How O’Reilly Got His Name

November 2, 2011

Dia duit, or hello again. Once  more a reader’s question has prompted a blog—and has given me an idea for a bit of labour saving too. Please let me expand, and answer the question first.

Willa Bee Baker wanted to know if Fingal and Flahertie were common names in Ireland and how did O’Reilly get them. I’ll tell you.

I first started writing a column in the nineties for a medical magazine, Stitches: The Journal of Medical Humour. Originally I had told stories of my undergraduate days in the faculty of medicine at Queen’s University, Belfast. The electronic files for these, alas are lost. After six years the material was beginning to run thin so I asked my editor, Simon Hally, if I could move on to tales from general practice. During my time as a trainee Obs/Gyn I, like most of my contemporaries, moonlighted, filling in at weekends and in the nights for local GPs.

The result was a monthly column about an irascible country GP who was not patterned on any one individual, but on physical and character traits drawn from some of the men, and at that time nearly all physicians were men, for whom I had worked. He became the stock for the Irish Country Doctor novels.

In my novels I like to write in the third person, in the point of view of certain characters. In the columns I cast myself by name as the first person narrator, often bewildered, frequently the butt of the jokes, a Stan Laurel to the principle character’s Oliver Hardy. This allowed me, the story-teller, to make asides without indulging in authorial intrusion.

The columns would only work if the main character was larger than life. I believe those of you who have read the Irish Country novels would agree that Doctor O’Reilly is. His surname comes from the Irish Ó’Raghallaigh, ‘grandson of Raghallach’, thought to be derived from ragh meaning ‘race’ and ceallach, meaning, ‘sociable’—and O’Reilly certainly is. His ancestor who might or might not have been perished at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

And my O’Reilly needed a Christian name and middle name.

When I wrote the first column I had been reading Richard Ellman’s wonderful biography of Oscar Wilde, that is in full, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. I stole Fingal (literally, fair foreigner) and Flahertie, dropping the O’which in the Irish system of naming boys indicates, ‘grandson of.’ In Oscar Wilde’s case his O’Flahertie meant, ‘grandson of the prince.’ O’Reilly’s grandfather was a landed gentleman, but Fingal’s second name simply means, ‘prince.’

In An Irish Country Doctor O’Reilly explains to Barry Laverty that his father, a professor of literature named his son for Oscar Wilde. In A Dublin Student Doctor O’Reilly’s father explains to his son why Professor O’Reilly chose the names and those of Fingal’s elder brother, Lars Porsena.

Are the names common in Ireland? O’Reilly’s progenitors the Reilly’s were brilliant businessmen so much so their name became Irish slang for money—hence, a life of Reilly meant, ‘being in the money.’ Reilly is among the first fifteen names in Ireland. Fingal is fairly common as a boy’s name. Flahertie? I’ve never met anyone with that as a pre-name—except Oscar Wilde—and of course, O’Reilly.

So many folks have wanted to know about my early writing about Fingal Flahertie that very soon I’ll be releasing some of my first magazine columns on my website and on Face Book to tide O’Reilly fans through the fallow period until the next novel.

And that, by a circuitous route, brings to me to the labour-saving bit. It’s delightful that so many of you are interested enough to ask me questions. I’d love to answer every one individually. I ask you to remember that I spend every working day on the keyboard. One solution, and I hope you can accept it, is that I’ll collect up the week’s questions and try to answer them all in one blog.

In the meantime I’ll go on enjoying your Facebook comments, be relieved that I have sent the manuscript of book 7, set in Ballybucklebo, to my agent, and am starting getting into book 8.

Slan Leat. Pat Taylor.

Fingal O’Reilly, Irish Doctor

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An Irish Country Wedding book trailer