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The Maurice Walsh Papers

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The papers of Maurice Walsh were purchased by the University of Limerick in 2000.

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.


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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 his 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 Departmant 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 …ireann (1937) and on B.B.C. 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 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. Its production was preceded by controversy concerning the sale of the film rights between Walsh's American literary agents, Brandt and Brandt of New York, and his principal publishers on this side of the Atlantic, Chambers (see P7/76, P7/77). The dispute soured his view of the movie business and he refused to assist in the making of the film.

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). In 1940, he made a significant foray into politics when he collaborated with SeŠn O'FaolŠin in the writing of an article entitled 'Ireland in a Warring Europe', which appeared 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 (see P7/55-58).

Walsh 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. In addition to O'FaolŠin, other writers including Francis McManus were among his wide circle of friends. The collection includes much evidence of his popularity. The royalty statements from his publishers and agents tangibly prove his success as a writer, and the letters from admirers give his audience a human face (see P7/44-50). One of the more unusual expressions of his fame was the establishment of 'The Ancient and Honorable Society of Walshians' in Montana in 1933 (see P7/39-43).

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.

The Collection
The vast bulk of the material relates to Maurice Walsh himself, and it was decided that due to the amount and diversity of it, it should be divided into two sections. Section A includes documents relating to Walsh's personal and business affairs and also encompasses letters from friends and admirers. It was decided to include the material on Irish neutrality and his work on 'Irish Mist' advertisements in that section as they do no not belong to his 'mainstream' literary output, but certainly do reflect some of his personal (and in the case of the latter, business) interests. That section also includes letters from publishers and literary agents which have been grouped together according either to the individual or the organisation in question, and arranged chronologically. The same approach has been adopted with the material relating to the proposals for the staging, broadcasting or filming of Walsh's work. A typescript draft of Cecil Maiden's treatment of Blackcock's Feather was found, with its covering letter (P7/144), among the other letters on that subject, so it has been included in the section. The remaining parts of the section are self-explanatory.

Section B is obviously the largest one, containing as it does Walsh's literary papers. It was decided to arrange those by literary type, beginning with the novels, and to adhere to the order in which they were published. 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 and it is hoped that all of the identifications are correct. 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'. For that same reason, source material for two novels - And No Quarter and The Man in Brown - is described after the drafts. It was also decided to list the adaptations for stage and screen of The Road to Nowhere following the drafts of the novel (see P7/183-190). 

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.
The remaining sections are self-explanatory.

The collection is a comprehensive record of the life and work of Maurice Walsh, a figure who has a distinctive place in the Irish literary history.

Access restrictions
Almost all of the collection is available to the public. However, four documents (P7/11-12) are closed for a period of ten years due to the fact that they contain information which may be sensitive to other parties.


Martin Morris
August 2002

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