"It is often the case that the people telling the story are more important than the story they tell."

Cónal Creedon’s contributions to Ireland’s and international arts and letters are legion and nearly legendary among his fans. This volume reprints his original lecture exploring the memorable short story “Guests of the Nation” by eminent Irish author Frank O’Connor. It is the title story in a collection of the same name, first published in 1931. The story quickly became a classic and was included in an Exploring English I textbook anthology in the mid-1960s, where Creedon first encountered it as an impressionable twelve-year-old schoolboy.

The visceral tale is set during Ireland’s War of Independence in a remote cottage in County Galway where two young IRA volunteers—Bonaparte, the story narrator, and Noble, his less militant partner—are in charge of holding Belcher and Hawkins, two British prisoners of war. As Creedon explains, the story is an exploration of “…friendships, ideologies, and divided loyalties—tested against the cold brutality of duty.” The easy relationships between the soldiers on both sides and the nameless old woman who owns the cottage are periodically broken by the appearance of the IRA commander, Jeremiah O’Donovan, who checks on his recruits and the captives. As the narrator, Bonaparte struggles with all the nuances of the bonds that develop between the four men and the old woman, who greatly appreciates the household help she receives from the two British POWs.

Creedon candidly shares his initial impressions and early exposure to the story and states, “I was too young and politically naïve to grasp the full implications of the complexity and competing loyalties explored in O’Connor’s story. But the sheer pain and heartbreak of a friendship tested by the demands of duty has resonated with me throughout the years.” In 2003, Creedon was commissioned by the Irish National Broadcaster, RTE, to adapt “Guests of the Nation” as a radio play as part of the centenary celebrations of Frank O’Connor’s birth. “And so,” he says, “I set about deconstructing the story and exploring O’Connor’s work from the perspective of a writer rather than a reader… a more intense level of focus.”

It is likely not an overstatement or hyperbole to suggest that Creedon understands this story better than most writers and readers worldwide. It also seems not coincidental that both O’Connor and Creedon were/are Cork natives. Creedon’s examination of O’Connor’s text is steeped in both men’s literary talents and their understanding of what transpired in Irish history to motivate the writing of and the consequential interest in this story. Creedon’s thorough analysis of the story’s significance touches on several points in brief but comprehensive chapters: the character’s names and lack of a name for the old woman; historical incidents that likely influenced and inspired O’Connor, who was a former IRA member familiar with various tales of British hostages; and lastly, Creedon’s memories of spending a day as a guest of the people of Donoughmore where the prisoner of war, British Major Geoffrey Compton Smith, was executed by an IRA volunteer on April 30, 1921, in retribution for the British executions of four IRA volunteers on April 28.

Creedon succinctly explores details about this retributive execution and related historical events in which strong bonds of friendship arise between sworn enemies, with the most logical conclusion that the capture and execution of Compton-Smith have the greatest number of similarities to the “Guests of the Nation” plot. The brief but thorough and fascinating analysis is followed by Creedon’s radio script, an adaptation of O’Connor’s original story. Creedon is well-known for the quality and depth of his sixty-plus hours of original radio dramas. Literary readers who revere the original story may or may not be pleased with the adaptation, but for many casual contemporary readers who prefer brevity to literary depth, the adaptation condenses, clarifies, and makes the story a more visually and auditorily compelling experience than the beautifully written and more challenging prose and slower pace of the original tale.

The third part of this volume is an extended, online Covid-era conversation between the author and Dr. Conci Mazzullo (University of Catania). The text explores many questions that Creedon fans would ask about his family life in Cork City that led to his devotion to the arts and literature and the many historical changes across Ireland and N. Ireland that have influenced his body of published work. As such, this book is a compelling biographical piece that touches upon so many facets of Creedon’s life and letters that readers will hope for a much larger and more comprehensive biography or memoir soon. This volume is a significant guide not only to the O’Connor story he examines but also to some important facets of Ireland’s national history that drive Creedon’s motivations as a writer.

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