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Welcome to the Munster
Literature Centre

Founded in 1993, the Munster Literature Centre (Ionad Litríochta an Deiscirt) is a non-profit arts organisation dedicated to the promotion and celebration of literature, especially that of Munster. To this end, we organise festivals, workshops, readings and competitions. Our publishing section, Southword Editions, publishes a biannual journal, poetry collections and short stories. We actively seek to support new and emerging writers and are assisted in our efforts through funding from Cork City Council, Cork County Council and the Arts Council of Ireland.Originally located in Sullivan's Quay, the centre moved to its current premises in the Frank O'Connor House (the author's birthplace) at 84 Douglas Street, in 2003.

In 2000, the Munster Literature Centre organised the first Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival, an event dedicated to the celebration of the short story and named for one of Cork's most beloved authors. The festival showcases readings, literary forums and workshops. Following continued growth and additional funding, the Cork City - Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award was introduced in 2005, coinciding with Cork's designation as that year's European Capital of Culture. The award is now recognised as the single biggest prize for a short story collection in the world and is presented at the end of the festival.In 2002, the Munster Literature Centre introduced the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize, an annual short story competition dedicated to one of Ireland's most accomplished story writers and theorists. This too is presented during the FOC festival. The centre also hosts the Cork Spring Literary Festival each year, at which the Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Prize is awarded (established 2010).

Workshops are held by featured authors in both autumn and spring, allowing the general public to receive creative guidance in an intimate setting for a minimal fee. In addition, the centre sponsors a Writer in Residence each year. We invite you to browse our website for further information regarding our events, Munster literature, and other literary information. Should you have any queries, we would be happy to hear from you.




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Literary Hinterland • 19th Century Renaissance • 20th Century Writers


Contributors to Fraser's Magazine, clockwise from back centre: host William Maginn, Irving, Fr. Francis Sylvester Mahony, Glaig, Brydges, Thomas Carlyle, Cunningham, B. Orzy, Mair, Brewster, Hook, Lockhart, Thomas Crofton Croker, Fraser, Gerdan, Dunlop, Galt, Hogg, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ainsworth, Macnish, Murphy, Churchill, W.M. Thackeray, Bankes, Southay, Cornwall. 

Cork artist Daniel Maclise's 'spiritual portrait' of 'The Fraserians', the contributors to London literary journal Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, brings together the leading lights of the nascent Victorian literary scene (c. 1833). Among the company are Romantic poet and metaphysician Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Victorian 'social prophet' Thomas Carlyle (whose Sartor Resartus was first published in  Fraser's) and the young William Thackeray (author of Vanity Fair). Prominent in the portrait are the real directors of the magazine, three Corkonians: William Maginn, the magazine's first editor; Fr. Francis Sylvester Mahony, who wrote under the pseudonym 'Fr. Prout', and the folklorist Thomas Crofton Croker.


Literary Hinterland

bruadarThe history of literature in Cork County corresponds to the two main cultural traditions of the region: Gaelic Irish and Anglo-Irish.

The Book of Lismore, originally written for the MacCarthy Riabhach family around 1500, and kept for centuries in the Abbey of Timoleague, contains accounts of the lives of the Irish saints, as well as translations into Irish of the Voyages of Marco Polo and the Conquests of Charlemagne.

Excerpt from Dáibhí Ó Bruadair's  The Chaos I See'   in the 1913 Irish Texts Society edition

Two of the last bardic schools (patronised gatherings of poets), the Dámh-scoil Muscraí (which still survives) and Dámh-scoil na Blárnan, were held in County Cork. Dáibhí Ó Bruadair, a poet who witnessed the final days of the aristocratically supported Gaelic poetic traditions after the Treaty of Limerick (1691), was a member of the latter. The work of this traditional bard, who died in penury, seethes with bitterness and outrage.

The Parliament of Women (Párliament na mBan), written at the end of the 17th century, is the first prose work in the Munster dialect. This parliament gathered to decide how the world, thrown into confusion by male administration, could be set to rights.

The satires of Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill and the powerful 'Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire' reflect the hardship of life for the Irish-speaking population of the 18th century. The anglicisation of the land and the marginalisation of Irish speaking areas meant that literature in Irish virtually disappeared until the efforts at revival in the late 19th century. These efforts were led by West Cork priest An tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire, best known for his Faustian tale of a country cobbler, Séadna.


19th Century Renaissance

PROUTWhen Charles Dickens launched his first journalistic venture, Bentley's Miscellany, he opened the first issue with a greeting from one of the most celebrated literary figures of the day, the outspoken and incredibly learned parish priest of Watergrasshill, 'Fr. Prout'. 'Prout' was the creation of Francis Sylvester Mahon, a non-practicing priest from Blarney (his family owned the woollen mills), whose education in Paris and Rome had made him an expert in classical and modern languages. Said to be able to throw off verse in Latin or Greek more quickly than most could write English prose, he joined the Fraser's scene in London and regularly contributed his 'Fr.. Prout' pieces: extraordinary theses on life, learning and culture (almost entirely fictitious but backed-up by his daunting academic battery). His final years were spent in Paris, but on his death in 1866 his remains were brought back to Cork. They remain under the tower of St. Anne's Church, whose bells he had made famous in the much-anthologised lyric, 'The Bells of Shandon'. (image: Fr. Francis Sylvester Mahony/ Fr. Prout)

William Maginn, born in Dean Street, Cork City, in 1793, was so learned a youth that he entered Trinity College, Dublin at the age of ten. By the age of fourteen, he had become the second youngest graduate ever in Great Britain and Ireland. By the time he had received his doctorate he had distinguished himself in Greek and Latin, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Syriac, as well as in a number of modern languages and Irish. He began contributing to Blackwood's magazine in Edinburgh and in 1824 moved to London.

A writer of caustic, humorous satires, his glory years came in the 1830s after he launched Fraser's Magazine with notorious bohemian Hugh Fraser. Apart from his literary sketches for that magazine, he produced a ballad translation of Homer, translations of Roman comedy and what may be regarded as the first Irish short stories.

A well-liked, highly intelligent, but somewhat harum-scarum character, he eventually found himself in debtors' prison. A year's sojourn there ruined his health and he died of tuberculosis in 1842.

Thomas Crofton Croker, the son of an English army officer, was born in Cork in 1798, the year of the Irish uprising which he was to celebrate in his Memoir of Joseph Holt, General of the Irish Rebels. His reputation rests on his Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825), the first notable collection of Irish folklore, gleaned during Croker's rambles in the South-West of the country. He counted among his many admirers the brothers Grimm, who translated his work into German.

bridgeIn the 19th century interest in folk culture and nationalist sentiment led a number of writers to seek to bridge the two traditions by translating Gaelic poetry into English and writing modern versions of Irish folklore and legend. Jeremiah Joseph Callanan, born in Ballinhassig (the modern village is not far from Cork Airport) in 1795, made notable translations from Irish and penned the popular Romantic lyric 'Gougane Barra'. Founder of The Nation magazine (focus of the Young Irelander movement in the mid-19th century), patriot and poet, Thomas Davis, was born in Mallow. According to W.B. Yeats, it was Standish O'Grady's History of Ireland: the Heroic Period, that set in motion the Literary Revival. O'Grady was born in Castletownbere in 1846. 

The versatile writing partnership of Somerville and Ross produced The Real Charlotte (1894) and the Irish R.M. stories. The authors lived in Castletownshend, near Skibbereen, home of the Somerville family estate and residence, Drishane House. Violet Martin, who wrote under the nom-de-plume Martin Ross, is buried next to her writing partner, Edith Oenone Somerville in the graveyard of St. Barrahane's church. Their output, largely comic and locally situated, is distinguished by its close observation of character.

bowesncourtWidely acknowledged as one of the finest Irish writers of the 20th century, Elizabeth Bowen spent her childhood between Dublin and the family's ancestral home, Bowen's Court, near Doneraile. A prolific writer of sensitive, restrained and highly crafted short stories, her novels The Death of the Heart (1938) and The Heat of the Day (1949) are high-water marks of Irish fiction. (image: Elizabeth Bowen  / Bowenscourt)


Mention must also be made of an Irish Catholic writer whose novels of rural life argued for a Church-led nationalism: Canon Sheehan. A native of Mallow, he was involved in the land agitation of the 20th century's early years. His novel, Glenanaar (1905), was an immediate popular classic.


City Greats of the 20th Century

frank streetsCork tends to have sudden blossomings of literary production with fallow periods between. One of the most remarkable of these periods took place at the beginning of the 20th century, although its greatest productions were not to appear until the 1930s and after, once the young state had settled into a new establishment.

Scholar, short story writer, teacher, senator and general man of letters, Daniel Corkery (1878-1964), was progenitor of the movement, but the greatest achievements were to fall to his pupils, Frank O'Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin.

While teaching at the Christian Brothers National School, Corkery founded the Cork Dramatic Society, based on the model of the Abbey Theatre. For this society he wrote plays on Irish mythological and historical themes between 1909 and 1920. His belief in a native Irish culture, issuing almost naturally from soil and locale, informed his celebrated set of stories A Munster Twilight, which variously celebrated rural Gaelic culture, city patois and character, a vision that was to often reappear in the work of his pupils.

The Hidden Ireland (1924) is a powerful recreation of the condition of gaelic culture in the c18th. From 1931 onwards he taught as Professor of English at UCC and although his political and cultural theories were to be severely criticised in later years, by Ó Faoláin among others, heremained a respected national figure to the end. 



foc postFrank O'Connor (born Michael O'Donovan in 1903) is one of Cork's best-loved writers and an acknowledged 20th century master of the short story. Raised in the winding streets of Cork's inner city, he was largely self-educated after the age of twelve. The encouragement of Daniel Corkery led to his reading voraciously. Corkery's influence also led him into nationalist politics and he found himself interned in Gormanstown during the Civil War for fighting on the Republican side. 

A sense of the passion of revolution and armed struggle coming up against its often barbarous consequences informs his first collection of stories, Guests of the Nation (1931). His subsequent collections of short stories explore the often stagnant and claustrophobic atmosphere of post-revolutionary Ireland (c.1928 [date of the Censorship Act] - 1950) with great sensitivity for human foibles and failings. His gained wide respect in the U.S. after writing for the New Yorker magazine and lecturing, and he is often cited as being the inspiration for much of American post-1960 realist story-writing. The poet of Cork street-talk and ethos he returned to the city before his death in 1966.

The UCC School of English has developed the Frank O'Connor Research Website, which is a critical online research resource. The site serves as a high-standard source for primary and secondary material for academics and students. It also provides information on current UCC research projects on O’Connor. http://frankoconnor.ucc.ie/



sofSeán Ó Faoláin's career followed a similar path to O'Connor's until he moved to the USA in 1926; he had also been influenced by Corkery and fought in the Civil War on the Republican side. Similarly, a sense of disillusionment at the shortfall between revolutionary ideals and practical social existence informed his first set of short stories, Midsummer Night Madness and Other Stories (1932).

Influenced by less indigenous intellectual traditions, he spent the rest of his career battling the conservative Catholic-dominated state culture of his day and the forms of traditionalism which he felt were suppressing the country's capacity for growth and with which he associated the ideas of his old mentor, Daniel Corkery. His chief organ of critique was to be The Bell, a highly influential journal of letters which he edited between 1940 and 1946, although his continuing output of short stories and novels (e.g. Bird Alone in 1936) and biographies of Irish historical figures were always informed by his combative viewpoint. He passed away in 1991.




William Trevor is perhaps the greatest contemporary writer of County Cork extraction. Born in Mitchelstown in 1928 of Protestant parentage, he is a short story writer in the great Irish tradition and the author of many successful novels, Felicia's Journey (1994) being the most recent.



frank photo

Recommended Reading

Frank O'Connor

The Lonely Voice - A Study of the Short Story

My Oedipus Complex introduction by Julian Barnes

Daniel Corkery

The Stones and Other Stories

The Yellow Bittern and Other Plays

Seán Ó Faoláin

Stories of Seán Ó Faoláin

The Great O'Neill


Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire

The famous 'Caoineadh', or 'Lament', for Art O' Leary was written about 1773 by O' Leary's widow, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. O'Leary, who had served as a colonel in the Austrian army, was outlawed and killed in Carriganimma, County Cork, for refusing to sell his much-admired horse to a Protestant named Morris for £5 (at the time a Catholic was not permitted to own a horse of higher value).

The sixth to eighth stanzas are reprinted below, in the masterly translation of Frank O'Connor, followed by the original Irish. Other translations have been rendered by Elis Dillon, Patrick Galvin and Vona Groarke.


My Love and my mate
That I never thought dead
Till your horse came to me
With bridle trailing,
All blood from forehead
To polished saddle
Where you should be,
Either sitting or standing;

I gave one leap to the threshold,
A second to the gate,
A third upon its back.
I clapped my hands,
And off at a gallop;
I never lingered
Till I found you lying
By a little furze-bush
Without pope or bishop
Or priest or cleric
One prayer to whisper
But an old, old woman,
And her cloak about you,
And your blood in torrents ~
Art O'Leary ~
I did not wipe it off,
I drank it from my palms.

My love and my delight
Stand up now beside me,
And let me lead you home
Until I make a feast,
And I will roast the meat
And send for company
And call the harpers in,
And I shall make your bed
Of soft and snowy sheets
And blankets dark and rough
To warm the beloved limbs
An autumn blast has chilled.

Mo chara thu go daingean!
Is níor chreideas riamh dod mharbh
Gur tháinig chugham do chapall
Is a srianta léi go talamh,
Is fuil do chroí ar a leacain
Siar go t'iallait ghreanta
Mar a mbítheá id shuí's id sheasamh.

Thugas léim go tairsigh,
An dara léim go geata,
An tríú léim ar do chapall.
Do bhuaileas go luath mo bhasa
Is do bhaineas as na reathaibh
Chomh maith is bhí sé agam,
Go bhfuaras romham tú marbh
Cois toirín ísil aitinn,
Gan Pápa gan easpag,
Gan cléireach gan sagart
Do léifeadh ort an tsailm,Ach seanbhean chríonna chaite
Do leath ort binn dá fallaing ~
Do chuid fola leat 'na sraithibh;
Is níor fhanas le hí ghlanadh
Ach í ól suas lem basaibh.

Mo ghrá thu go daingean!
Is éirigh suas id sheasamh
Is tar liom féin abhaile,
Go gcuirfeam mairt á leagadh,
Go nglaofam ar chóisir fhairsing,
Go mbeidh againn ceol a spreagadh,
Go gcóireod duitse leaba
Faoi bhairlíní geala,
Faoi chuilteanna breátha breaca,
A bhainfidh asat allas
In ionad an fhuachta a ghlacais.






The Munster Literature Centre

Frank O'Connor House, 84 Douglas Street, Cork, Ireland.

Tel. (353) 021 4312955, Email: munsterlit(AT)eircom(DOT)net

Irish Registered Charity No.12374