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Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Seosamh MacGrianna (1900-1990)


Seosamh MacGrianna, brother of Séamus Ó Grianna, was born in Rann na Feirste, County Donegal. He was educated at St. Eunan's College, Letterkenny, St. Columb's College, Derry and St. Patrick's Teacher Training College, Dublin. MacGrianna choose the Mac as opposed to the Ó version of his name to distinguish between himself and his brother Seamus as they were both school-teachers and writers.
During the War of Independence MacGrianna joined the IRA and in 1921 he was imprisoned in Letterkenny, Buncrana and in the Newbridge Army Barracks for several months. MacGrianna partook in the Civil War on the republican side and was imprisoned by the Free State in Newbridge Gaol and in the Curragh Internment Camp for two years from 1922. On his release MacGrianna wrote Fáinne an Lae (1925) and Filí Gan Iomrá (1926).
MacGrianna taught for several years before becoming a translator for the Free State publishing house An Gúm. In 1929 he published his first short story collection An Grádh agus an Ghruaim. He published a biography of Eoghan Ruadh O'Neill with An Gúm in 1931 but when they censored his dedication he resigned.
MacGrianna taught intermittently until ill-health forced him to retire in the 1940's. MacGrianna's other publications [he frequently wrote under the pseudonym 'Iolann Fionn'] include: Dochartach Duibhlionna (1936, rep. 1976); An Bhreatain Bheag (1937); Na Lochlannaigh (1938); Mo Bhealach Féin (1940); An Druma Mór (1972) and Filí agus Felons (1987). This extract is from MacGrianna's article 'Irish Artists, the Gúm, the People and so Forth' first published in An Phoblacht July 23rd, 1932. ©

I would have thought that the Gúm would last unchallenged till the Day of Judgment, as most dishonest things do - and after, for the Day of Judgment itself smacks and smells of red tape. The fact that the Gúm became spontaneously an object of common criticism in a controversy on Irish artists is in itself sufficient to damn it. But before it goes under the hatches, I have some things to say about it too. I have some knowledge of its career which will still further illuminate the monster's figure.
I could parody [Henry] Grattan's saying that he saw the birth of the Irish nation and followed its hearse. I saw the birth of the Gúm and I will see the death of it, for on the first investigation it must go. This is how the Gargantuan paper giant was born. Ernest Blythe having been in Wales and having seen a number of English books translated into Welsh, and Ernest Blythe being thick in the head, came to the conclusion that a similar scheme of translation would be good for Ireland. He did not consider the differences between Wales and Ireland. He did not consider that in Wales the majority, or nearly so, spoke Welsh, that Wales was not so much a nation as the remnant of a nation. He did not consider that Ireland was entirely different in both respects and in many others. He acted as a doctor would, if he were brought to treat two brothers suffering from different diseases, if he insisted on giving them the same treatment because they were brothers.
The 'bould apothecary' having decided on his remedy, got ready his ingredients. He got some typewriters and - Civil Servants, to make a literature. There have been literary civil servants, as, for example, Germain Noveau, the French poet. But Germain Noveau, when he began to lead the literary life, left the civil service and preferred henceforth to live on scraps of food gathered from the dustbins of Paris. The civil servants - or was it the typewriters? - discovered the word Gúm - phonetically the most swinish word that could be grunted into human ears. Do not ask me what the word means: I do not know, nor have I ever met any man who could tell me. Anyhow, the Gargantuan paper child was christened...
Then they censored and corrected and amended. Donn Piatt has referred to two books by a Donegal writer which escaped unedited. Perhaps this is so, but they were not my books. The Gúm published two original works of mine. They censored both. They censored the dedication of
Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill - perhaps the only censored dedication in literary history...
When the change of government took place, a novel of mine was in their hands. A decision was promised by a certain date, on which date the committee was to meet and consider reports on the book. A few days after that date, I called to get the report. Not alone did they tell me that there had been no committee meeting, but they actually denied that there had ever told me that there would be one! I demanded the manuscript and got it, with the usual official delay. I was very glad that I had recalled it: it was all one mess of penciled stupidities.
So that is the Gúm, and there is no use in wasting any more of my words or of your space upon it. But I should like to add a few remarks on the country which allows such an institution to flourish. Of all countries, Ireland is reputed to be the least cultured. You may agree or disagree, but before you decide finally, you ought to go to Shelbourne Park or Punchestown** for inspiration. Of one thing I am certain, that there are few countries in which writing as a means of livelihood is distrusted so much as in Ireland.
The prejudice against letters is so strong, or the indifference to letters is so pachydermatous, that the writer must become atheistic or blasphemous or pornographic to be noticed at all. And of course then the blackthorns of the sons of Rosaleen descend with a will upon the poor artist's head. It was the public opinion of Ireland which produced all the writers which it now censors. Writers can only react to their environment. They are the historians of their people. As surely as the world will go on, until worms eat the paper of the censorship Bill, so surely will the historians of the future go to James Joyce and to George Moore for information about Irish life in the days in which those writers lived. Again, if you want to censor an artist, why try to deprive him of his means of living? There is one honest way of censoring, and that is to write yourself what you think ought to be written. Just try and see what the result will be.
At present, there is no hope of any artist making a living in Ireland. And mind you, to make a living is the important thing. The great Dr Johnson has said: 'Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.' Emigration is the only way open to artists at present as in the past. Ireland rejects the cream of her intelligence.
** Dog and horse racing tracks respectively.
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20th Century Ireland
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