Maurice Walsh (21 April 1879 – 18 February 1964) is one of Ireland’s most beloved novelists and remains, if not Ireland’s most accomplished storyteller, the benchmark against which all subsequent generations of Irish storytelling is measured. To many, including Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), he was the greatest storyteller of his time.
He is probably best known for the short story The Quiet Man – a contained story from the separately connected short stories that make up the novel, Green Rushes (1935). The Quiet Man was made into an Oscar-winning movie directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in 1952.
Fascinatingly, the characters and story arc that runs through Green Rushes is a far darker tale of loyalty and betrayal centered around the Black and Tan war between the IRA and the British imperial forces just before the end of the Irish War of Independence in 1921. It is chillingly redolent of the later ‘Troubles’, and one of many reasons why Walsh’s work remains relevant today.
Maurice Walsh was born on 21 April 1879 in Ballydonoghue, near Listowel, County Kerry, Ireland. He was the third child of ten and the first son born to John Walsh, a local farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Buckley who lived in a three-roomed thatched farmhouse.
John Walsh’s main interests were books and horses and he himself did little about the farm, preferring to have a hired man. The most famous of these was Paddy Bawn Enright, whose name was to be immortalised by Maurice Walsh in his story The Quiet Man (though the name was not used in the movie version). John Walsh passed on to his son not only a love of books but also legends and folk tales and the theory of place that were later to be a feature of many of Maurice’s books.
Maurice went to school in Lisselton, a mile or so up the road from Ballydonoghue, and later went to St Michael’s College in Listowel to prepare for the Civil Service examination. He entered the service on 2 July 1901 as an Assistant Revenue Officer in the Customs and Excise Service. He was posted to Scotland before the year was out and, although he subsequently had a number of postings outside Scotland, he would spend most of his time there while in the British service.
Maurice had always been interested in writing and, during his early years in Scotland, this interest started to bear fruit. He sent off some stories and had two published in the Irish Emerald in 1908. That year also saw his marriage, on 8 August 1908, in Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland, to Caroline Begg (always known by her nickname “Toshon”).
When the Irish Free State was formed in 1922, Maurice transferred to its excise service and moved to Dublin. Fighting was still going on there at the time and he left his family in Scotland until it was safe for them to join him in 1923. The story The Key Above the Door was written during those months of separation although it was not published until some years later, appearing first in Chambers Journal as a serial between December 1925 and May 1926 and then in book form (published by W & R Chambers Ltd) in July 1926. Sales of Maurice Walsh’s books grew steadily, especially in the wake of an unsolicited and generous letter from J. M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame), praising The Key Above the Door.
Published in 1948, Castle Gillian is referred to as the 3rd. of the four Ireland novels written by the author (the other three being: The Road To Nowhere (1934), Green Rushes (1935) and A Strange Woman’s Daughter (1954)).
Castle Gillian was originally to be called The Damsel Debonair or Waiting is Good Hunting or even A Man For Castle Gillian. To enthusiasts of Walsh’s earlier novels, the ingredients are familiar: the small man and the bully, two different love interests, some beguiling tinkers – and a Scotsman, Robin Morrison, who comes into the one famous Irish racing stable (so named as the title of the novel) now fallen on hard times – and starts events moving towards their climax.
The novel is in many ways the culmination of years of writing reaching full maturity that started with The Key Above The Door. The characters are all exquisitely drawn and fleshed out and the writing effortless in conveying Walsh’s unique commentary on an Ireland fast disappearing in the aftermath of W.W.II.
Dust Cover Jackets From Early Published Editions
Maurice Walsh died on February 18, 1964 in Blackrock (a suburb of Dublin) and is buried in the Esker cemetery at Lucan, County Dublin.