Brian O'Nolan

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Plaque for writer Brian O'Nolan

Brian O'Nolan (5 October 1911 – 1 April 1966) was an Irish novelist, journalist and humorist, better known by his pseudonyms Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen (or Myles na Gopaleen).


"At Swim-Two-Birds" (1939)[edit]

  • "I saw that my witticism was unperceived and quietly replaced it in the treasury of my mind."
  • Do you know what I am going to tell you, he said with his wry mouth, a pint of plain is your only man.
    • P. 22.
  • One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with. A good book may have three openings entirely dissimilar and inter-related only in the prescience of the author, or for that matter one hundred times as many endings.
    • P. 9.

"The Dalkey archive" (1964)[edit]

  • "Descartes spent far too much time in bed subject to the persistent hallucination that he was thinking. You are not free from a similar disorder."

The Third Policeman (1967)[edit]

The Third Policeman was written in 1939-40, but only published posthumously. Unless otherwise stated quotations here are cited from the 1983 edition ISBN 0246122749.

  • "After a time," said old Mathers disregarding me, "I mercifully perceived the errors of my ways and the unhappy destination I would reach unless I mended them. I retired from the world in order to try to comprehend it and to find out why it becomes more unsavoury as the years accumulate on a man's body. What do you think I discovered at the end of my meditations?"

I felt pleased again. He was now questioning me.
"That No is a better word than Yes," he replied."

  • "Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular, and by nature it is interminable, repetitive, and nearly unbearable."
  • "I am completely half afraid to think."
  • "I felt so sad and so entirely disappointed that tears came into my eyes and a lump of incommunicable poignancy swelled tragically in my throat. I began to feel intensely every fragment of my equal humanity. The life that was bubbling at the end of my fingers was real and nearly painful in intensity and so was the beauty of my warm face and the loose humanity of my limbs and the racy health of my red rich blood. To leave it all without good reason and to smash the little empire into small fragments was a thing too pitiful even to refuse to think about."
  • "Is it life?" he answered, "I would rather be without it," he said, "for there is queer small utility in it. You cannot eat it or drink it or smoke it in your pipe, it does not keep the rain out and it is a poor armful in the dark if you strip it and take it to bed with you after a night of porter when you are shivering with the red passion. It is a great mistake and a thing better done without, like bed-jars and foreign bacon."
  • "My father...was a man who understood all dogs thoroughly and treated them like human beings."
  • "Strange enlightenments are vouchsafed to those who seek the higher places."
  • "The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles."
    • Page 85
  • "When things go wrong and will not come right,

Though you do the best you can, When life looks black as the hour of night, A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN."

  • "Who is Fox?", I asked.

"Policeman Fox is the third of us," said the Sergeant, "but we never see him or hear tell of him at because he is always on his beat and never off it and he signs the book in the middle of the night when even a badger is asleep. He is as mad as a hare, he never interrogates the public and he is always taking notes."

  • "You mean that because I have no name I cannot die and that you cannot be held answerable for death even if you kill me?"
  • "You told me what the first rule of wisdom is," I said. "What is the second rule?"
    "That can be answered," he said. "There are five in all. Always ask any questions that are to be asked and never answer any. Turn everything you hear to your own advantage. Always carry a repair outfit. Take left turns as much as possible. Never apply your front brake first...If you follow them," said the Sergeant, "you will save your soul and you will never get a fall on a slippy road."
    • Page 60
  • "Your talk," I said, "is surely the handiwork of wisdom because not one word of it do I understand."

The Best of Myles (1968)[edit]

The Best of Myles is a posthumously published collection of extracts from Myles na Gopaleen’s "Cruiskeen Lawn" column in The Irish Times. Unless otherwise stated quotations here are taken from the 1977 edition ISBN 0330248553.

  • It cannot be too often repeated that I am not for sale. I was bought in 1921 and the transaction was final and conclusive.
    • Page 282
  • If Irish were to die completely, the standard of English here, both in the spoken and written word, would sink to a level probably as low as that obtaining in England and it would stop there only because it could go no lower.
    • Page 283
  • "Moderation, we find, is an extremely difficult thing to get in this country."
  • Often in the theatre I can hardly hear myself talking or assuring my doxy that so-and-so is the same fellow that played so-and-so in so-and-so, he's very good, he's a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture, I met a sister of his in Skerries, and so on. Actors should conduct themselves like the rest of us and practise the unobtrusive intonation of the gentleman.
    • Page 37
  • Some savage faculty for observation told him that most respectable and estimable people usually had a lot of books in their houses.
    • Page 17

The Hair of the Dogma (1977)[edit]

Myles na Gopaleen's The Hair of the Dogma is a posthumously published collection of extracts from "Cruiskeen Lawn". Unless otherwise stated quotations here are taken from the 1989 edition ISBN 0586089470.

  • Waiting for the German verb is surely the ultimate thrill.
    • Page 143
  • The majority of the members of the Irish parliament are professional politicians, in the sense that otherwise they would not be given jobs minding mice at a crossroads.
    • Page 171

The Various Lives Of Keats And Chapman (2010)[edit]

Collected pieces from works published in the name of Myles na Gopaleen. Unless otherwise stated quotations here come from the 2010 edition ISBN 9780285638839.

  • Is it life? I would rather be without it, for there is quare small utility in it. You cannot eat it or drink it or smoke it in your pipe, it does not keep the rain out and it is a poor armful in the dark if you strip it and take it to bed with you after a night's porter when you are shivering with the red passion. It is a great mistake and a thing better done without, like bed jars and foreign bacon. Many a man has spent a hundred years trying to get the dimensions of it and when he understands it at last and entertains the certain pattern of it in his head, be the hokey he takes to his bed and dies. He dies like a poisoned sheepdog. There is nothing so dangerous you can't smoke it, nobody will give you tuppence halfpenny for the half of it, and it kills you in the wind-up. It is a quare contraption, very dangerous, a certain death-trap.
    • Page 165

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