At Swim-Two-Birds and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

“The three of us were occupied in putting glasses of stout into the interior of our bodies and expressing by fine disputation the resulting sense of physical and mental well-being.” – At Swim-Two-Birds

Brian O’Nolan was born in 1911 in County Tyrone and wrote under a number of pseudonyms. He was the author of a daily column for The Irish Times where he went by the name Myles na gCopaleen and penned a number of novels as Flann O’Brien. He worked in the Irish civil service by day. He became an alcoholic. It is Brian as Flann that I am interested in, having just put down his first book, At Swim-Two-Birds.

O’Nolan attended University College Dublin where he had a brilliant career as a student. The narrator of At Swim-Two-Birds is himself UCD attendee, despite his penchant for spending time in bed. This frame story becomes enmeshed in the narrator’s creative writing projects thereby blurring the line between fiction and reality.

Despite sometimes being confusing and difficult to decipher, At Swim-Two-Birds contains highly comic moments and convinces the reader that literature and life should not be taken too seriously.

After finishing the book, I visited Grogan’s for a jar. The pub is near Grafton Street in central Dublin and was frequented by a number of the characters in At Swim-Two-Birds. The pub does a delicious grilled cheese sandwich made with the cheapest ingredients and served with English mustard (which is so good I could eat it with a spoon). Toasties are amongst the only foods that improve as their components worsen in quality. Nothing like a glass of Guinness, greasy food, and good company to brighten up an overcast Autumn day.


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