O'Shea, Pat 1931–
O'SHEA, Pat 1931–
(Catherine Patricia Shiels O'Shea)
Born January 22, 1931, in Galway, Ireland; daughter of Patrick Joseph (a carpenter) and Bridget (a homemaker) Shiels; married John Joseph O'Shea (a chemist), September 12, 1953 (separated, 1960); children: James. Education: Attended convent schools in Galway, Ireland.
Home—Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, England.
Writer. Worked as bookstore assistant, doctor's receptionist, and wages clerk.
Society of Authors.
British Arts Council Drama bursary, 1967; The Hounds of the Morrigan was cited on the Horn Book magazine honor list in 1987.
Finn MacCool and the Small Men of Deeds (fiction), illustrated by Stephen Lavis, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1987.
The Magic Bottle (fiction), illustrated by Stephen Lavis, Hippo (London, England), 1999.
The Hounds of the Morrigan has been translated into Danish, French, German, Italian, Dutch, and Spanish.
A native of Ireland, Pat O'Shea is best known as an author and storyteller who draws deeply on Irish mythology to craft tales of fantasy for children of all ages. Although O'Shea began her publishing career relatively late, she gained acclaim as an accomplished and powerful storyteller with her first book, The Hounds of the Morrigan. The work was widely reviewed both in the United States and in England, where it was originally published. In assessing O'Shea's writing in Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, Pat Donlon wrote that "it is rare that an author emerges with a first novel with such style and assurance."
Although The Hounds of the Morrigan is an original work, O'Shea draws deeply on traditional Irish folklore and fantasy to relate the story. The basic plot revolves around the adventures of Pidge and his sister Brigit, both of whom are charged with the responsibility of conquering Morrigan, the Irish goddess of war, and thus saving the world from destruction. The idea for the story, explained O'Shea in a letter to CA, came from a dream she herself had when her son was six years old. Wrote O'Shea: "In my dream, a fearful giant was terrorizing a whole country and nothing could stop him, because he couldn't be killed. Whenever he was given what should have been a mortal blow and he fell to the ground, his shadow would break in pieces—and, always, in a very little time—his shadow would pull together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle and he would revive, roaring with laughter." The Hounds of the Morrigan includes a similar mythic confrontation between good and evil, with a rich cast of characters that includes talking spiders, earwigs, frogs, an ass, and a fox. Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Brian Jacomb said that despite O'Shea's reliance on Irish mythological stories, the tale is related simply and with humor, thus making the book accessible to younger readers.
It took O'Shea more than ten years to complete The Hounds of the Morrigan. Upon completion, the work covered nearly 450 pages. Yet, said Jacomb, the book is "never a dull one," and it could "bring the whole family together for several weeks." Also commenting on the length of the book, Junior Bookshelf reviewer M. Crouch commented that even though the story is long and complicated, "everything dove-tails beautifully." Additionally, O'Shea has garnered critical attention for the successful blending of myth and fantasy in The Hounds of the Morrigan. Several critics deemed the work a classic in children's literature. Among these was Emma Letley, who wrote in Times Literary Supplement that the volume was "an original amalgam of classic features and qualities and a contemporary recasting of traditional elements … [that] should take its place alongside such established nineteenth-century works as George MacDonald's fairy-tales." Similarly reflecting on O'Shea's writing abilities, Crouch praised "the breadth of vision, the imaginative force, the mastery of dialogue, which mark this book indelibly as a major contribution of the literature of fantasy, as a great 'read' and as a very big bundle of fun!"
In Finn MacCool and the Small Men of Deeds, once again, Irish legend and mythology are central elements of O'Shea's writing. In fact, the work is a retelling of the classic Irish legend about Finn MacCool, a proverbial Irish hero. In the story, MacCool responds to a request for help by the king of giants. The protagonist's mission is to prevent the kidnapping of the ruler's son. Accompanied by eight little men, MacCool travels to the Giant King's castle where he, although unable to prevent the kidnapping, manages to rescue the prince from the evil witch who had captured him. Although Finn MacCool relates a traditional and well-known Irish legend, O'Shea has been widely praised for her skillful retelling of the fable. In her appraisal of Finn MacCool, Horn Book reviewer Elizabeth S. Watson observed that O'Shea is a "true teller of tales" in "the grand tradition." Junior Bookshelf contributor M. Crouch called the work "a small masterpiece." And reviewing the work for the Times Literary Supplement, Irish poet Matthew Sweeney said that "like the best narrators in the oral tradition, Pat O'Shea is … great … for telling a story and making it [her] own."
O'Shea once told CA: "I have always written, rejecting chances of further education in favor of self-teaching. The masters are already there on bookshelves—we can learn by reading good writers and valuing excellence and by teaching ourselves to be self-critical."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Volume 18, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Twentieth Century Children's Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Books for Your Children, spring, 1986, review of The Hounds of the Morrigan, p. 22.
Horn Book, March-April, 1988, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Finn MacCool and the Small Men of Deeds, pp. 219-220.
Junior Bookshelf, February, 1986, M. Crouch, review of The Hounds of the Morrigan, pp. 44-46; February, 1988, M. Crouch, review of Finn MacCool and the Small Men of Deeds, pp. 51-52.
New York Times Book Review, September 7, 1986, review of The Hounds of the Morrigan, p. 26; February 28, 1988, review of Finn MacCool and the Small Men of Deeds, p. 25.
Times Literary Supplement, November 29, 1985, Emma Letley, review of The Hounds of the Morrigan, p. 1359; March 11, 1988, review of Finn MacCool and the Small Men of Deeds, p. 289.
Washington Post Book World, June 8, 1986, Brian Jacomb, review of The Hounds of the Morrigan, p. 11; November 8, 1987, Matthew Sweeney, review of Finn MacCool and the Small Men of Deeds, p. 22.