A Novelist, George A. Birmingham
The Life and works of a Novelist, George A. Birmingham (1865—1950)
For a reappraisal of Birmingham

Although Birmingham’s novels were widely read in his lifetime, especially in Britan, they lost their readership soon after the author’s death.  Only a few of his novels such as Spanish Gold, General John Regan and The Red Hand of Ulster (1912) were republished sparsely.  For the last three or four years, however, some publishers have started republishing his books successively, and many out-of-print editions of them are also available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com) and other online bookstores.

In the early 1950s, R.B.D. French, a lecturer in English of Trinity College Dublin, recognized the value of Birmingham’s works and embarked on the study of them.  Birmingham’s second daughter, Althea Hannay, contributed to the College Library the manuscripts of a number of Birmingham’s works, his letters and articles, his family photographs, and articles written about him.  French arranged them in order, and today they are reserved as the Papers of JO. Hannay in the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library of the College. (http://www.tcd.ie/Library/manuscripts/index.php)   French published several insightful articles and essays on Birmingham.  It is most likely that he would had wished to publish a critical biography of Birmingham, but he died without fulfilling his wish.

In 1959, a student of Queen’s University Belfast wrote her MA thesis on Birmingham. In 1966, another student of Trinity College Dublin wrote her Ph.D. thesis on him. Their theses are reserved in both universities’ libraries.

In 1989, Roy Foster published Ireland 1600-1972 and advocated “Irish Historical Revisionism”, with which he criticized the sectarian and racist tendency of Nationalism and tried to justify Unionism or the existence of Northern Ireland. As an example of the sectarianism of Nationalists, Foster referred to Birmingham’s withdrawal from the executive board of the Gaelic League due to the publications of The Seething Pot (1905) and Hyacinth (1906). Birmingham was denounced at the League’s meeting because both novels were considered to be bitterly critical of Catholic Nationalists. Then Birmingham determined to withdraw himself from the executive board. Foster’s claim raised controversies among a number of academics and critics. They had disputes over whether Foster's allegation was right, or whether the existence of Northern Ireland should be justified. Their controversies revealed how important these two novels are.

On the publication of Spanish Gold (1908), Birmingham turned to a humorous novelist. But most of his humorous novels tend to be regarded as light-hearted works without any serious implications. They are also considered to be less valuable than his earlier novels up to General John Regan (1913). Birmingham was a devout and faithful Christian throughout his life. His humorous novels, based on the Christian spirit, “love and gentleness”, represent his earnest hope for reconciliation between every human being. They are not simply works of light humor. His later novels were written during the most turbulent period of Irish history; Ireland’s war of independence against Britain became more violent, and the two World Wars broke out. Those novels reveal Birmingham’s more earnest hope for reconciliation between every human being, and emphasize more strongly that the spirit of humor is indispensable in achieving the goal. Accordingly his later novels hold value equal to his earlier ones.

For a reappraisal of Birmingham, I intend to make a further study of the novelist and to publish a reliable critical biography of the novelist in order to show to the public his novels’ universal value, which would have been R.B.D. French’s lifelong wish.


I would like to express my thanks to The Board of Trinity College Dublin for permitting me to reproduce six photos and one newspaper article from the Papers of JO. Hannay reserved in the Manuscripts and Archives Research Library of the College.