On the outskirts of Armagh on the Loughall Road, there was a small hamlet of fifty tiny houses built for the workers of Duncairne Spinning Mill. It was here that John O’Connor was born on 4th April 1920 and here that he lived with his family. His father, Johnny, was a First World War Somme veteran who returned in 1916 with shrapnel injuries to his leg and head. He was a cobbler by trade and he eked out a modest living with his wife Kitty by running a little shop from their tiny kitchen in the Mill Row.
It was a simple life, dictated by the working mill, the river floods and the simplicity of the lives lived there.
The family moved from the Mill Row in 1932, to a ‘grand’ house by comparison at St. Columba’s Terrace, Banbrook Hill.
John left school in the mid-1930s and worked, briefly, as a telegram boy. His career with the post office was short-lived as he much preferred lying on the banks of the Callan River dreaming and crafting his stories. He became a prolific writer, producing pieces for local newspapers, a large number of short stories and several documentary programmes for the BBC under the encouraging eye of his close friend and mentor Sam Hanna Bell.
His only novel, Come Day – Go Day, was described as a ‘masterpiece’ by Benedict Kiely, beautifully capturing the ‘wonder, danger and magic of ordinary days’.
In the early 1950’s John O’Connor travelled to Papua New Guinea and then Australia, where he died suddenly from peritonitis in Ayr, near Townsville, in December 1959. O’Connor’s emergence as a storyteller of genius did not happen in a vacuum. His immersion in the cultural and literary traditions of his native City in particular, and County Armagh in general, is evident in his work. The people and environment were his material, local schools and institutions fed his creativity.
Come Day – Go Day was first published by Golden Eagle Books Limited in Dublin in 1948 and then republished by Blackstaff Press in 1984. In 1984 Sam Hanna Bell said, “We’ve had to wait 36 years for the reappearance of this gallery of beautifully-drawn characters.”
We have waited a further 32 years to see this next edition of Come Day – Go Day published by Liberties Press, Dublin, and launched in November 2016. In their editor’s words,” The Liberties Press is delighted to be reissuing John O’Connor’s classic novel Come Day – Go Day. We hope that the new publication will help bring the work of this important author to the wider audience that it – and he – deserves.” O’Connor had no political or social axe to grind – no borders or boundaries in his thinking. His only interest was in good writing.
Now, a new generation of writers, poets, film-makers, and their audiences, will gather in Armagh to celebrate and enjoy the beauty of language in all its forms, to revisit the work of John O’Connor, and to take inspiration from his beautiful City, and from each other.