Orit Eshel On:
Nora, daughter of Marcus Beag by Pádraic Ó Conaire
Pádraic Ó Conaire (1882-1928) was one of the most important and prolific authors and journalists in Irish during the early 20th century – a period in which, following the formation of the Gaelic League in the closing decade of the 19th century, interest in Irish was renewed.
In difference to other contemporary Irish writers, Ó Conaire did not rely upon the Irish folk storytelling tradition as the basis of his writing, but was instead influenced by the writing of modern realistic writers such as Balzac, Maupassant, Dickens and Dostoevsky. Ó Conaire’s major innovation was his novel use and depiction of Irish as a modern urban language that serves as the everyday language of his characters – even those characters that are defined as English speaking. He presented a different image of Ireland than the stereotypical, sentimental and nostalgic image of pastoral rural Ireland, offering a grim, stark and at times grotesquely pessimistic literary perspective at the center of which stand such subjects as envy, alcoholism, terminal poverty and destitution, mental illnesses, emotional and physical familial abuse, and universal life truths. His writing often expresses the tension between the countryside and the city. Yet, at the same time, both are characterized by the loneliness and evil measures of mankind, and the sickness of society. Ó Conaire also dealt extensively with the subject of exile; a central subject in Irish culture, which served as the title of his famous novel Deoraíocht (1910), that is, “exile” – a daring and colorful novel that is considered as the first modern novel written in Irish.
The story “Nora, Daughter of Marcus Beag” (1906) represents many of these themes and its publishing was a courageous act at the time, dealing with emigration from the village to the big city of London, exilic life and the social ailments that afflict both places and the battles that take place in the protagonists’ hearts.
Ó Conaire was born in the city of Galway in western Ireland, where Irish was still spoken during this period. His parents died when he was a young child and he lived with his uncle in the village of ROSMUCK from the age of eleven. At the age of twenty-seven he immigrated to London, returning fifteen years later while leaving his family behind. Despite his prolific literary activity, he did not make a living writing, and earned a meager salary teaching Irish in summer courses and in work for the Gaelic League. In similarity to many characters in his stories, Ó Conaire died young, at the age of 46, following years of disappointment, disillusionment, despair and heavy drinking – alone and penniless.