An Only Child and My Father's Son: The Autobiography
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When Frank O’Connor was born, his parents—Minnie O’Connor, a former maid raised in an orphanage, and Michael O’Donovan, a veteran of the Boer War and the drummer in a local brass-and-reed band—lived above a sweet-and-tobacco shop in Cork, Ireland. The young family soon moved, however, to a two-room cottage at the top of Blarney Street, a lane that originates, as O’Connor so vividly describes it, “near the river-bank, in sordidness, and ascends the hill to something like squalor.” From this unlikely beginning, a poor boy born Michael Francis Xavier O’Donovan set out on the remarkable journey that transformed him into Frank O’Connor, one of Ireland’s greatest writers.
An Only Child, the first installment of O’Connor’s wonderfully evocative autobiography, captures the joy and pain of his early years: joy in the colorful people and places of Cork and in his devoted relationship with his mother, pain in the family’s impoverished situation and in his father’s melancholy moods and drunken outbursts. Fifteen years old when he joins the Irish Republican Army in the fight for independence, O’Connor finds himself on the losing side of the ensuing civil war and is imprisoned by the government of the new nation. My Father’s Son begins with his release from an internment camp and follows him to Dublin and the world-renowned Abbey Theatre, where he meets W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, and other members of the Irish Literary Revival, and takes the first steps toward becoming one of the twentieth century’s most beloved authors.
As richly detailed and eloquent as the best of his short fiction, Frank O’Connor’s autobiography is an entertaining portrait of a fascinating time and place, and the inspiring account of a young artist finding his voice.
the “noble stag” was the Duke of Wellington and the mongrels were O’Connell and his party.’ ‘Oh, what rubbish!’ he snorted, all his indignation diverted for the time being onto Goethe. I enjoyed those evening strolls with him because he raised his hat and bowed very low to every poor slum woman he knew, and saluted every man, and sometimes would stop to introduce them and make them show off. He bent his long frame in two like a jack-knife, his walking stick thrust out from behind his back like
me every morning. Jesus Christ, do you think I don’t know what he’s worth to me?’ When O’Reilly left, the handsome, sprightly young man had disappeared. In his place was an elderly, bewildered man, and you could see what he would be like if Collins had lived. Hayes detained me, and as he refilled my glass he asked, ‘Have you ever seen anything so extraordinary?’ We both doubted if O’Reilly would turn up next evening. He did; but this time he looked like the ghost. He gave me a pathetic,
some old Greek author whose name I cannot remember. The real nightmare began only after the Joyces moved to a house on Mulgrave Road, near the North Cathedral. Mother no longer had a bedroom, and slept on a trestle bed in the corridor. The painters were still at work in the house, and one of them, after trying in vain to get Mother to walk out with him, proposed to her. He told her he thought she’d make “a damn nice little wife.” Mother didn’t mind the proposal so much, but she thought his
of it for his own treasures, his razors, clippers, and pipes. One of those peculiar romances of Mother’s that I was always so curious about—not being very satisfied with the father she had supplied me with—had been with a French chef called Armady who had taught her to make superb coffee. I think he must also have taught her to hate fried food, that curse of Irish life, because the first thing she bought when I got a job and turned my wages over to her was a gas-stove on which she could grill.
gave an order, and the men sprang to attention. Then a military officer, accompanied by one of our own staff, entered and passed quickly between the rows of beds, both counting. Nominally we stood to attention only for our own officer. This was part of the camp organization, and I began by admiring it greatly. It duplicated completely the enemy organization so that none of our men ever made contact with their gaolers. Our quartermaster indented for supplies to the enemy quartermaster; our