My guess is that the phrase “the luck of the Irish” is of American origin. When one contemplates the lives that some of the best Irish writers have led in and out of the pubs of Dublin during the past half-century or so, “curse” comes to mind as a better word than “luck.” Hence the sobering title of Anthony Cronin’s superb biography, No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien, published in London almost a decade ago and recently released here.

O’Brien, a novelist and satirist, was actually three in one—an entity the novelist Dermot Bolger has called “that wondrous multi-layered mind which singularly comprised the Unholy Trinity of Flann O’Brien, Brian O’Nolan and Myles na Gopaleen.” Can any other writer—or any other person—have gone by so many different names over the course of a lifetime? Myles...


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