Tuam, Galway, Ireland
St. Jarlath’s College
Queen's University of Ireland
Manchester, United Kingdom
Victoria University of Manchester
Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany
University of Freiburg
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O'Neill attended St. Jarlath’s College in Tuam for 5 years from 1893. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in modern literature from Queen’s College (now Queen's University of Ireland), which he attended from 1898 till 1901. He was also educated at Kuno Meyer’s School of Irish Learning in 1903. Additionally, O'Neill studied under John Strachen, classical and Celtic scholar, at Victoria College (now Victoria University of Manchester). In 1907 O'Neill became a student of University of Freiburg.
O'Neill wrote five novels. Wind from the North, his first novel, met with critical acclaim upon publication in 1934. The protagonist of the story, an unnamed Dublin clerk, wakes up in the eleventh century after being hit by a tram. According to Dictionary of Irish Literature reviewer M. Kelly Lynch, the novel “often achieves a chilling epic quality through the conflict that rages within its protagonist.” Lynch went on to describe the clerk’s struggle to find his place in the universe as an echo of the archetypal quest for man’s Ancestral Self, a belief based on the writings of philosopher Karl Jung.
Though it took him ten years to write his first novel, O’Neill completed his second and third novels in quick succession. Land under England came out in 1935 and was greeted with critical acclaim in both America and England. Set in northern England, the hero of the novel, Anthony Julian, disappears beneath an ancient Roman wall on his family’s property. There he meets his long ago lost father, who has been living among the mind-controlling descendants of the ancient Romans. In the context of pre-war England, the story becomes “a powerful political allegory about individualism and totalitarianism,” according to a Publishers Weekly critic in a review of the 1981 reprint. Arthur O. Lewis called Land under England “a work of power,” in St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers. According to C. Gerald Fraser in the New York Times Book Review, “this novel stands halfway between scientific and satiric fantasy.”
Day of Wrath, published in 1936, also contains a Political allegory about the situation in Europe. According to Lynch, the novel “shows how man will behave when the thin crust of civilization that separates him from his primitive self is broken by a Worldwide war.”
Philip, published in 1940, is a historical romance that tells the story of a doctor who travels to Jerusalem several weeks before Christ’s crucifixion. Lynch considered the novel “remarkably evocative and structurally flawless,” marking “the high point in O’Neill’s literary achievement.” O’Neill published one more full-length work, Chosen by the Queen, which was published in 1947, before retiring to southern France. The move, however, proved to be disastrous, and O’Neill—with a broken kneecap and depleted savings account—and his wife returned to Ireland shortly thereafter. He published some short serial entries of his final project, “Pages from the Journal of Edmund Shakespeare,” in the Dublin Magazine.
O'Neill was a member of Irish Academy of Letters.
Quotes from others about the person
““Day of Wrath is a prophetic potboiler about an airwar involving ‘the Yellow Alliance’ and Nazi aggressors against Russia, ‘the Latin Alliance,’ and, eventually Great Britain and the United States; the aftermath of its Poison gas and thermite bombs is a vivid picture of die breakdown of civilized behavior, but it is not especially exciting either as science fiction or as a novel.””
O'Neill married Mary Devenport, a National College of Art student, in 1908.