different pseudonyms because of his employment in public administration, in the case of The Poor Mouth he did it to, along with the style and plot, parody a then extremely popular genre of fictional autobiographies and so-called personal histories/confessions in Irish literature. Those works, written and signed exclusively in Gaelic, as somewhat of a resistance towards centuries of cultural and linguistic Anglicization, portrayed miserable lives of Irish countryside laborers. This is why O’Nolan’s novel takes place in such a setting: in the village of Corca Dorcha in Irish hinterland, where the rain never stops, and everyone is extremely poor, sharing with their livestock (pigs) their roofs and food (almost always it is just potato), but they speak “real, true Gaelic”, which is why they start getting more visits from Gaeilgeoirs (Gaelic language enthusiasts). In this regard, the novel is also a critique of superficial Irish national-romanticism from that time as it was more focused on establishing cultural values and linguistic norms than it was on difficult living conditions in Ireland.
Author: Brian O’Nolan
Translator: Elvira Veselinović