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Reading At Swim-Two-Birds

Is everyone ready? Here is the plan for Flann.

Week 1 (March 19-25)  read through to page 109 (end of “A pint of plain is your only man” section)
Week 2 (March 26- April 1) read through to page 213 (“Minutiae: No. of cigarettes smoked…”)
Week 3 (April 2- April 8) read through to end (page 315*).

(*83, 161, 239 in some editions)

At Dalkey Archive Press there are some supplementary essays, including an introduction by Thomas C. Foster. Later today our own resident O’Brien devotee, AD Jameson, will post a primer as well.

Feel free to start discussions here or on AD’s post at anytime. Happy reading (or re-reading)!

8 thoughts on “Reading At Swim-Two-Birds

  1. OK, the primer is up (see the above comment for the link).

    Something I noticed while reading ASTB this time around is a sly bit of self-reference O’Brien works in on page 17. On the page prior, the giant Finn Mac Cool starts relating a rather lengthy list of “musics” that he finds “the sweetest”; the list grows progressively stranger (and more hilarious): “These also please me, man-shouts at a parting, cuckoo-call in May. I incline to like pig-grunting in Magh Eithne, the bellowing of the stag of Ceara, the whinging of fawns in Derrynish. The low warble of water-owls in Lock Barra also, sweeter than life that” (16).

    And so on. This eventually leads to a very long list of birds that Finn is “friend to,” which includes “the hooded tit, the pilibeen uisce, the common corby, the fish-tailed mud-piper, the crúiskeen lawn […]” (17).

    “Crúiskeen Lawn” was of course the name of the column that O’Brien wrote for the Irish Times, under his Gaelic pseudonym name Myles na gCopaleen. As Thomas C. Foster points out in his introduction to the Dalkey casebook, the column’s title translates as “Little Brimming Pot.” An odd but melodious duck indeed.

    Incidentally, it was the CL columns that made O’Brien’s name during his lifetime; At Swim was praised but went mostly unread until later, and Third Policeman was published posthumously. Many of the CL columns have been collected in the Dalkey releases The Best of Myles, At War, and Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn.

    1. Regarding that other bird, “the pilibeen uisce” (and all other pilibeens), see Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History, by John Wilson Foster and Helena C. G. Chesney. They gloss Finn Mac Cool’s recitation with a footnote:

      “A glossary for this comic reductio ab adsurdum may be useful. The pilibeen is the lapwing, the pilibeen sleibhe the mountain lapwing, the pilibeen uisce the water lapwing, the pilibeen cathrach the city lapwing, the pilibeen mona the bog lapwing. The little red-breasted men are robins.”

      They then clarify further the Crúiskeen Lawn reference:

      “Cruiskeen lawn, meaning little brimming jug, is the name O’Brien gave his brilliant and addictive Irish Times column (written under the name Myles na gCopaleen): a soon to be public private joke, in other words (his column began the year At Swim-Two-Birds was published.)” (611)


      …And this next bit is extraneous, but it’s interesting to note that “uisce” is the Irish word for “water,” and that ‘the word whiskey is an Anglicisation of the ancient Gaelic term ‘uisce beatha’ which translates as ‘water of life'” (it’s an Irish translation of the Latin aqua vitae).


  2. I’ve started reading this for the first time – fantastic! (followed a link here from Dalkey’s FB page) Thanks for the extremely helpful glosses – looking forward to this quite a bit, cheers.

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