Ref NoG42
TitleThe Papers of Seosamh Mac Grianna
DescriptionThis small collection of personal papers comprises documents effectively spanning 25 years in the life of Donegal and Dublin writer Seosamh Mac Grianna. All manuscript material, whether in the form of notebooks or loose leaves, contains a mixture of diary entries, ideas for writing, agendas, as well as drafts for literary pieces. The other material is not a result of any consistent collecting activity and merely offers glimpses of domestic circumstances and pursuits of MacGrianna.

Diary entries [particularly G42/ 3-5, entries in G42/ 6 and 7, fragments G42/ 15 and 16]: both immediate and retrospective entries on life in Dublin, and on travels in Wales; agendas/ resolutions; books read. Notable preoccupation with physical exercise and the need to travel, with biblical imagery and chronology, and catechetics.

Drafts, sketches, ideas for literary work and for pseudo-historical pieces or commentary [particularly G42/ 2, 4, 11, 12, 13, 17-21]: ranging from naturalistic piece in urban setting, reflective pieces, verse, to pieces of a fantastical and often very disjointed nature with historical and mythological undertones.

Copies of or translations from historical texts [particularly G42/ 1, 6, 7, 8 ]: the Brehon laws, Caesar's "De Bello Gallico" with 'Hibernicising' modifications, [D'Arbois de Jubainville]; see also printed copy of Vergil's Aenid G42/ 43.

Copies of and translations from literary texts [particularly G42/ 1, 8, 9, 10, 14]: Anton Giulio Barrili's "L'undicesimo commandamento" (1881), Tommaso Grossi's "Marco Visconte" (1847), Spanish version of Victor Hugo's "Notre Dame" (1831). These copies more likely bear out Mac Grianna's interest in the Italian and Spanish languages than in the popular 19th-century writings contained.

Personal accounts [G42/ 22 and 23]: dealings with An Gúm, lodgings in Dublin, Fionn Mac Grianna's stay in hospital.

Correspondence [G42/ 24-33]: mostly documents sent to Mac Grianna - arbitrary survival of items with memorabilia character, often fragmentary, with no correspondent appearing more than once.

Press and printed material [G 34- 43]: notably including two press items reviewing works of MacGrianna; the road map used when travelling Wales.

Transcripts of notebooks and diary [G42/ 45]: the [excerpts from the] diary of Proinsias Mac an Bheatha contain some points not eventually printed in his essay "Seosamh Mac Grianna".
Date1933-1957 (1972)
Extent45 items
ArrangementThe collection falls broadly into two parts, namely notebooks and various writings by Seosamh MacGrianna, and accumulated papers found together with these; two appendices give documentary evidence. Originally, the loose-leaf papers had been bundled together into a document wallet with the inscription of a Manchester firm [now G42/ 15-20 and 22-43]. His own writings are further separated into physically differing entities, that is the notebooks, and loose-leaf drafts and notes. The collected papers further fall into financial accounts, items of correspondence, press and other printed material.
Administrative HistorySeosamh 'Joe Fheilimí' Mac Grianna was born in August 1900 in Ranafast, in the Rosses area of north-western Donegal, to a family who were the first to settle in the area, having come from Letterkenny in the mid-18th century. His childhood and youth unfolded against the backdrop of poor farms and seasonal emigration to Scotland. This was an area rich in Irish folklore and in spoken Irish, a fact increasingly recognised at a time when the Gaelic League had reached out to Donegal and was at its most effective. Many family members were talented story-tellers and writers; the elder brother Séamus became a very well-known writer under the pen-name 'Máire', Seán Bán and Anna were locally well-known seanchaíthe. Seosamh's abilities ensured his schooling, and he attended St.Eunan's, Letterkenny, and St.Columb's, Derry City. Despite a certain spirit of rebellion - he wrote about St.Columb's that 'the rules were hard and I wasn't too submissive' (letter to Muiris Ó Droighneáin) - he received a scholarship and graduated from St.Patrick's teacher training college, Drumcondra, in 1921.

After a spell of teaching in Ranafast, Mac Grianna became involved in IRA politics and military action in a propagandist role, writing plays, during the War of Independence and in the Civil War, when he joined the anti-Treaty side. He was probably not involved in actual fighting, but was imprisoned by the Free State in August 1922 for the rest of the Civil War. Later, he disengaged himself from politics, but his nationalism and his admiration for Irishmen of the past did not abate and were manifested, for instance, in his 'dramatic biography' "Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill" (1932).

During the mid-1920s MacGrianna led an itinerant teacher's life, eventually leaving a profession that he despised. Reading Pádraig Ó Conaire's "An Chéad Chloch" (1914) had encouraged him to explore his writing talents in his native language, but to go further than 'Máire' had done, following a call from Pádraig Pearse to modernise the written idiom. Meeting Ó Conaire in 1925 and receiving praise for previous writing further encouraged him. Recognising the truth in some voices coming out against the parochialism of writing in Irish, and also fiercely critical of the government's publishing agency An Gúm's policies of discouraging original writing in Irish, he aimed for a novel style, if rich in local idiom. First published writings were pieces of criticism and short stories, appearing in "An tUltach", and in a collection of stories "Dochartach Dhuibhlionna agus scéaltaí eile" (Dublin 1925). Reading Daniel Corkery's "A hidden Ireland" (1924) moved him to write about the Ulster poets in 1925, addressing what he perceived to be a general neglect of northern writers. Among further collections of stories and essays were "Filí gan iomrádh" (1926), "An grádh agus an ghruaim" (Dublin 1929), "Pádraic Ó Conaire agus aistí eile" (Dublin 1936). He chose the alternative form 'Mac Grianna', in contrast to his brother Séamus Ó Grianna ('Máire'); for some publications he used the pseudonym Iolann Fionn.

Continuing to live a peripatetic life, he travelled Ireland, England and Wales (eventually publishing "An Bhreatain Bheag" in 1937), and also travelled France in late 1932 together with the writer Donn Piatt; when in Dublin, his addresses changed frequently. He worked as a translator for An Gúm between 1928 and 1934, translating twelve works from English to Irish, though increasingly disagreeing strongly with their and Ernest Blythe's policy of promoting Irish in this way, and indignant with their application of censorship, also in the case of his "Eoghan Ruadh". While An Gúm continued faith in him and published most of his books, they refused however to publish his first novel "An Druma Mór" (c.1930) for its realistic depiction of 1930s Ireland and fear of legal action. When eventually issued in 1969 it won Mac Grianna the prestigious award of the Butler prize of Irish letters in 1971. His autobiographical "Mo bhealach féin" however, also drawing on his wanderings in Ireland and Wales of 1933, written in Wicklow in 1935, was published in 1940, with his unfinished novel "Dá mbíodh ruball ar an éan" as an appendix.

From the mid-1930s, MacGrianna recognised a deterioration of his mental health, and was treated in 1935-1936 in Grangegorman Hospital, Dublin. By 1935, unable to finish Dá mbíodh ruball ar an éan, MacGrianna felt that he had come to an end in his writing career, "thráigh an tobar ins an tsamhradh, 1935. Ní sgríobhfaidh mé níos mó. Rinne mé mo dhícheall, agus is cuma liom.- S.Mac G." ('The well dried up in summer 1935. I will not write anymore. I did my very best, and I don't care.") He had published ten original works and a large number of essays, reviews and letters over a span of eleven years.

He met Margaret (Peggy) Martin (variously O'Donnell) in Liverpool when on his journey to Wales and she returned to Dublin with him in 1934; it is not clear whether they were married. They had a son, Fionn - one notebook refers to him being ill at some time in mid-1934 [G42/ 5] - he was eventually given to the Christian Brothers in care [but see the hospital bill of 1938 G42/ 23]. Over many years Mac Grianna's wife or partner petitioned various people for support, also visiting the Department of the Taoiseach on 24 September 1949, when she made a case for better recognition of her husband's service to the Irish language.

When Mac Grianna continued on hard times and lived alone in Dublin during the 1950s, the Irish language activist and writer Proinsias Mac an Bheatha made his acquaintance through their mutual friend Conall ('Condie') Ó Domhnaill, and to alleviate his situation, Mac an Bheatha eventually - together with members of Conradh na Gaeilge and An Comhchaidreamh - raised a fund for Mac Grianna. Among those contributing were An Seabhac (Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha), President Seán T.Ó Ceallaigh, and Tarlach Ó Raifeartaigh of the Department of Education. The payments were continued for another year after MacGrianna's sudden return to Donegal in 1957. ["Papers of Proinsias Mac an Bheatha" G40/ 632 and 633]

Mac an Bheatha describes his acquaintance with MacGrianna in "Seosamh Mac Grianna agus cúrsaí eile" (1970), the desolate living conditions of the writer in Howth, and some of his occupations at the time. It seems that Peggy visited him from time to time, bringing food and tobacco, and also books. MacGrianna's flair for European languages is clear from the papers listed here. His learning Spanish is borne out by the extracts he made from Hugo's Nuestra Dama de Paris [G42/ 14], and by observations in Mac an Bheatha's essay and in the diary the essay is based on [G42/ 45]. He also mentioned to Mac an Bheatha that he once had some words of Russian, but had not read anything in the language [G42/ 45]. While he knew him, Mac an Bheatha reports that he may have lived in great poverty and was much reduced otherwise, but that there was no trace of insanity in anything he said or in any of his actions. "Tá sé as a chéill adeir daoine. Ach an bhfuil? Ní fhaca mise cúis ar bith lena mheas nach raibh a chiall aige- Ní dhearna sé gearán. Níor iarr sé cuidiú. Níor thóg sé callán. Bhí sé múinte, cneasta liom..." [diary transcript G40/ 45].

Mac Grianna's health did not improve on returning to Donegal. Peggy committed suicide in 1959, and their son Fionn drowned himself in Dublin Bay in the same year . Mac Grianna was then placed in St.Conall's Hospital in Letterkenny where he stayed for most of the 31 years until his death on 11 June 1990. He left only sporadically, at one time participating in the "Éigse Uladh" in 1972 (dedicated to his work), and also able to go to Dublin in 1971 to collect the Butler prize for "An druma mór".

Note on MacGrianna's manuscripts in context

Few personal archives of MacGrianna survive; de Brún points to anecdotal reference to much material coming to an unworthy end: 'goideadh iad, dódh iad nó cailleadh iad de réir an bhéaloidis'. The National Archives (Dublin) hold a collection from the Stationery Office's Irish language imprint An Gúm, with both correspondence and draft/ faircopy material; the Mac Grianna family hold a historical tale "Réamann Ó hAnluain"; a draft of An druma mór is in private hands. Both the English-language novel "The miracle at Cashelmore" [written early 1930s], and a 199-page manuscript of a text which MacGrianna called the end to his unfinished "Dá mbíodh ruball ar an éan", i.e. 'An ruball' [written 1960-1965], have to be regarded as lost. Ó Croiligh quotes an extract from 'An ruball' in his thesis, not seeing it so much as a continuation of the novel than finding it interesting as giving insights into the writer's mind at the time.

Two of the prose pieces contained in this collection were published in the press, through the auspices of Ciarán Ó Nualláin and Mac an Bheatha [G42/ 18 and 19]. Either of these may be intended by a letter from Seán Bán Mac Grianna to Mac an Bheatha of February 1962 about an essay belonging to his brother, asking not to publish it since it would reflect ill on his brother's once-brilliant capacities as a writer [Papers of Mac an Bheatha G40/ 634].
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