A Novelist, George A. Birmingham
Books & Articles on Birmingham | (1) Books on Birmingham| (2) Articles on Birmingham |
(1) Books on Birmingham

Lottie McManus, White Light and Flame: Memories of the Irish Literary Revival and the Anglo-Irish War (Dublin: Talbot,1929)

The author, Charlotte Elisabeth McManus (1850-1941), was a female Irish novelist who was active in the Irish Nationalist movements, attempting to found a Gealic League branch in her hometown, Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo. In this book, she recounts her intercourses with a number of eminent Irish literary figures including Birmingham. She is critical of Birmingham because he claims that the leaders of the Irish Nationalist movements should be Protestant colonists.

Stephen Gwynn, Experience of a Literary Man (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1926)

Stephen Gwynn (1864-1950) was an Irish politician, journalist and literary man. His maternal grandfather was William Smith O’Brien who was the leader of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. Birmingham makes O’Brien the model for Gerald Geoghegan’s father in The Seething Pot (1905). While Gwynn praises Birmingham’s exact representation of Westport in the novel, he criticizes Birmingham for his resentful portrayal of a Catholic priest, mentioning that the author should have been prepared for what reaction might ensue. Gwynn’s fear becomes real at a Gaelic League meeting in Claremorris in September 1906, when the chairman, Canon Macken, makes a motion to expel Birmingham from the following year’s Connacht Feis committee. Gwynn defends Canon Macken at the Gaelic League’s executive meeting the next month. As a consequence Birmingham withdraws from the executive board. Gwynn recalls that there have always been quarrels in the Gaelic League.

Commander C. H. Rolleston, Portrait of an Irishman: A Biographical Sketch of T.W. Rolleston (London: Methuen, 1939)

T.W. Rolleston (1857-1920) was an Irish poet and translator. This memoir, written by his son, boastfully mentions that all the great personalities of the Irish Literary Revival, including George Moore, W.B. Yeats, George Russell and Birmingham, came to his father for advice and help. The author displays letters exchanged by Birmingham and his father to reveal how thankful Birmingham is to his father that his favorable reviews of The Seething Pot (1905) and Hyacinth (1906) contributed a great deal to the sales of both novels. At the same time T.W. Rolleston seemed to be such an honest man that he criticized Birmingham strongly for his satirical portrayal of George Moore. The latter was used as the model for a certain character in The Seething Pot.

Hilda Martindale, Canon Hannay as I Knew Him (London: Allen & Unwin, 1951)

Hilda Martindale (1875-1952) was a female civil servant who dedicated her life to improving the conditions of female workers in the British Isles including Ireland. She knew Birmingham personally and, in this small pamphlet, she looks back on Birmingham’s life. Showing the episode that Birmingham was carrying out the church services even when London was air-raided by German bombers, she admires Birmingham for his deep faith in Christianity. While she was facing difficulties in her job in Ireland, she was encouraged a great deal by Birmingham’s words: “My own experience is that the solitary hope we have of avoiding actual despair is a resolute determination to see the comic side of things. We all of us fail again and again and if we didn’t extract food for laughter out of failure we should simply go under.” This seems to be the universal truth that we should keep in mind.

James Frederick Wynne Hannay, “Unpublished Autobiography” (in the 1970s)

The author (1906--1984) is the fourth and youngest child of Birmingham.  He is born in Westport and lives in various places in Ireland, France, Hungary and England with his family before finally emigrating to America and becoming a successful cotton business dealer in Dallas.  From the author’s account of many incidents and experiences in so many countries, it can be sensed that his spirit of adventure and independent character seems to have been fostered by his father.  The manuscript is held by Birmingham’s great-grandson, Mr. James Owen Hannay of Dallas.

A. Norman Jeffares, Macmillan History of Literature: Anglo-Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1982)

One will be impressed by how extensively the author has read works of Irish literature. The author gives a high appraisal of those Birmingham novels such as Spanish Gold (1908), Lalage’s Lover (1911), The Red Hand of Ulster (1912), General John Regan (1913), The Adventures of Dr Whitty (1913), Send for Dr O’Grady (1923), The Grand Duchess (1924) and Golden Apple (1947), as well as his theological book, The Wisdom of the Desert (1904). Those words of recommendation given to the works of Birmingham by a distinguished scholar of Irish literature will encourage one to read them.

Roy Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London: Allen Lane, 1988)

This book advocates “Irish Historical Revisionism”, which criticizes Nationalism as sectarian and justifies Unionism. As an example of the sectarian tendency of Nationalism, Foster mentions the incident in which Birmingham withdrew himself from the executive of the Gaelic League after being denounced at their meeting due to the publication of The Seething Pot (1905) and Hyacinth (1906). Foster’s claim causes controversies among academics and critics. Brian Murphy and Peter Murray play the central role in those controversies. They have disputes over Foster’s claim in their articles in the 1990s, which are referred to in “Articles on Birmingham”.

Judith Flannery,The Story of Delgany: Between the Mountains and the Sea (Delgany: Select Vestry of Delgany Parish, 1990)

Birmingham stayed in Delgany, Co.Wicklow, from 1888-1892 as the curate. The author recounts Birmingham’s life in the town by quoting some passages from Birmingham’s autobiography Pleasant Places (1934). Although Birmingham mentions in the autobiography that his interest in Irish politics started after he moved to Westport as the rector, the author points out that Birmingham “had become very involved with the pre-Gaelic League movement” during his time in Delgany. The author also picks up the foundation of a cricket club and that of a Reading Room in the Rectory premises as Birmingham’s contributions to the town.

J.F. Quinn, History of Mayo (Ballina: Brendan Quinn, 1993)

This book consists of five volumes, and pps.225-227 in VolumeⅡ make a mention of Birmingham. It relies a great deal on the passages about Birmingham in Experiences of a Literary Man (1926) by Stephen Gywnn (1864-1950). The author considers that the troubles Birmingham underwent with the Gaelic League after the publications of The Seething Pot (1905) and Hyacinth (1906) helped him become famous.

Seamus Deane, A Short History of Irish Literature (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1994)

The author gives a mention of Birmingham in pp.226-227 of Chapter 8, “Contemporary literature 1940-80”.  He praises Birmingham’s The Red Hand of Ulster (1912) as “the best account of the Northern Loyalist’s sense of dislocation”.   The same view is shared by a number of critics and the special feature program on the novel is aired by BBC Radio in 2012.

P.J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland: A Traveller’s Literary Companion (London: John Murray, 1994)

Birmingham’s The Red Hand of Ulster (1912) is mentioned together with the works of Louis MacNeice, George Buchanan, G.K. Chesterton, V.S. Pritchett, Forrest Reid and other writers to illustrate what Belfast looked like in the early 20th century.  As the author’s mention of Benedict Kavanagh (1907) and General John Regan (1913) in relation with Westport is also insightful and enticing, one may feel like reading Birmingham’s novels and visiting both cities.

Brian Taylor, The Life and Writings of James Owen Hannay (George A. Birmingham) 1865-1950 (Lewinston: Edwin Mellen, 1995)

This is the first critical biography of Birmingham. The author makes full use of the Papers of J.O. Hannay held by the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library of Trinity College, Dublin, when he discusses Birmingham’s novels with reference to his correspondence and other writings including his articles and theological books. The author gives a well-balanced discussion on Birmingham as a humorous novelist and James Owen Hannay as a serious clergyman, and emphasizes that the humor and the seriousness arose after all from a single source. Some valuable photos of Birmingham and his family are displayed as well.

Don L.F. Nilsen,Humor in Irish Literature: A Reference Guide (Westport, USA: Greenwood Press, 1996)

This is an extensive, valuable guide about Irish humorous literary works and critical books on them. Birmingham’s Now You Tell Me One: Stories of Irish Wit and Humour is included in “The Humor of Ireland and Irish Literature Bibliography”. However, the author’s view that Anglo-Irish writers including Birmingham treat Irish characters superficially should be opposed.

Alan Marshall and Neil Sammells, eds., Irish Encounters: Poetry, Politics and Prose since 1880 (Bath: Sulis, 1998)

In Chapter 6, “‘The Very Best Kind of Fiction’: James Owen Hannay, ‘George A. Birmingham’, and the Gaelic League” (pp. 49-58), Eileen Reilly discusses the controversy ensuing the publications of Birmingham’s The Seething Pot (1905) and Hyacinth (1906) through a close analysis of correspondence between Birmingham and Douglas Hyde.  This is another significant article which discloses the importance of these two novels.

Masahiko Yahata, Potential of Northern Irish Fiction: Quests for Reconciliation and Universality (Hiroshima: Keisuisha, 2003) In Japanese

This book deals with seven Northern Irish novelists who emerged from the early twentieth century to the present day.  In Chapter 1, “Political Fiction and Humorous Fiction by George A. Birmingham: Protestant Nationalism and Quests for Reconciliation”, the author mainly discusses The Seething Pot (1905), Hyacinth (1906), The Northern Iron (1907), General John Regan (1913) and Adventures of Dr. Whitty (1913).

Joan FitzPatrick Dean, Riot and Great Anger: Stage Censorship in Twentieth-Century Ireland (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2004)

A study of disorder and disturbance provoked by the plays of Irish authors such as W.B. Yeats, John Millington Synge and Sean O’Casey. Chapter 5, “The Riot in Westport; or, George A. Birmingham at Home” gives a close examination of the riot which was caused by the production of General John Regan in Westport in 1914.

Paul Durcan, The Art of Life (London: The Harvill Press, 2004)

Paul Durcan (1944- ) is a distinguished Irish poet. He was born in Dublin and reared in County Mayo. The Art of Life is a collection of poems Durcan writes about Ireland including County Mayo and Dublin, and about other countries such as Italy, Poland and Japan. One of the poems about County Mayo is “Canon James O. Hannay Pays a Return Visit to the Old Rectory, Westport, County Mayo, 8 October 2000”. In this poem, Durcan expresses his pleasant surprise at the fact that the rectory was purchased by a Roman Catholic, Seamus Walsh, after traditionally being occupied by Church of Ireland clergymen including Birmingham. Durcan also admires Walsh for his hard work, his love of family and his modern refurbishment of the rectory. Durcan concludes that the rectory is the pleasantest place for Birmingham and that he is “mindful with envy at its twenty-first century atmosphere of carefree sanctity”. The rectory seems to be the embodiment of Birmingham’s wish for reconciliation between every human being.

Frank Ferguson, ed., Ulster-Scots Writing: An Anthology (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2008)

This anthology contains the extracts of the works of 91 authors who have some links with Ulster-Scots writing.  One of the extracts is a passage from Birmingham’s autobiography, Pleasant Places (1934), which recounts his childhood in Belfast.  Birmingham recollects with sweetness his visit to his Scottish grandfather living in Ballylough House outside of Bushmills, and shows what influence the grandfather and Birmingham’s father had upon the formation of Birmingham’s character.  This anthology is a well-designed attempt at developing interest in Ulster-Scots writing.

John Wilson Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)

In this book, Foster discusses a bulk of so-called “popular fiction” which were published from 1890 to 1940. Although many of them are scarcely read today, Foster argues their values and emphasizes that they illuminate unknown, interesting bearings of Irish culture. One of those novels is Birmingham’s Gossamer (1915). Foster points out that the novel proves Birmingham could be “a thinking novelist” in spite of his wide reputation as a comic novelist. Foster makes an insightful observation, indicating that the novel prophesies the Wall Street Crash in the 1930s and “the multifarious Ireland of the present”. Foster’s extensive discussion of Gossamer triggers other critics’ interest in the novel, for Terry Phillips will mention the novel in Irish Literature and the First World War: Culture, Identity and Memory (2015) and Masahiko Yahata will examine the novel in his paper, “Humor in Despair: George A. Birmingham’s Works of Fiction and Nonfiction on the First World War” (2018).

Terry Phillips, Irish Literature and the First World War: Culture, Identity and Memory (Bern: Peter Lang, 2015)

In Chapter Two: “Debating the Nation”, Phillips discusses Birmingham’s Gossamer together with Patrick MacGill’s and St John Ervine’s novels. It is most likely that Phillips was inspired by John Wilson Foster’s discussion of Gossamer in his Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (2008) to discuss the novel from a different point of view. Phillips emphasizes as much as Foster does the novel’s universal perspective by looking into the narrator James Digby’s cynical attitude towards the First World War. Feeling himself detached from both Ireland and Britain, Digby volunteers for the British Army owing, not to patriotism, but to the belief that Germany must be defeated in the war. As Phillips rightly comments, Digby considers that the German victory will disrupt the world’s art, politics and finance. However, by labeling Gossamer the pro-war novel, Phillips and many people at that time overlook Birmingham’s underling sympathies with Germany.

(2) Articles on Birmingham
  • Hilda Anne O’Donnell, “A Literary Survey of the Novels of Canon James Owen Hannay (George A. Birmingham)”, MA thesis delivered to Queen’s University, Belfast, 1959.
  • R.B.D. French, “J.O. Hannay and the Gaelic League”, Hermethena, Trinity College Dublin, No.102, 1966, pp.26-52.
  • Therese Law, “The Fiction of George A. Birmingham”, Ph.D. thesis delivered to Trinity College, Dublin, 1967.
  • John Gibbons, “George A. Birmingham”, Cathair na Mart: Journal of Westport Historical Society, No.2, 1982, pp.23-26.
  • Brian Taylor, “Hannay, Humour and Heresy”, Lost Fields: a supplement to Fortnight, No.306, May 1992,  pp.16-18.
  • Tess Hurson, “Lost Tribes and Spanish Gold”, Lost Fields: a supplement to Fortnight, No.306, May 1992,  pp.18-20..
  • Eileen Reilly, “Rev. Canon James Owen Hannay, M.A. D.Litt. ‘George A. Birmingham’ An Irishman looks at his world”: Thesis for the Degree of M.A., Department of Modern History, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, July 1992
  • Brian Taylor, “George A. Birmingham and General John Regan: London, New York and Westport”, Cathair na Mart: Journal of Westport Historical Society, No.12, 1992, pp.90-112.
  • Andrew Gailey, “An Irishman’s World”, The Irish Review, Vol.13, Winter 1992, pp.31-39.
  • Peter Murray, “First Novels and Fierce Controversies: George A. Birmingham, The Seething Pot and Hyacinth”, Cathair na Mart: Journal of Westport Historical Society, No.12, 1992, pp.113-127.
  • Brian P. Murphy, “The Canon of Irish Cultural History: Some Questions Concerning Roy Foster’s Modern Ireland”, Studies: an Irish Quarterly Review of Letters, Philosophy and Science, Vol.82, No.326, Spring 1993, pp.171-184.
  • Peter Murray, “A Sectarian Skeleton in the Gaelic League’s Cupboard? Roy Foster, Brian Murphy and the Case of George A. Birmingham”, Studies: an Irish Quarterly Review of Letters, Philosophy and Science, Vol.82, No.328, Winter 1993, pp.481-486.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “Two Protestant Novelists from Northern Ireland: George A. Birmingham and Shan F. Bullock”, Japan-Ireland Society, Eire, No. 13, 1993, pp.100-109. In Japanese
  • Brian Taylor, “Levity and Social Criticism: Some Comments on the ‘JJ’ Novels of George A. Birmingham, Studies: an Irish Quarterly Review of Letters, Philosophy and Science, Vol.83, No.331, 1994, pp.295-302.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “George A. Birmingham, Hyacinth (1906): What Turns a Patriot to an Exile”, Harp: IASAIL-JAPAN Bulletin, Vol.X, 1995, pp.8-13.
  • Masahiko Yahata, "General Jon Regan (1913): A Reappraisal of George A. Birmingham’s Humorous Fiction”, Japan-Ireland Society, Eire, No. 16, 1996, pp.61-70.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “The Heroes' Broken Dreams for Ireland: A Study of George A. Birmingham's Early Political Novels”, Japan-Ireland Society, Eire, No. 17, 1997, pp.102-115.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “George A. Birmingham, The Northern Iron (1907) and the 1798 Rebellion”, Harp: IASAIL-JAPAN Bulletin, Vol.XIV, 1999, pp.13-20.
  • Peter Murray, “Radical way forward or sectarian cul-de-sac?  Lindsay Crawford and Independent Orangeism reassessed”, Saothar 27: Journal of the Irish Labour History Society, 2002, pp.31-42.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “Good Intentions Prevailing over Antagonism: George A. Birmingham’s Political Fiction and Humorous Fiction”, Bulletin of Beppu University Junior College, No. 24, 2005, pp.65-77.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “Christian Virtues in Humour: A Reassessment of George A. Birmingham, General John Regan (1913)”, Bulletin of Beppu University Junior College, No. 26, 2007, pp.73-82.

  • Masahiko Yahata, “George A. Birmingham, Spanish Gold (1908) and A Sea Battle (1948): What the Adventures of J.J. Meldon and Major Kent Mean”, Bulletin of Beppu University Junior College, No. 27, 2008, pp.29-36.

  • Gerard Dineen, “Literary Exhortations: The Early Fiction of George A. Birmingham”, a thesis submitted to the School of English at Trinity College, University of Dublin, in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, 2010.

  • Masahiko Yahata, “George A. Birmingham, General John Regan: A Hearty Wish for Reconciliation between Every Human Being”, Cathair Na Mart: Journal of Westport Historical Society, No.30, 2011, pp.8-18.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “George A. Birmingham in the Gaelic League: The Stepping-Stone to a Universally Appealing Novelist”, Cathair Na Mart: Journal of Westport Historical Society, No.31, 2012, pp.91-104.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “George A. Birmingham’s Novel, Appeasement: ‘Good Intentions’ Rewarded at Last, and What ‘Appeasement’ Means, Bulletin of Beppu University Junior College, No.33, 2014, pp.49-59.  In Japanese
  • Masahiko Yahata, “A Reappraisal of George A. Birmingham’s Drama, General John Regan, through an Investigation of Birmingham’s Relationship with George Bernard Shaw”, Bulletin of Beppu University Junior College, No.34, 2015, pp.89-99. In Japanese
  • Masahiko Yahata, “Humor in Despair: George A. Birmingham’s Works of Fiction and Nonfiction on the First World War”, Japan-Ireland Society, Eire , No.37, 2018, pp.3-22.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “’Connaught to Dallas’”: Journeys of a Novelist, George A. Birmingham, and his Descendants in America”, Cathair Na Mart: Journal of Westport Historical Society , No. 35, 2018, pp.16-23.
  • Masahiko Yahata, “George A. Birmingham, The Red Hand of Ulster: A Portrayal of the Unionists in the Early 1910s and Prophesy of Contemporary Ireland”, Japan-Ireland Society, Eire, No. 40, 2021, pp.47-62.