PATRICK GRIFFIN acknowledges how a Kilkenny writer was instrumental in the launch of the literary careers of so many of today’s Irish writers.


There is the much-loved fashion we have of drawing up the ‘Top Ten’ lists of almost everything under the sun. But ask anyone to compile a ‘Top Ten’ list of Irish fiction writers, living or dead, and it is likely that one name will not make that list.

That man, Francis MacManus, still has a profound influence on today’s short story writers, but sadly his own writings have slipped into obscurity.

His name, linked to a long-lasting fiction writing competition, trips off the tongue of most people in Ireland who have an interest in the craft of writing. This applies especially to those who write in the short story form.
But just who was this man whose name stands separate from the vast body of written work he created?

Francis MacManus lived in an unpretentious house overlooking the River Nore. From his window he had an overview of the city of Kilkenny. He would have had a clear view of Kilkenny Castle, the magnificent tower adjoining St. Canice’s Cathedral, the 13th century Dominican church known as the Black Abbey and the remains of St. Francis Abbey.
Below his ran the River Nore whose waters provided the raw energy which powered the city’s woollen mills, sawmills, grain mills and a brewery.

This thriving city, itself steeped in history, was to have a profound influence on his writings and formed the backdrop for many of his novels. But the written and spoken words to which he devoted the major portion of his all too short life were to come much later.

Family tradition pre-ordained that he would become a teacher, despite the fact that initially the world of science seemed to have been his focus.

He was awarded a first place in Ireland in science, and offered a scholarship to the National University of Ireland. But, because of family circumstances and the lack of the financial support he would have needed, he studied to be a national school teacher instead. Subsequently he spent some years teaching at Synge Street Christian Brothers School in Dublin.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own