Maurice Walsh

Reference Code: IE 2135 P7
Title: The Maurice Walsh Papers
Dates: 1906-1974
Extent: 21 standard boxes and 1 outsize box (372 files)

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Name of Creator(s): Walsh, Maurice (1879-1964).

Administrative/ Biographical History: Maurice Walsh was born in the townland of Ballydonoghue, near Lisselton, in the north of county Kerry on 21 April 1879, the eldest son and one of the ten children of John Walsh and Elizabeth Buckley.  It is notable that his home area is near Listowel, which has produced two other important writers – Bryan McMahon and John B. Keane.  John Walsh (Maurice’s father) was a farmer and a devoted reader, and both he and Michael Dillon, a teacher at the local national school, cultivated Maurice’s interest in books from an early age.  After primary school, Walsh attended St. Michael’s College in Listowel, and in 1901 he joined the civil service, becoming a customs and excise officer.  After brief postings in Ireland (beginning in Limerick), he was sent to Scotland, followed by Derby, and in 1906, back to Scotland again.  That country had a profound influence on him.  He was inspired both by the landscape of the Highlands and the people, as some of his literary works testify.  Among the lifelong friends he made there was the novelist Neil Gunn (1891-1973).  It was in the town of Dufftown in the Highlands that Walsh met Caroline Isabel Thomson Begg – his beloved ‘Toshon’ – whom he married on 8 August 1908.  At that point, he was serving at Kirbymoorside in Yorkshire, but soon was transferred back to Ireland where he remained until 1913.  The next nine years were spent at Forres in the Highlands, from where, after independence, Walsh secured a transfer to the customs service of the new Irish Free State.  He was prominent in the newly established customs officers’ association, Comhaltas Cana, and contributed to its journal, Irisleabhar.  He retired in 1933 and writing became his career.

Walsh’s literary output was impressive and spanned about sixty years.  His first published work was a story in the Weekly Freeman in the early 1890s entitled ‘Robbery Under Arms’ for which he won two guineas.  His last publication was the collection of short stories The Smart Fellow, which appeared in 1964, the year of his death.  His early works were short stories that were published in periodicals – three in Irish Emerald (1908) and three in The Dublin Magazine (1923-1925).  His first novel – of fourteen – The Key Above the Door was published by W. and R. Chambers of Edinburgh in 1926 and attracted an unsolicited tribute from the famous Scottish author J. M. Barrie.  Walsh continued to write short stories and they appeared mainly in Chambers’s Journal and The Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia).  The first collection of them was published as Green Rushes in 1935.

One of Walsh’s most successful creations was the character Thomasheen James O’Doran, based, like so many of his characters on a real person, in that case Tom O’Gorman, a veteran of World War I who worked for Walsh.  Eleven of the stories concerning Thomasheen James were published in Thomasheen James, Man-of No-Work in March 1941 and reprinted in May of that year, which indicates their great popularity.  Thomasheen James also featured in two other collections: Son of a Tinker and Other Tales (1951) and The Smart Fellow (1964).  Many of Walsh’s works were translated into European languages and all were sold in English-speaking countries such as Canada and Australia.

One of Walsh’s better-known novels now is Blackcock’s Feather, published in 1932.  Set at the time of the ‘Nine Years’ War’ (1594-1603), it has been noted for the quality of its prose.  In 1933, the Department of Education published an abridged version of it, which would become familiar to generations of post-primary school students.  It was later translated into Irish as Cleite Clarcollig.

Some of Walsh’s work was broadcast on radio beginning with Blackcock’s Feather, which was serialised both on Radio Éireann (1937) and on BBC radio in Northern Ireland (1938).  Such productions were not confined to Ireland.  The Man in Brown was broadcast under its American title Nine Strings to Your Bow on an American station, WTZ, in 1945, and in 1950, Scottish radio broadcast The Key Above the Door.  Naturally, there were many schemes envisaged for the adaptation of work of his for film, but most failed.  It was, however, a film which was to guarantee the fame of one of his short stories – ‘The Quiet Man’.

Published in The Saturday Evening Post in February 1933, ‘The Quiet Man’ had as its central character Shawn Kelvin, but when it appeared in Green Rushes two years later, he had been renamed Paddy Bawn Enright.  The real person of that name was a man who had worked for John Walsh, Maurice’s father.  Walsh’s inspiration for the story came from two incidents: the first one, ‘where a bully refused to pay his sister’s fortune at Listowel fair’ and the other, a fight between John McElligott (known as ‘Quiet Jack’) and a cattle dealer who had tried to cheat him, at a fair also in Listowel, in 1914.  On reading the story, John Ford purchased the film rights of it, but it would be almost twenty years before it made its way onto celluloid.  By two agreements of 25 February 1936 (both between Walsh and Ford) and another of 25 May 1951 (between Ford and Republic Pictures), Walsh received a total of $6260 for the story, which for many, now occupies iconic status in cinematic history.  The only novel of Walsh’s to be successfully adapted for film was Trouble in the Glen (which had been published in 1950), made in 1954 by Republic Pictures and starring Margaret Lockwood and John Laurie.

In addition to short stories and novels, Walsh also wrote plays (one of which, The Golden Pheasant, was performed), some poetry (mainly unpublished), and articles on subjects including whiskey (of which he was a connoisseur).  He was involved in two literary organisations – P.E.N. (of which he served as president in 1938) and the Friends of the Irish Academy of Letters.  His circle of friends included many writers, among them Seán O’Faoláin and Francis McManus.  Maurice Walsh lived in Dublin from the beginning of his service as a customs officer in the Irish Free State.  He died at his home in Stillorgan on 18 February 1964.

Immediate Source of Acquisition: The Walsh Papers were purchased by the University of Limerick from the Walsh family on 29 May 2001.


Content and Structure

Scope and Content: This collection is a comprehensive record of the life and work of Maurice Walsh, a figure who has a distinctive place in Irish literary history.  At its core are multiple working drafts of his fourteen novels, five short story collections and other works which provide a window into Walsh’s creative process and the evolution of his narratives.  They also highlight the breadth and versatility of Walsh’s literary output which extended from novels and short stories to plays, poetry and journalism.  Of particular interest are drafts of his perhaps best-known novel, Blackcock’s Feather (P7/2/1/3/1-7), his short story ‘The Quiet Man’ (P7/2/2/1/3/1-5), later made into an Oscar-winning film directed by John Wayne, and the collection of short stories featuring the immortal character of Thomasheen James (P7/2/2/2/1-11).

The Maurice Walsh Papers also feature the author’s extensive correspondence with literary agents, publishers, broadcasting companies and film producers which provides interesting insights into the life of a professional writer.  It reveals among other things the controversy concerning the sale of the film rights which proceeded the production of Trouble into Glen, Walsh’s only novel successfully adapted for film (see P7/1/3/1/2 and P7/1/3/2/1). The dispute, which involved Walsh’s American literary agents, Brandt and Brandt of New York, and his principal publishers on this side of the Atlantic, Chambers, resulted in his refusal to assist in the making of the film and soured his view of the movie business for life. Another interesting set of correspondence dates from 1940, when Walsh made a significant foray into politics by collaborating with Seán O’Faoláin in the writing of an article entitled ‘Ireland in a Warring Europe’.  Published in The Saturday Evening Post, the article was a defence of Irish neutrality and generated much reaction.  The surviving letters from Joseph Connolly, the censor, indicate the extent to which he tried to avoid undue alterations to the text and the keenness of the authorities that the piece should appear in print (P7/1/2/4/1-4).

The volume of correspondence includes much evidence of Walsh’s popularity.  The royalty statements from his publishers and agents tangibly prove his success as a writer, and the letters from admirers (P7/1/2/3/3/1-7) give his audience a human face. One of the more unusual expressions of his fame was the establishment of ‘The Ancient and Honorable Society of Walshians’ in Montana in 1933 (P7/1/2/3/2/1-5).

With the exception of some official documents and a small number of photographs, the collection contains little in relation to Maurice Walsh’s personal life.  The best insight into this aspect can be found in a short autobiographical note published in an unidentified work (see P7/2/7/5/5), which also shows Walsh’s gentle but brimming humour.  Described by his friends as ‘quiet, easy-going, lazy-seeming’, Walsh’s reticence made him, perhaps, the true embodiment of ‘The Quiet Man’.

Appraisal, Destruction and Scheduling Information: All records have been retained.

Accruals: No accruals are expected.

System of Arrangement: The material has been divided into three series.  Series 1 relates to Walsh’s personal and business affairs, both literary and non-literary, and consists primarily of correspondence.  It has been further divided thematically into six sub-series.  Letters within these sub-series have been grouped by correspondent and arranged chronologically by date.

Series 2 contains Walsh’s literary papers.  It has been divided into seven sub-series by narrative form, beginning with the novels, which have been arranged chronologically by date of publication.  The drafts of short stories have been similarly arranged, according to the collection in which they appeared and in the order in which they appeared within the collection.  Every effort has been made to identify each draft or re-draft.  Due to the fact that many of the manuscript notebooks contain drafts of more than one work, it is hoped that the descriptions and cross-references will clarify their content.  In some instances, letters were found with manuscripts or typescripts that were either covering letters or relating specifically to the work in question.  They have been listed with that material in the interests of original order.  Generally, with undated material, manuscripts have been described before typescripts, unless it was possible by reference to the published version to infer that a typescript pre-dated a manuscript.

Series 3 contains material relating to Maurice Walsh’s wife Caroline Isabel Thomson née Begg, his son Maurice Walsh and his grandson Manus Walsh.  Items within this series have been arranged chronologically by their date.


Conditions of Access and Use

Conditions Governing Access: Unrestricted access to all items.

Conditions Governing Reproduction: Standard copyright regulations apply to all items.  For photocopying or reproducing material, please consult with the staff.

Language/ Scripts of Material: English.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements: Paper documents and photographs in good condition.

Finding Aids: A hard copy of the descriptive catalogue is available at the Special Collections and Archives Department, Glucksman Library, University of Limerick.


Allied Materials

Related Units of Description: The Special Collections and Archives Department holds copies of all of Maurice Walsh’s novels and short story collections, including some first editions.  All sources used in the compilation of this finding aid, including a copy of James J. Bunyan’s unpublished If Walls Could Talk, are also available in Special Collections or in the main library.  Material relating to the filming of The Quiet Man can be found in the Des McHale collection (P88).

Publication Note: The Maurice Walsh Papers were used by Stephen Matheson for his biography Maurice Walsh, Storyteller (Dingle, 1985).


Description Control

Archivist’s Note: Papers arranged and described by Martin Morris.  The following sources were used in the compilation of the finding aid: Steve Matheson, Maurice Walsh, Storyteller (Dingle, 1985); Steve Matheson, ‘Maurice Walsh: A Critical Appreciation’, in Fitzmaurice, Gabriel (ed.), The Listowel Literary Phenomenon (Indreabhán, Conamara, 1994); Des McHale, The Complete Guide to The Quiet Man (Belfast, 2000) Luke Gibbons, The Quiet Man (Cork, 2002); and James J. Bunyan, If Walls Could Talk (unpublished).

Rules or Conventions: This description follows guidelines based on ISAD(G) 2nd edition, 2000; Irish Guidelines for Archival Description, 2009; National Council on Archives: Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997; and EAP Guidance on Data Protection for Archive Services, 2018.

Date of Description: August 2002.  Revised in May 2021.


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