Obituary: Cathal O Sndair

Click to follow
Cathal O Sndair was the most popular and prolific writer in the Irish language. In his 50-year career as a writer, he published over 160 novels in Irish. At the height of his popularity in the early 1950s, his Reics Carl detective mysteries were selling 100,000 copies - a phenomenal amount for an Irish-language book.

To several generations of Irish schoolboys, books featuring Reics Carl (Ireland's answer to Sexton Blake) were more eagerly sought after than recommended titles deemed more laudable and uplifting by the Christian Brothers.

O Sndair was born in London of an English father and Irish mother. The family settled in Dublin when he was nine years old. On leaving University College, Dublin, he joined the Irish Civil Service. In 1942, when his friend, fellow civil servant and writer, Flann O'Brien, admitted he was writing Sexton Blake thrillers in English for pounds 50 a manuscript, O Sndair decided to create an Irish Sexton Blake.

His first novel was Na Marbh a d'Fhill ("The Dead Return"). The creation of Reics Carl was an instant success and the character became the hero of an Irish-language comic strip, while several of the 50 novels he appeared in were serialised on RTE (the Irish radio).

O Sndair developed his writing mainly for younger readers and also began producing a science fiction and a western series. As well as his amazing outflow of novels, his journalism was prolific and he wrote, mainly in Irish, for numerous newspapers and journals as well as for RTE.

A linguist of no mean ability, as well as being bilingual in Irish and English, he admitted to "a journalist's understanding of French, German, Russian and Spanish" and was competent in the other Celtic languages - Manx and Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Breton. Indeed, just before his death he finished a translation of the Gospel of Matthew into all six Celtic languages as a comparative text.

In spite of his prolific output and almost legendary reputation among Irish readers, Cathal remained in the civil service until his retirement in 1987. He was essentially a very modest man and disliked personal publicity. Sadly, little of his work has appeared in English.

Perhaps, modest as he was, Cathal O Sndair, with a smile, might agree with the sentiment of his contemporary, fellow Irish civil servant, author and one-time drinking companion, the redoubtable Flann O'Brien, "Ni doi liom go mbeidh mo leitheid aris ann!" ("I do not think my like will ever be there again"). It is an apt memorial.

Peter Berresford Ellis

Cathal O Sndair, novelist, journalist, civil servant: born London 22 September 1922; married (three sons, one daughter); died Dublin 18 February 1996.

Comments