Bailiúchán Béaloidis Árann


10 September 2001
Gort na gCapall
Maeve Uí Fhlaithearta
Póilín Uí Fhlaithearta
Pegeen O'Sullivan
Archival information
MD 33 Pegeen O'Sullivan (Iníon Liam Uí Fhlaithearta) An Clann; An Teach i Gort Na gCapall; A hathair Liam Ó Flaithearta; A cuid leabhar; Cinsireacht; A bhlianta deiridh.
Additional information
MD 33 Pegeen O'Sullivan. Family; the house in Gort Na gCapall; her father Liam O'Flaherty; his books; censorship; Liam's final years.
Archival Reference
Bailiúchán Béaloidis Árann, BBAF.00025
Recording & metadata © Bailiúchán Béaloidis Árann.
See copyright details.


MAEVE: Maeve Uí Fhlaithearta anseo i Gort na gCapall, Dé Luain an deichiú lá Meán Fómhair dhá mhíle agus a haon, le Póilín, bean Seán Ó Flaithearta as Gort na gCapall agus Pegeen, iníon Liam Ó Flaithearta as Gort na gCapall. Tá muid anseo i dteach Ronan Dan Pheaits Mhicil Phádraic ag caint le Pegeen, iníon Liam Maidhc Mhicil Phádraic nó Willy Mhaidhc.

Pegeen, we learnt this morning of the death of Paddy Hehir when we collected you at Máirtín Éamonn’s house in Onaght. We all knew Paddy and enjoyed his visits when he came to Gort na gCapall and we would like on tape to give our condolences to Mairéad and Máirín. He was married to your aunt Delia and I am sure you have lovely memories of him.

PEGEEN: Oh, I have indeed, ehm, when I used to come to Aran, Uncle Paddy was always so kind, ehm, I think he was a lovely man and a remarkable man who gave his whole working life to the children of Aran and he, he loved, he loved the Aran Islanders. Ehm, all his life, he was very, in his retirement that is, very pleased whenever he had news and as long as it was at all physically capable he used to come back and he wanted to have a talk with everyone he knew and he was himself, an absolute mine of information on Aran history.

MAEVE: Thank you very much, that, that’s very, very interesting Pegeen. And now, well we are here to talk to you about your father Liam O’Flaherty and I am sure Póilín would like to have a few words with you.


PÓILÍN: Yes, indeed, thank you Maeve and Pegeen. Pegeen, photographs would suggest that your father was a handsome man.

PEGEEN: My father came of a handsome breed. He was, he was wonderfully, I would say beautiful man. So was his brother, Uncle Tom, a fine handsome man.

PÓILÍN: Very good. Did you ever hear it said which side of the family he most resembled in appearance?

PEGEEN: Eh, no.


PEGEEN: …. No ….

PÓILÍN: …. And how about temperament then, the O’Flahertys or the Ganlys?

PEGEEN: Well, I think he had both.


PEGEEN: I, I think he wrote, was it in “Shame The Devil”, yes that the, the storytelling, the, the charm, I suspect came from his mother but eh, he admired his father enormously and I think the gravitas, and seriousness came from the father.

PÓILÍN: M hm, Liam Ó’Flaithearta, the writer, I’d like you to tell us please, Pegeen, about Liam Ó’Flaithearta, the father.

PEGEEN: Oh, he was the most wonderful father a little girl could have, absolutely lovely, such fun and what a fund of stories.

PÓILÍN: Very good, can you recall some of those stories that your father told you as a child?

PEGEEN: Not really they just come from any eh, any incident that, that was happening that he would weave these fantasies and ….

PÓILÍN: …. Yes ….

PEGEEN: …. and it, it was all quite fun.

PÓILÍN: Great.

PEGEEN: Great fun.

PÓILÍN: Great.


PÓILÍN: Lovely. I’m curious to know how your father and mother spelt your name, Pegeen?

PEGEEN: Well, my father wanted to spell it properly, in the Irish way, but my mother said no, people will call her pigeon.

PÓILÍN: Oh, (laughs)

PEGEEN: So she insisted on the Anglicised form.

PÓILÍN: Right, thank.


PÓILÍN: And what about the surname, was it Ó’Flaithearta or O’Flaherty you were known as, as a child?

PEGEEN: O’Flaherty, yes.

PÓILÍN: Right.


PÓILÍN: What was your father’s first language as a child, ehm, which did he consider to be his mother tongue, Irish or English?

PEGEEN: Well, eh, that too, he has written about. Ehm his, English came from his mother, and Irish from his father.


PEGEEN: You could say, yes. He claims that, ehm, he insisted that it should be Irish ….

PÓILÍN: …. Right ….

PEGEEN: …. as a child.

PÓILÍN: Yes, m hm, and, ehm, did Liam pass Irish on to you?

PEGEEN No, he didn’t, he seemed to think that I should know it without human intervention.

PÓILÍN (Laughs) Right and ehm, what was your father’s attitude to the Irish language?

PEGEEN He loved it. Of course, I think anyone who loves the Irish language suffers eh, because of the threat to the language, the, the threat to the Gaeltacht of, of people leaving, and ehm, the more powerful language ….

PÓILÍN: …. M hm ….

PEGEEN: …. taking over.

PÓILÍN: M hm, m hm.

PEGEEN: He loved English too, he thought that was a beautiful language.

PÓILÍN: M hm, M hm.

PEGEEN: He wasn’t in any way, a narrow ….

PÓILÍN: …. M hm, m hm ….

PEGEEN: …. advocate!

PÓILÍN Right, and as a child, do you have memories of him, speaking perhaps to himself in Irish, you know when, when you were about, like you know if he would muse in Irish or what are your memories of him?

PEGEEN No, no, he would sometimes make a remark

PÓILÍN: M hm, m hm.

PEGEEN: Or if he felt some expression ….

PÓILÍN: …. Yes ….

PEGEEN: …. would be suitable, but no.

PÓILÍN Thank you. Ehm I’d like to ask you now Pegeen, ehm, about your paternal grandparents, ehm Liam’s parents, did you know them?

PEGEEN Unfortunately, my mamó died before I was born but my dadó was a very impressive figure. I must have been quite young when he died. I don’t, because I know by the time I was about ten, I think he had died. Ehm, no, I couldn’t talk to him and, actually he was a man of very few words in extreme old age but he was very dignified and I used to have a photograph of myself with him, I didn’t have it, my mother had it ….

PÓILÍN: …. M hm ….

PEGEEN: …. ehm, a very little girl, with my hand stretched up, up, up to (laughs) to get into his hand and there was this tall thin man and this little girl. But unfortunately it was lost at some point, this photograph, yes, yes.

PÓILÍN What do you know of your father’s relationship with his parents?

PEGEEN As he grew older he, he talked more and more about his father.


PEGEEN: Ehm, and he, he really revered him very much. Once when father was a little boy and he, he wouldn’t eat his dinner, he was left at the table to eat it and ehm, his father went to the, went to the side-place where, the dresser and took down two spoons and sat beside him and the father took one spoonful and ate it, and, then father took one spoonful and ate it and they had the dinner finished together and he said it was such an intuitive thing of his father to have done because he broke the nervous tension.



PÓILÍN Is Árainn special to you, Pegeen?

PEGEEN Oh, yes, yes, I, I loved coming here as a child, I loved it and I think it’s so beautiful.


PEGEEN: I love it and really there are, walking over the, over the crags, its kind of one of the few wilderness places.



PÓILÍN Where used you stay when you came to Árainn?

PEGEEN With my aunt Annie. That’s why I remember my grandfather because she, she, when she came back from America she came to look after him in, in the family house. Yes.

PÓILÍN And tell us what you remember of that house in Gort na gCapall where your father was born.

PEGEEN Very lovely memory. Very primitive really.


PEGEEN Ehm, you went into a main room with two doors really facing each other, both half doors, you know, you could open the top and keep the bottom shut, and which was a great opportunity for draughts.

PÓILÍN Oh, of course.

PEGEEN (Laughs) And eh open fire and my aunt Annie did the most wonderful cooking.

PÓILÍN Is that right?

PEGEEN In these primitive ….

PÓILÍN: …. M hm….

PEGEEN: …. ehm conditions, she [had] a big black pot, very heavy which went onto a, a hook and she boiled potatoes and it was very interesting. We ate the potatoes at the top, which had been steam-cooked and to the creatures went the ones at the bottom, which had been boiled and were a bit disintegrating possibly. So that was quite a sophisticated dietary (laughs)

PÓILÍN: Very good.

PEGEEN: And she also baked marvellous bread in it and sometimes it was maize bread, yellow bread and I loved that ….

PÓILÍN: …. Is that right?

PEGEEN: And sometimes she made raisíní mór bread with, with, white bread with the raisins in it and that was, that was a great treat.

PÓILÍN Great, great.

PEGEEN Yes and the, the fish would be grilled at the side. She’d take red embers from the fire and break them up [Pegeen pounding on the table, to demonstrate] and then a grill would be put on that and the, the fish would be grilled and that was delicious, delicious….

PÓILÍN …. My goodness.




PÓILÍN: Great. And ehm, other rooms in the house, was there a dairy or ….?

PEGEEN …. There was a dairy to the left as you went in and I once gave it [the churn] half a turn and it was enough to convince me that it was hard work.

PÓILÍN: (Laughs) Is that right, yes.

PEGEEN: (Laughs) My little arms weren’t strong enough.


PEGEEN: And so we had the butter and the buttermilk, which was lovely and sometimes in the buttermilk you’d get a tiny bit of butter, that would be delicious.

PÓILÍN That would be a treat.

PEGEEN Yes, yes. And the other room I don’t remember, the one off at the right, I, I think it was a more company room, perhaps

PÓILÍN Is that right? An parlús, perhaps, yes.

PEGEEN And then we, we went up a staircase which I remember as being almost a ladder.


PEGEEN Sloping and there was a bedroom at the end where my grandparents slept. That was their bedroom and then the, the longer room where I suppose all the children slept.


PEGEEN So that was the house.

PÓILÍN Lovely ….

PEGEEN: …. Yes, yes ….

PÓILÍN: …. lovely and, and by, by a strange coincidence it’s, it’s an uncle of my husband, Máirtín Mac Donnacha, Mairtín Sheáin Antoine, who resides in the house to this day….

PEGEEN ….Yes, yes.

PÓILÍN So later on we hope to go over and say hello to Máirtín….

PEGEEN …. That would be a great pleasure.

PÓILÍN Aww, that’s great.


PÓILÍN: That’s great.


PÓILÍN: Ehm, still staying with Árainn and your childhood visits here Pegeen, can you tell us, can you recall some of the people from Árainn whom you met on your childhood visits here, please?

PEGEEN Well, of course my family, that was Annie and Alice.


PEGEEN: And aunt Delia and her four children, Brendan, Máirín, Enda and Margaret and we were often there. And sometimes, father would, father usually stayed with Delia and I would be with Annie, ehm and also Maureen and Eithne, father’s sister Agnes’s children, would sometimes come to the house, so those were the family members that I knew best and of course Dan Patch, eh, ehm, yes Dan.




PEGEEN: And I remember Ronan in his pram. I remember one day he was crying (Laughs)

PÓILÍN: (Laughs) Only one day!

PEGEEN: Only one day, yes.

PÓILÍN: Ah lovely.

PEGEEN: And ehm, there were other people, I, I, I loved Antoine Máirtín, he was a very, very handsome man and he drove a cart, what were, what were, what were they called now, a horse and cart.


PEGEEN: A horse and car.

MAEVE: Maggie’s father.[Maggie Bhaba Uí Chonghaile]

PEGEEN: That was it, yes, and Nainín Pheigín was a great character.

PÓILÍN: Is that right?

PEGEEN: She had ehm, she was a tall, fine woman with rather a deep voice.


PEGEEN: And a very important aspect of her personality was that she had a sweet shop


PEGEEN: So we used to, we used to get bull’s eyes from her. (Laughs)

PÓILÍN: (Laughs)

PEGEEN: Very sticky bull’s eyes.

PÓILÍN: Very nice, and what about places on Árainn, what places do you remember visiting as a child?

PEGEEN: Oh! My father loved fishing when he came and we were out on the back, that stretch of rock and sea.

PÓILÍN: To the west here of the village, Port Bhéal a’ Dúin direction.

PEGEEN: That’s right, and the rock pools

PÓILÍN: Oh yes

PEGEEN: Yes and Annie loved those too

PÓILÍN: Is that right?

PEGEEN: She used to, to bathe in them in, in the summer.

PÓILÍN: Is that right.


PÓILÍN: Do, do you recall your father having spoken of his particular favourite place on Árainn?

PEGEEN: That was it, that was it, yes, yes.

PÓILÍN: Great, thank you. Ehm, what was your father’s relationship with Árainn, Pegeen.

PEGEEN: Well, Aran gave him everything he had. Aran made him. Ehm, and he loved it, of course he loved it. He had, I don’t know if he made it up, my sister and I sometimes suspect that he did make up some of his Irish proverbs, but he said there was an Irish proverb. “Your own salt is sweeter than a neighbour’s honey” and Aran was his own salt.

PÓILÍN: Yes, yes. The eye for detail in the descriptions of nature in your father’s writing is extraordinary, what can you tell us about this eye for detail, Pegeen, this attention to detail, was it manifest in other areas of your father’s life?

PEGEEN: Yes, he was observant and he considered that that was the prime need, if you were going to be a writer.

PÓILÍN: To observe.

PEGEEN: You must observe and remember.

PÓILÍN: Yes, so it was something he consciously cultivated then in writing?

PEGEEN: Yes, obviously it was innate.

PÓILÍN: It would have been, yes.


PÓILÍN: M hm, m hm. Your father I believe was about thirty years of age when you were born, Pegeen what can you tell us of your childhood?


PÓILÍN: Was, was Liam Ó’Flaithearta an affectionate father?

PEGEEN: He was infinitely tender. I don’t think any little girl had such a wonderful father, ehm. I remember once, I must have been in arms, a babe in arms and we were in the south of France and I had a nice Corsican nurse and my mother said it was time for bed and she, this nice woman took me up in her arms and I put my arms out to my father and he took me, he took me and I can remember it, I remember it with such gratitude. Of course my mother was right I should go to bed.


PEGEEN: But it was the most enormously, what should one say, made, made one very confident.

PÓILÍN: Lovely.


PÓILÍN: Thank you Pegeen, did success sit lightly on his shoulders?

PEGEEN: He didn’t think he’d had such a success (Laughs).

PÓILÍN: (Laughs)

PEGEEN: He had a pretty hard time of it. He had a success of esteem.


PEGEEN: But he didn’t really have an enormous commercial success or ….

PÓILÍN: …. M hm ….

PEGEEN: …. sold enormous numbers of his books, no.

PÓILÍN: M hm. I presume there were many occasions when he was invited to be guest lecturer or to be the subject of interviews with scholars and the media?

PEGEEN: He was very reluctant to do that. Once, in, in New York he was asked to talk on the wireless and this was when the whole thing was very new.

PÓILÍN: Oh yes.

PEGEEN: And he said “oh yes” and they said “well now would you like to talk about what you’re going to talk about” and he said, “oh, don’t bother about that, my trouble is when anybody else wants to talk. I’ve no difficulty in talking.” and when they turned the thing on he couldn’t say a word. (Laughs)

PÓILÍN: (Laughs)

PEGEEN: It was dead, you know there was no one to (laughs)

PÓILÍN: Right, right “___+”

PEGEEN: (Laughing) No he was, he was very cagey.

PÓILÍN: Is that right?

PEGEEN: Very cagey, yes.

PÓILÍN: Is that right.


PÓILÍN: Is that right.


PÓILÍN: And ehm Pegeen, how about yourself, what’s it like being known as Liam Ó’Flaithearta’s daughter?

PEGEEN: What is it like to be anything else? I don’t know.

PÓILÍN: (Laughs)

PEGEEN: (Laughs)

PÓILÍN: Ehm, your father fought in World War One.


PÓILÍN: Did he ever speak to you about that?

PEGEEN: Yes, it was, not very much I mean, I think he spoke to my, my mother much more about it. After all I was further along the line, apart from anything else. Eh, it, it was terrible. He wrote a very fine book called ‘The Return of the Brute’ about the war and I think that, that got as near ….

PÓILÍN: …. M hm, m hm….

PEGEEN: …. as saying.

PÓILÍN: Thank you Pegeen. Did it hurt your father that some of his writings were censored here in Ireland?

PEGEEN: Very much, he wrote primarily for Irish people and it was very painful indeed that they were judged not suitable for Irish people.

PÓILÍN: M hm, m hm. And what did he think of censorship?

PEGEEN: He thought it was contemptible. It showed great fear in a society.

PÓILÍN: And ehm ….

PEGEEN: …. And he also thought it was very hypocritical, because, I mean ‘Forever Amber’ which was a kind of shocking pornographic novel got into Ireland but his works didn’t, yes.

PÓILÍN: Right, right, there was an irony there. What, what did Liam Ó’Flaithearta think of the Republic of Ireland, the, the Irish Free State as it was called at it’s inception?

PEGEEN: He was of course very disappointed. He was a, a Republican and a, a Fenian all his life.


PEGEEN: Really.

PÓILÍN: Right. I’ll ask you now Pegeen please about the Catholic Church and your father’s relationship with the Catholic Church.

PEGEEN: I think it was ambiguous.


PEGEEN: Ehm and people have simplified it very much. If you look to his work, there are at least two ehm, very appreciative pictures of priests in them, in ‘Famine’


PEGEEN: And in ‘Land’.


PEGEEN: Ehm, he was not simplistic at all. Eh, he used to say that what was admirable about the Catholic Church, I mean, this won’t be particularly agreeable to the church, was that it, it had retained something from the Roman Empire and it was for human dignity. He also said that ehm, if people were less cowardly the Church would get on better.


PEGEEN: That people simply accepted too much and that there often are routes, you know that you, you can go.

PÓILÍN: Thank you, Pegeen. Your father lived to be a good age, Pegeen, what can you tell us of his last days, please?

PEGEEN: His last years were very, very sad, really, as gradually he couldn’t write any more and there was an unfinished book. This was a great sorrow and eh, what is a far greater sorrow to me is that he had another book to write afterwards which was about daily life in Aran when he was growing up.


PEGEEN: And I think that would have been really a very lovely book to have.

PÓILÍN: Oh, yes, indeed.


PÓILÍN: And did he, did he have any draft of it, or anything ….?

PEGEEN: …. Not at all.

PÓILÍN: Nothing, it was all….

PEGEEN: …. No, no it was just, you know, how they make candles, how they did various things.


PEGEEN: And he, he was very proud of the way that in, in the family, jobs were allocated and people did things in turn.

PÓILÍN: Could you ….

PEGEEN: …. Yes ….

PÓILÍN: …. elaborate and tell us some more about these things that your father would have told you, please.

PEGEEN: Not much more, not much more.

PÓILÍN: Is that right, yes.

PEGEEN: No, no.

PÓILÍN: Right you be.

PEGEEN: He had great respect, I mean he ehm, he defended the, the practice of, of little boys wearing, wearing skirts until they were seven. He thought it was far more hygienic and sensible. And he had great respect.


PEGEEN: For the ancient ways.

PÓILÍN: Right, thanks Pegeen. What was his attitude to death?

PEGEEN: Read his works.


PEGEEN: He, death is quite prominent in them.

PÓILÍN: M hm, m hm, m hm. What were your fathers favourite writers Pegeen?

PEGEEN: Dostoyevsky, he, he felt that you should read the whole, [that] he should read all of them once every ten years. But that was, and that you, he saw something new every time.

PÓILÍN: Is that right?

PEGEEN: Yes, he very much admired the French writer du Maupassant, who was a short-story writer.

PÓILÍN: Right yes, yes.

PEGEEN: Yes, yes, those were the main ones, yes ….

PÓILÍN: …. Do you think did he consciously use these writers as models when he was writing himself ….?

PEGEEN: …. I wouldn’t have thought so.

PÓILÍN: M hm, m hm.


PÓILÍN: Did he ever allude to having been influenced by any writer or writers in particular?


PÓILÍN: M hm, m hm, m hm.


PÓILÍN: What about music, your father’s taste in music?

PEGEEN: He loved Irish music.

PÓILÍN: Did he?

PEGEEN: Yes and Spanish.

PÓILÍN: Is that right?

PEGEEN: Yes, yes.

PÓILÍN: How come the Spanish influence, could you tell me ….?

PEGEEN: …. Well, he just liked it.



PÓILÍN: Yes, on his travels, I suppose, he came across it.




PÓILÍN: Could he play any musical instrument?

PEGEEN: No, but he sang beautifully.

PÓILÍN: Did he?

PEGEEN: Oh yes….

PÓILÍN: ….What song….

PEGEEN: …. Into old age. He had, he [sang] ‘The Lark in Clear Air’ was his favourite, yes, yes.

PÓILÍN: Thank you Pegeen, and of his own writings what was Liam Ó’Flaithearta’s own favourite?

PEGEEN: I, I think he had a special tenderness for ‘Famine’ and, and the short-stories, I think, yes. He said if you, you know, that he was in his short-stories, if you want to know anything about me read my short-stories.

PÓILÍN: Did he say that, yes, yes.


PÓILÍN: And eh, what about yourself then Pegeen, from your, your fathers writings, what is your own favourite, please?

PEGEEN: Well, lots, ehm, I think ‘Famine’ is the most moving, ‘The Black Soul’ is the most poetic.

PÓILÍN: M hm, yes.

PEGEEN: And I think ‘Skerrett’ is perhaps the most perfect, you know, artistically, as a novel, yes.

PÓILÍN: Right, right. Going back to the short-stories there, there are English and Irish versions of some of your father’s short-stories, I’m thinking of ‘The Cow’s Death’ and ‘Bás na Bó’. How, Pegeen do you think did he manage to produce two gems of short-stories in both English and in Irish?

PEGEEN: Well he loved both languages.

PÓILÍN: M hm, m hm. Scholars, Pegeen rightly enthuse about the craftsmanship in your father’s writings, can you cast any light on the subject of how Liam Ó’Flaithearta wrote so masterfully?

PEGEEN: No, ehm, I could perhaps cast some light on how, how he wrote.

PÓILÍN: Yes, please do.

PEGEEN: That he was quite strict about time. In his early days he got up very early, yes, oh, yes (Laughs)

PÓILÍN: I know somebody else like that Pegeen. (Laughs)

PEGEEN: (Laughs) Very early and wrote always until dinner time.

PÓILÍN: Is that right?

PEGEEN: As, as he got older, really, he got earlier and earlier.

PÓILÍN: And that continued right up until his final sickness did it? Or his

PEGEEN: Really, yes getting up and going to bed really at anti-social hours, (laughs)


PEGEEN: Yes, yes. But the first time, first time of the day to do the writing.

PÓILÍN: Was he a happy man Pegeen?

PEGEEN: No, ehm, he spoke of his life, he spoke of writing as being agony with flashes of joy, and I think he, he had, poor man, he, he suffered from melancholia, and at times was very joyful. I think it’s the same, the life and the writing, yes.

PÓILÍN: And what characteristics or traits did your, did your father admire in a person?

PEGEEN: He admired different, different traits in different people. Ehm, for, for people in public life, I think he felt that courage and honesty, and he felt as a writer, as a writer, any writer had a duty to be truthful, whatever the cost, to be intellectually truthful, that was his, that was the writer’s duty.

PÓILÍN: Pegeen, what is your most abiding memory of your father?

PEGEEN: My deepest memories of my father are of his tenderness.

PÓILÍN: And, and how, how should Liam Ó Flaithearta be remembered here on Árainn?

PEGEEN: I hope the people of Árainn will do that and tell me.

PÓILÍN: Thank you, Pegeen. Pegeen Liam Mhaidhc, thank you, tá muid fíor-bhuíodh díot. Ná laga Dia tú agus ar dheis Dé go raibh anam Liam.

PEGEEN: Thank you dear, thank you.

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