Authors: Benedict Kiely

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Irish short-story writer, novelist, and critic

Author Works

Short Fiction:

A Journey to the Seven Streams: Seventeen Stories, 1963

A Ball of Malt and Madame Butterfly: A Dozen Stories, 1973

A Cow in the House, and Nine Other Stories, 1978

The State of Ireland: A Novella and Seventeen Stories, 1980

A Letter to Peachtree, and Nine Other Stories, 1987

God’s Own Country, 1993

The Collected Stories of Benedict Kiely, 2001

Long Fiction:

Land Without Stars, 1946

In a Harbour Green, 1949

Call for a Miracle, 1951

Honey Seems Bitter, 1952

The Cards of the Gambler, 1953

There Was an Ancient House, 1955

The Captain with the Whiskers, 1960

Dogs Enjoy the Morning, 1968

Proxopera, 1977

Nothing Happens in Carmincross, 1985


Counties of Contention, 1945

Poor Scholar: A Study of the Works and Days of William Carleton, 1794-1869, 1947

Modern Irish Fiction: A Critique, 1950

All the Way to Bantry Bay, and Other Irish Journeys, 1978

Dublin, 1983

Ireland from the Air, 1985

Drink to the Bird: A Memoir, 1991

A Raid into Dark Corners, and Other Essays, 1999

The Waves Behind Us: Further Memoirs, 1999

Edited Texts:

The Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories, 1981

Yeats’ Ireland: An Enchanted Vision, 1989

And as I Rode by Granard Moat, 1996

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Trout in the Turnhole, 1995


Benedict Kiely (KEE-lee) was one of the finest twentieth century Irish critics, novelists, short-story writers, and journalists as well as an extraordinary travel writer and historicist. He was educated in Omagh by the Christian Brothers, and in 1937 he entered the Jesuit novitiate in County Laois but later decided not to pursue that vocation. He graduated from the National University in Dublin in 1943 and from 1945 to 1964 was active as a journalist with a number of Irish dailies, among them The Standard, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times, and The Irish Press. After working as a visiting professor of creative writing at a number of American universities, Kiely eventually returned to Dublin, where he lectured at University College and wrote reviews and feature articles for Dublin’s major newspapers. It was as a short-story writer that he gained international attention and recognition, although his novels also helped forge his literary reputation of excellence. Kiely died on February 9, 2007.{$I[AN]9810001081}{$I[A]Kiely, Benedict}{$I[geo]IRELAND;Kiely, Benedict}{$I[tim]1919;Kiely, Benedict}

Kiely received early success with the publication in 1950 of his critical assessment of Irish letters. With two of his own novels behind him, Kiely in his Modern Irish Fiction surveyed his country’s literature from post-World War I to midcentury, a time that had ushered in the writings of James Joyce, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor, Séan O’Faoláin, and Samuel Beckett. A work filled with sharp observations, Modern Irish Fiction established Kiely as a first-rate critic.

His first novel, Land Without Stars, draws its title from Egan O’Rahilly’s elegy “Concerning the Destruction of the Great Families.” It is a novel about “A land without dry weather, without a stream, without a star!/ A land stripped naked, without shelter or boughs!/ A land broken down by the English-prating band!” The plot of the novel turns around Peter Quinn’s rejection of a call to the priesthood and the guilt and anxiety that attend his repudiation.

Unlike Kiely’s first novel, In a Harbour Green has no main protagonist; closely autobiographical, this novel draws upon events that colored the author’s life in Omagh. Set in a corrupt, censorious, and desperate Northern Irish market town, the novel features a credible cross section of characters. An outstanding characteristic of this work, as of all Kiely’s works, is his fidelity to his homeland. His is a realistic fiction firmly grounded in the believable. In a Harbour Green was singled out as a selection of the Catholic Book Club in London the same year that it was banned by the Censorship Board in Ireland.

In the late 1970’s, by which time he was an esteemed and prolific novelist, Kiely turned his attention more seriously to short fiction and began publishing stories in literary magazines such as The New Yorker and Kenyon Review; his short-story collections A Ball of Malt and Madame Butterfly and A Cow in the House were well received. Many writers and critics count Kiely among the finest storytellers in Ireland. John Wilson Foster argues that in the genre of the short story Kiely is “the equal of O’Faoláin and within hailing distance of O’Connor.”

Kiely’s novel Nothing Happens in Carmincross features James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, John Henry Newman, and Eamon de Valera blowing reveille on the book’s awakening pages, and Kiely’s affectionate contempt for the four of them illustrates his conversance with even the most brooding figures of the Irish past; he identifies quotations by Joyce and Yeats, for example, as “extravagant statements by two well-known Irishmen.”

BibliographyCasey, Daniel J. Benedict Kiely. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1974. In this introductory essay, the author tends to cast Kiely as a traditional Irish storyteller. This approach is a reliable guide to one of Kiely’s most important characteristics, but it needs to be developed more fully than in this rather generalized work.Dunleavy, Janet Egleson. “Mary Lavin, Elizabeth Bowen, and a New Generation: The Irish Short Story at Midcentury.” In The Irish Short Story: A Critical History, edited by James F. Kilroy. Boston: Twayne, 1984. The new generation in question is the one which emerged in the 1950’s. Kiely is correctly identified as one of its important members. The case for Kiely’s distinctive contribution to the genre is plausibly, if briefly, advanced. A sense of that contribution is clarified by Kiely being seen in the context of the Irish short-story’s development.Eckley, Grace. Benedict Kiely. Boston: Twayne, 1972. The most comprehensive account of Kiely’s work. In particular, the significance of the relationship between his fiction and nonfiction is discussed. Kiely’s novels also receive an attentive reading. Supplemented by a useful chronology and a bibliography.Foster, John Wilson. Forces and Themes in Ulster Fiction. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1974. The most incisive criticism of Kiely’s work is to be found here, especially in pages 72 to 81 and 91 to 100. The author relates Kiely’s work both to its social and literary backgrounds. In particular, the tendency of Kiely’s fiction toward the mythic is the subject of much valuable discussion. The main focus of the discussion is Kiely’s short fiction.Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996. An important study of the development of Irish literature from Oscar Wilde to the present day.Kiely, Benedict. Interview by Richard H. Brown. Publishers Weekly 228 (November 22, 1985): 54. A brief biographical sketch, including an interview in which Kiely discusses his career and his novel Nothing Happens in Carmincross; Kiely talks about the influence of Yeats, Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner on his work.O’Grady, Thomas B. “Echoes of William Carleton: Benedict Kiely and the Irish Oral Tradition.” Studies in Short Fiction 28 (Summer, 1991): 321-330. Discusses similarities between Carleton’s and Kiely’s stories, particularly their narrative voice of the old storyteller or fireside seanchaí of the Irish peasantry. Discusses Kiely’s first-person narratives, his creation of a storytelling occasion, and his artful manner of telling.Pelaschiar, Laura. Writing the North: The Contemporary Novel in Northern Ireland. Trieste: Edizioni Parnaso, 1998. Kiely is one of several writers in a study of “Troubles fiction.”Scanlan, Margaret. “The Unbearable Present: Northern Ireland in Four Contemporary Novels.” Études Irlandaises: Revue Française d’Histoire, Civilisation, et Littérature de l’Irlande 10 (1985): 145-161. Among the works considered is Kiely’s novella about civil strife in Northern Ireland, Proxopera. Kiely is not generally considered a Northern Irish writer which distorts his achievement in certain key respects. The article isolates the distinct contribution made by Proxopera to contemporary writing about Northern Ireland.
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