Frank O'Connor (1903-1966)
From Literary Anecdotes About 20th Century Authors

During my time in Wicklow, I could see the consequences of this restrictiveness all round me. There was the problem of getting local sanction to establish our libraries. . . . Some of the priests would allow no libraries at all. In Rathdrum, a town up the country from us, the parish priest initially resisted all our efforts to start a branch library. At last I decided that the time had come to visit him. Phibbs and I called first on the curate, a splendid young fellow who was in despair with the parish priest and with Ireland. A couple of nights a week he went off to the local technical school and took off his coat to practise carpentry so as to encourage the unemployed lads of the town to learn a trade, all to no purpose.

`You'll go up to that parochial house,' he said, `and see the old man at the table with his dinner gone cold and a volume of Thomas Aquinas propped up in front of him. And between you and me and the wall,' he added, `Thomas Aquinas was a bloody old cod.'

We found the parish priest exactly as the curate had predicted, Aquinas and all, but there seemed to be nothing of the obscurantist about the delightful old man we met. On the contrary, when we introduced ourselves, he beamed and regretted that we hadn't come to lunch. He took a particular fancy to me because I spoke Irish, and he was devoted to Irish and Irish literature. In fact, one of his dearest friends had been George Moore. Poor George. Of course he had been greatly wronged in Ireland, where people did not understand his work, but George had been a really dear and good man.

I didn't, of course, believe for an instant that he had been friendly with George Moore, but if the illusion made him more tolerant of our business it was all right with me. But when I introduced the subject I saw at once what the curate had meant. Oh, libraries. Libraries, hm! Well, libraries, of course, were wonderful things in their own place, but town libraries were a great responsibility. It was all very well for sophisticated people like ourselves to read the works of dear George, but could we really thrust them into the hands of simple Irish townspeople?

I damn near told him that from the little I knew of simple Irish townspeople they could give us all odds, but I knew this would get us nowhere. Charm was the thing, and charm won us permission at last, but only if the curate took full responsibility and satisfied himself of the innocuousness of the books we sent out. Swift wondered how it was that every virtuous English bishop translated to Ireland was murdered on Hounslow Heath and his place taken by a highwayman, but I wondered what happened to those nice, broadminded young curates, one met after they became parish priests.

Nevertheless I was beginning to suspect that as an authority on Irish ways I was a wash-out. And now I had another shock coming to me, because, as we left, the parish priest said to me, `I know you'll be interested in this,' and handed me a presentation copy of The Untilled Field, in Irish, with an affectionate inscription by George Moore.

From Frank O'Connor, My Father's Son (1968), pp. 36-38.

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