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Universitatea Dunrea De Jos din Galai

Facultatea de Litere
Departamentul de engleza


(Curs opional de literatura englez)

Anul II, RE, ER, EF

Professor Ioana Mohor-Ivan, PhD






familiarizarea studentilor cu particularitatile istorico-culturale ale spatiului


evidentierea specificului celtic al traditiei literare irlandeze;

depistarea traiectului temelor si motivelor literare celtice in literatura irlandeza

moderna si contemporana;







personalizarea informatiei teoretice si modelelor de analiza de text oferite in


Tipuri si modalitati de activitate didactica:

prelegere teoretica

analiza de text



Beginnings in the Celtic world: Celtic society and culture.
Early Irish Literature. The Mythological Cycle. The World of the Sidh in W.B.
Yeatss early poems. Feminine Revisions of the Sidh.
The Cycle of Ulster. Cuchulain and the Yeatsian theatre.
The Cycle of Munster. From Fenian Stories to Joyces Finnegans Wake.
The King Cycle of Tales. The Madness of Sweeney. The Sweeney Figure in
Irish Literature, from Flann OBrien to Seamus Heaney.

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing

Chapter 1 - Beginnings in the Celtic World

1.1. Celtic Tribes
1.2. Celtic Society
1.3. Celtic Religion
1.4. Celtic Literature
Long, long ago, beyond the misty space
Of twice a thousand years,
In irinn old there dwelt a mighty race,
Taller than Roman spears.
Like oaks and towers
They had a giant grace,
With feet as fleet as deers'...
With winds and waves they made their settling-place.
("The Celts", by Thomas d'Arcy McGee)

1.1. Celtic Tribes:

The Celts are a grouping of Indo-European peoples recognized as speaking one or
another dialect of a common Celtic language. Correspondingly, the classification of
the Celtic peoples takes into consideration the linguistic factor:

Continental Celtic

Gaullish (unknown number of dialects)



Insular Celtic






Irish Gaelic

Scottish Gaelic


The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing

Around 500 B.C., Ireland was settled by a Q-Celtic people, the Gaels, who spread
through the whole island. In the course of the next centuries, a number of historical
provinces came into being:
a) Ulster (Ulaid), in the north of Ireland;
b) Munster (Mumu), in the south of Ireland;
c) Connacht (Connachta), in the west of Ireland;
d) Leinster (Laigin), in the east of Ireland;
e) Meath (Mide), the residence of Irelands High Kings, in the middle, with Tara
as its capital.
The Hill of Tara, known as "Teamhair", was once the ancient seat of power in Ireland
142 kings are said to have reigned here in prehistoric and historic times. In ancient
Irish religion and mythology Tara was the sacred place of dwelling for the gods. Saint
Patrick is said to have come to Tara to confront the ancient religion of the pagans at
its most powerful site.

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing

1.2. Celtic Society:

The following attributes characteristic of the Celtic social organisation point to the
Celts as being an archetypal Indo-European people:

Tribal: the greatest political unit is the tribe (tuath), led by a king (r)

Familiar: kinship groups form the basis of the tribe

Hierarchical (Celtic society is divided into three main classes):

Equites: warrior aristocracy

Druides: the learned class (draoi, fl, breitheamb, seanchadh)

Plebs: the body of freemen, smiths, leeches and small farmers

Pastoral: the Celts had no towns in the modern understanding of the term,
their hill-forts were of primarily military significance. Cattle-raising was
regarded as a superior form of social activity, while farming was relegated
to the plebs.

1.3. Celtic Religion:

The religion of the Celts exhibits the following characteristics:

Pantheism: the Celts believed in the consciousness of all things. This

explains their worship of trees, water, stones (La Fil), or the various
animal cults (boars, fish, bulls, birds etc.)

Metempsychosis: the souls were immortal, they could migrate from the
human world to the Otherworld (e.g. Tr-na-n-og); they could dwell within
other creatures and objects (shape-changing)

Polytheism: divine organisation mirrors that of the Celtic society; Celtic

gods and goddesses belong to a particular tribe, which is based on kinship

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing

1.4. Celtic Literature:

The learned class of the Celtic society are the creators of the early Irish literary texts,
which, until the coming of Christianity in the 5th century, are transmitted by means of
an oral tradition.
This oral character of Irish literature is reflected in the division of the whole corpus of
early Irish literary texts according to the tale-type to which they belong (as evidenced
in their titles):

Togla (destructions)

Tna (cattle-raids)

Tochmarca (wooings)

Fessa (feasts)

Aislinga (visions)

Aitheda (elopments

Serca (loves)

Aided (violent deaths)

Catha (battles)

Immrama (voyages)

Dinnseanchas (tales of place names)

After the arrival of Christianity and the adaptation of the Latin alphabet to the Irish
language, the tales are collected and incorporated into four main cycles, namely:


Ulster (The Red Branch)

Finn (Fenian, Munster)

King (historical)

Write a 4000-word essay on Cultural Landmarks of the Celtic World (8 p.)

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing

Chapter 2 - The Mythological Cycle and its Modern Reworkings

2.1. The mythic invasions
2.2. The Celtic pantheon
Texts: The Tuatha D Danaan;
The Fate of the Children of Lir
The Song of Amhergin
2.3. The Sidh
2.4. Mythological masks and the Sidh in W.B. Yeatss early
Texts: The Stolen Child
The Man Who Dreamed of Fairyland
To Ireland in the Coming Times
The Song of the Wandering Aengus
2.5. Feminine revisions of the Sidh
Texts: Eavan Boland, The Woman Turns Herself
into a

Nuala Ni Dhomnaill, Swept Away

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing

2.1. The Mythic Invasions

Though all the tales included in the existing corpus of early Irish literary texts display
a strong mythological component, by a process of exclusion the mythological cycle
includes only those stories that intend to provide a mythical history of the occupation
of Ireland, previous to the arrival of the Gaels.
Most of these texts are preserved in a 12 th century manuscript known as Lebor
Gabla renn (Book of Invasions of Ireland).
According to this manuscript, the main settlers of Ireland are:

Cesair (granddaughter of Noah) and Fintan Mac Bochra. They were

the first to invade Ireland at the time of the Flood.

The Partholanians (named after their leader Partholan, son of Sera,

who was the king of Greece) arrived 312 years after Cesair and her

They encountered the Fomorians (a race of ugly, misshapen giants,

who lived on Tory Island), whom they managed to defeat.

The Nemedians (followers of Nemed, a descendant of Japheth)

arrived from Spain 30 years after the extinction of the Partholonians
from pestilence. They were attacked by the Fomorians, and the few
survivors fled to Greece.

The Firbolgs (descendants of the Nemedians) returned to Ireland 230

years later, but their power in Ireland only lasted for 37 years before
the Tuatha D Danann arrived.

2.2. The Celtic Pantheon

The Tuatha D Danann is the tribe of the Irish gods who conquer and settle Ireland.
Here follows an extract from Mary Heaneys Over Nine Waves, in which their arrival
is described:

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


LONG AGO the Tuatha De Danaan came to Ireland in a great fleet of ships to
take the land from the Fir Bolgs who lived there. These newcomers were the
People of the Goddess Danu and their men of learning possessed great
powers and were revered as if they were gods. They were accomplished in
the various arts of druidry, namely magic, prophesy and occult lore. They had
learnt their druidic skills in Falias, Gorias, Findias and Murias, the four cities of
the northern islands.
When they reached Ireland and landed on the western shore, they set fire to
their boats so that there would be no turning back. The smoke from the
burning boats darkened the sun and filled the land for three days, and the Fir
Bolgs thought the Tuatha De Danaan had arrived in a magic mist.
The invaders brought with them the four great treasures of their tribe. From
Falias they brought Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny. They brought it to Tara and
it screamed when a rightful king of Ireland sat on it. From Gorias they brought
Lughs spear. Anyone who held it was invincible in battle. From Findias they
brought Nuadas irresistible sword. No one could escape it once it was
unsheathed. From Murias they brought the Dagdas cauldron. No one ever left
it hungry.
Nuada was the king of the Tuatha De Danaan and he led them against the Fir
Bolgs. They fought a fierce battle on the Plain of Moytura, the first one the
Tuatha De Danaan fought in a pace of that name. Thousands of the Fir Bolgs
were killed, a hundred thousand in all, and among them their king, Eochai
Mac Erc. Many of the Tuatha De Danaan died too, and their king, Nuada, had
his arm severed from his body in the fight.
In the end the Tuatha De Danaan overcame the Fir Bolgs and routed them
until only a handful of them survived. These survivors boarded their ships and
set sail to the far-scattered islands around Ireland.
When the Fir Bolgs had fled, the Tuatha De Danaan took over the country and
went with their treasures to Tara to establish themselves as masters of the
island. But another struggle lay ahead. Though they had defeated the Fir
Bolgs, a more powerful enemy awaited them. These were the Formorians, a
demon-like race who lived in the islands to which the Fir Bolgs had fled.
(from Marie Heaney, Over Nine Waves, London, Faber and Faber, 1994.)

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing

The Tuatha D Danann are the tribe of the Goddess Dana (or Danu), a mothergoddess signifying fertility and plenty, married to the god Bile (or Belenos), a skycentred deity.
The father to most of the gods of the tribe is the Dagda, the good God in the Celtic
sense of good at anything. A figure of immense power, he is often pictured as a
rustic old man, clothed in garb, and possessing three magical objects: a gigantic club
(with which he can both kill enemies and cure friends), a cauldron that never gets
exhausted, a harp that plays by itself.
The Dagda is the father of Ogma (the Irish god of eloquence), and Brigid (or the
"Fiery Arrow or Power".) Brigid is a Celtic three-fold goddess. Her three aspects are
(1) Fire of Inspiration as patroness of poetry, (2) Fire of the Hearth, as patroness of
healing and fertility, and (3) Fire of the Forge, as patroness of smithcraft and martial
arts. She is mother to the craftsmen.
Through the goddess Boann (whose spirit lives within the Boyne river and is
goddess of poetic inspiration and powerful spiritual insight) the Dagda fathered
Aengus (Oengus) Og, the Celtic god of youth and love, described in the following
terms by the Irish poet A.E.:
". . . An energy or love or eternal desire has gone forth which seeks through a
myriad forms of illusion for the infinite being it has left. It is Angus the Young, an
eternal joy becoming love, a love changing into desire, and leading on to earthly
passion and forgetfulness of its own divinity. The eternal joy becomes love when
it has first merged itself in form and images of a divine beauty that dance before it
and lure it from afar. This is the first manifested world, the Tr nan g or World of
Immortal Youth. The love is changed into desire as it is drawn deeper into nature,
and this desire builds up the Mid-world or World of the Waters. And, lastly, as it
lays hold of the earthly symbol of its desire it becomes on Earth that passion
which is spiritual death . . .
One of the most beautiful lyrical tales in the cycle, Aislinge Oengusa (The Vision of
Aengus) recounts how Aengus, in a dream, has the vision of a beautiful girl, who
prompts a quest that will take years until he will find her shape-changed in a bird.
Manannn MacLir is the god of the oceans, who lives in Tr-na-n-og (The Land of
Eternal Youth) and is married to the beautiful goddess Fand, whose name is
translated as The Pearl of Beauty. Stories of rebirth and the Otherworld are
associated with him, while his name is commemorated in that of the Isle of Man.
Manannns father, Lir, was an Irish god who dwelt on the cliffs of Antrim. One story
in the cycle (The Story of the Children of Lir) recounts the tribulations of his other
four children who were transformed into swans by an evil step-mother, and endured
cruel hardship for many centuries until restored to their human shape. This story,
among others, was translated into English by Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932) in
a collection of Irish myths entitled Gods and Fighting Men:

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


The Fate of the Children of Lir

Then Lir came to the edge of the lake, and he took notice of the swans having
the voice of living people, and he asked them why was it they had that voice.
I will tell you that, Lir, said Fionnuala. We are your own four children, that
are after being destroyed by your wife and by the sister of our own mother,
through the dint of her jealousy. Is there any way to put you into your own
shapes again? said Lir. there is no way, said Fionnuala, for all the men of
the world could not help us till we have gone through our time, and that will
not be, she said, till the end of nine hundred years.
When Lir and his people heard that, they gave out three great heavy shouts
of grief and sorrow and crying.
Is there a mind with you, said Lir, to come to us on the land, since you
have your own sense and your memory yet? We have not the power, said
Fionnuala, to live with any person at all from this time; but we have our
language, the Irish, and we have the power to sing sweet music, and it is
enough to satisfy the whole race of men to be listening to that music. And let
you stop here tonight, she said, and we will be making music for you.
So Lir and his people stopped there listening to the music of the swans,
and they slept there quietly that night. And Lir rose up early on the morning of
the morrow and he made this complaint:
It is time to go from this place. I do not sleep though I am in my lying down.
To be parted from my dear children, it is that is tormenting my heart.
It is a bad net I put over you, bringing Aoife, daughter of Oilell of Aran, to
the house. I would never have followed that advice if I had known what it
would bring upon me.
O Fionnuala, and comely Conn, O Aodh, O Fiachra of the beautiful arms; it
is not ready I am to go away from you, from the border of the harbour where
you are.
Then Lir went on to the palace of Bodb Dearg, and there was a welcome
before him there; and he got a reproach from Bodb Dearg for not bringing his
children along with him. My grief! said Lir. It is not I that would not bring my
children along with me; it was Aoife there beyond, your own foster-child and
the sister of their mother, that put them in the shape of four swans on Loch
Dairbhreach, in the sight of the whole of the men of Ireland; but they have
their sense with them yet, and their reason, and their voice, and their Irish.
Bodb Dearg gave a great start when he heard that, and he knew what Lir
said was true, and he gave a very sharp reproach to Aoife, and he said: This
treachery will be worse for yourself in the end, Aoife, than to the children of
Lir. And what shape would you yourself think worst of being in? he said.
I would think worst of being a witch of the air, she said. It is into that
shape I will put you now, said Bodb. And with that he struck her with a Druid
wand, and she was turned into a witch of the air there and then, and she went
away on the wind in that shape, and she is in it yet, and will be in it to the end
of life and time.
Cath Maige Tuired (The Battle of the Plain of Tuired) is the best-known tale of the
cycle, dealing specifically with the climactic battle between the Tuatha and the
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Fomori. The God Lugh assumes the leadership of the tutha and leads them to
victory after he himself kills Balor of the Evil Eye, the most formidable of the fomori.
Lugh becomes thus a divine archetype of kingship, while he is also the
Samildnach (the many-gifted one), mastering all the arts and the crafts, moving
between all the activities of society and be patron of each one.
The Irish female deities usually indicate sexuality and fertility, with powerful magical
and warlike connotations. There are five goddesses identified with war, and inspiring
battle madness. The Morrgan ("terror" or "phantom queen") is the greatest of them,
being associated with war and death on the battlefield, sometime appearing in the
form of a carrion crow. Other goddesses of war are the Badb (fury), Dea (the
hateful one) Nemain (frenzy), while Macha (who is also goddess of the horses) is
also included here. Another triad is formed by the goddesses identified with the
sovranty and spirit of Ireland, represented as three sisters, Eire, Banba and Fotla.
Some of these deities attracted singular worship, associated with the festivals that
marked the Celtic year:

Samhain: celebrated around 31 October, it began the Celtic year. It was a

time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld was thought to be
so thin that the dead could return to warm themselves at the hearths of the
living, and some of the living - especially poets - were able to enter the
Otherworld through the doorways of the sidhe, such as that at the Hill of Tara
in Ireland.

Imbolc (or Oimelc) celebrated at lambing time, around 31 January, it marked

the beginning of the end of winter. Women met to celebrate the return of the
maiden aspect of the Goddess Brigid.

Beltain, celebrated around 1 May, was a fire festival sacred to the god
Belenos, the Shining One. Cattle were let out of winter quarters and driven
between two fires in a ritual cleansing ceremony that may have had practical
purposes too. It was a time for feasts and fairs and for the mating of animals.

Lughnasadh was a summer festival lasting for two weeks that fell around 31
July. It was said to have been introduced to Ireland by the god Lugh, and so
was sacred to this god. This festival was celebrated with competitions of skill,
including horse-racing (perhaps this is why the festival was also linked to the
goddess Macha)

2.3. The Milesians

The last invaders of Ireland, who overthrew the power of the Celtic gods, were the
Milesians, whom many view as the forefathers of the Gaels.
According to the Book of Invasions, the Milesians were the sons of Ml Espine
(Miled), whose ancestors had originally come from Scythia, but had then settled in
Amergin (a warrior and a bard) was the leader of the invasion. His first words upon
landing were the poem that is known today as the "Song of Amergin":

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


The Song of Amergin

I am a stag: of seven times,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the hill,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?
I am a spear: that rears for blood,
I am a salmon: in a pool,
I am a lure: from paradise,
I am a hill: where poets walk,
I am a boar: ruthless and red,
I am a breaker: threatening doom,
I am a tide: that drags to death,
I am an infant: who but I
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen arch?
I am the womb: of every holt,
I am the blaze: on every hill
I am the queen: of every hive
I am the shield: for every head,
I am the grave: of every hope.
(Transl. by Robert Graves)
The three sister goddesses of the D Danann, Banba, Fodla and Eriu, asked the
Milesians to name Ireland after one of them. It was Eriu who won the honour. Ireland
became known as Erin or Erinn.
The Tuatha D Danann, though defeated, did not leave Erin, but continued to live
there, with their conquerors. Manannan (in other accounts, the Dagda) placed a
powerful spell of invisibility over the many parts of Ireland; magical palaces were
hidden under the mound. The places were called Sidh or Sidhe. The Tuatha D
Danann became spirit people, or fairies.


The World of the Sdhe

After their being defeated by the Milesians, the Danaan were allotted spiritual
They became spirit people, inhabiting the sdhe (another name for the Otherworld),
which was associated with barrows, tumuli, mounds, hills.
This new habitat led to another name for the Danaan, aes sdhe (people of the Sdh)
or fairy people.
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Some important figures emerging in Irish fairy lore are:

The Bean Sdhe (woman of the hills): a female fairy attached to a particular
family. She had the function of keening like a mortal woman when a family
member died.

Leprechaun: a diminutive guardian of a hidden treasure (origin: Lughchromain little stooping Lugh)

Puca (Puck):a supernatural animal who took people for nightmarish rides; a
mischievous spirit who led travellers astray.

Slua Sdhe: the fairy host who travel through the air at night, and are known
to 'take' mortals with them on their journeys.


The Sidhe in W. B. Yeatss Early Poems

Poet, dramatist, mystic and public figure, W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) was born to an
Anglo-Irish Protestant family, but turned into a committed Irish nationalist, becoming
thus the primary driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival a movement which
stimulated new appreciation of traditional Irish literature, encouraging the creation of
works written in the spirit of Irish culture, as distinct from English culture.
Yeats was also co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, another great symbol of the literary
revival, which served as the stage for many new Irish writers and playwrights of the
After the establishment of the Irish Free State, Yeats was appointed to the first Irish
Senate Seanad ireann in 1922 and re-appointed in 1925.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 for what the Nobel Committee
described as "his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives
expression to the spirit of a whole nation".
With regard to his poetic output, this corresponds to three main phases:

The first phase is associated with the Irish Revival of the 1890s which
brought about an upsurge of interest in Celtic myth and legend. This allowed
Yeats, as well as other writers, to bring mythical motifs and figures into their
works as symbols and expressions of Irishness past and present.


The Wanderings of Osin and Other Poems (1889)

The Countess Kathleen and Other Legends and Lyrics (1892)

The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

In the Seven Woods (1903)

The poetry of Yeatss mid-career is dominated by his commitment to Irish

nationalism. Hence the poems employ a simpler and more accessible style.
They are more public and concerned with the politics of the modern Irish


The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910)

Responsibilities (1914)

The Wilde Swans at Coole (1919)

Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921)

Yeatss later poetry is less public and more personal. The poems are
characterised by a mature lyricism, exploring contrasts between the physical
and spiritual dimensions of life, between sensuality and rationalism, between
turbulence and calm, which inform Yeatss theories of contraries and of the
progression which can result from reconciling them.


The Tower (1928)

The Winding Star (1933)

Parnells Funeral and Other Poems (1935)

Last Poems and Two Plays (1939)

It is the early poems that Yeats draws heavily on Irish myth, employing mythological
figures and mythic motifs alongside with theories drawn from occult writings (in which
he was also interested.) Though dissimilar at a first glance, the two areas bear
comparison in several aspects:

The natural (world in time, manifestation) as opposed to the supernatural

(that which is beyond manifestation);

Metaphysical content;

The exile, the quest, the voyage: symbols of the spirits journey from life to

On the basis of these, Yeats constructs his own system of opposites, which may be
seen to inform his poetry:
The Sdhe

The natural world











Water & air




The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Though opposed, points of contact may be established between the two realms,
which are associated with states that may be labelled as in-between:

Shores, lakes, islands

Twilight, dawn

Dreams, visions

In The Stolen Child (a poem based on Irish legend) the faeries beguile a child
(presumably in a dream) to come away with them.
The Stolen Child
Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flappy herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There weve hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the worlds more full of weeping than you can understand.
Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the worlds more full of weeping than you can understand.
[. . .]
Away with us hes going,
The solemn-eyed:
Hell hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Round and round the oatmeal-chest.

For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For a world more full of weeping than he can understand.
Such points of contact between the two worlds allow for visionary states, able to
produce artistic creation. But, usually, this involves a great cost: the dreamers (like
the one in The Man Who Dreamed of Fairyland) remain caught in-between the two,
never allowed to find comfort in this life, for their thoughts are constantly turned to
the world of the imagination, or spirit.
The Man who Dreamed of Faeryland
He stood among a crowd at Drumahair;
His heart hung all upon a silken dress,
And he had known at last some tenderness,
Before earth took him to her stony care;
But when a man poured fish into a pile,
It seemed they raised their little silver heads,
And sang what gold morning or evening sheds
Upon a woven world-forgotten isle
Where people love beside the ravelled seas;
That Time can never mar a lovers vows
Under that woven changeless roof of boughs:
The singing shook him out of his new ease.
He wandered by the sands of Lissadell;
His mind ran all on money cares and fears,
And he had known at last some prudent years
Before they heaped his grave under the hill;
But while he passed before a plashy place,
A lug-worm with its grey and muddy mouth
Sang that somewhere to north or west or south
There dwelt a gay, exulting, gentle race
Under the golden or the silver skies;
That if a dancer stayed his hungry foot
It seemed the sun and moon were in the fruit:
And at that singing he was no more wise.
He mused beside the well of Scanavin,
He mused upon his mockers: without fail
His sudden vengeance were a country tale,
When earthly night had drunk his body in;
But one small knot-grass growing by the pool
Sang where - unnecessary cruel voice Old silence bids its chosen race rejoice,
Whatever ravelled waters rise and fall
Or stormy silver fret the gold of day,
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


And midnight there enfold them like a fleece

And lover there by lover be at peace.
The tale drove his angry mood away.
He slept under the hill of Lugnagall;
And might have known at last unhaunted sleep
Under that cold and vapour-turbaned steep,
Now that the earth had taken man and all:
Did not the worms that spired about his bones
Proclaim with that unwearied, reedy cry
That God has laid His fingers on the sky,
That, from those fingers, glittering summer runs
Upon the dancer by the dreamless wave.
Why should those lovers that no lovers miss
Dream, until God burn Nature with a kiss?
The man has found no comfort in the grave.
In The Song of the Wandering Aengus Yeats re-works Aislinge Oengusa.
Adopting the mythological mask of the Irish god of love and youth, the poet
expresses the same predicament of the dreamer, who has a vision of the sidhe in
the form of a beautiful girl, a symbol of the perfection of the imaginative world.
The Song of the Wandering Aengus
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

2.6. The Sidhe with Contemporary Women Poets

If Irish ancestral culture allowed room for the exercise of an autonomous female
creative potential, such as evidenced in

Myth: Dana, Brigid, Eire

Folklore: Cailleach Beare (the Hag of Beare)

Society: bean fle (woman poet)

through the medieval to modern periods women are gradually excluded from the
social, political and cultural spheres, being relegated to the domestic sphere. Proof
may be found in different areas, such as:

Proverbs and formulaic expressions (e.g. the three worst curses that
can befall a village are: to have a wet thatcher, a heavy sower and a
woman poet.)

Religious constructs: the Virgin (Mother of God), Mother Ireland

Literary tradition (dominated by male poets, who employ women simply

as symbols or motifs in their texts, denying them their complexity.)

Contemporary women poets (Eavan Boland, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Eillen Ni

Chuilleanain, Eithne Strong, Medb McGuckian) are committed to the 3 Rs of Irish
feminist writing:

to resist and revise reductive images and perceptions of women and

to revive /re-posses energies related to creativity, fertility and selfsufficiency which some connect to the Celtic ideals of womanhood.

Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill (1952-) is one of the most popular of contemporary Irish

poets. Writing in Irish her work draws upon themes of ancient Irish folklore and
mythology, combined with contemporary themes of femininity, sexuality, and culture.
As she herself confesses:
Irish is a language of enormous elasticity and emotional sensitivity; of quick and
hilarious banter and a welter of references both historical and mythological; it is an
instrument of imaginative depth and scope, which has been tempered by the
community for generations until it can pick up and sing out every hint of emotional
modulation that can occur between people.
Her collections include An Dealg Droighin (1981); Far Suaithinseach (1984); Rogha
Dnta/Selected Poems (1986, 1988, 1990); Pharoh's Daughter (1990), and Feis
In Swept Away, the fairy woman becomes the carrier of a powerful female energy,
able to subvert and transform the traditional representations of the feminine:

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing



The fairy woman marched
right into my poem.
She didnt close the door.
She didnt ask.
I was too polite
to throw her out
so I decided
to act all nice:
Stay, if youre in a hurry,
and of course you are.
Sit up to the fire;
eat; have a drink.
Mind you, if I were in your house
the way youre in mine
Id go home right away,
but never mind: stay.
So she did. She got up and started
doing housework. She made the beds,
washed the dishes. Put the dirty clothes
in the machine.
When my husband came
home for his tea,
he didnt notice she wasnt me.
But Im in the fairy field
in everlasting dark.
I/m freezing, with only
the mist to cover me.
And if he wants me back
heres what he must do:
get a fine big ploughshare
and butter it well,
then make it red-hot in the fire.
Then go to the bed
where that bitch is lying
and let her have it!
Push it into her face,
burn her and scorch her,
and all the time shes going,
Ill be coming.
All the time shes going,
Ill be coming.

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The daughter of an Irish diplomat Eavan Boland (1944-) spent much of her youth
living in London and New York City.
One of Ireland's few recognized women poets, Boland addresses broad issues of
Irish national identity as well as the specific issues confronting women and mothers
in a culture that has traditionally ignored their experiences. As she herself has
As an Irish woman poet I have very little precedent. There were none in the 19th
century or early part of the 20th century. You didnt have a thriving sense of the
witness of the lived life of women poets, and what you did have was a very
compelling and at time oppressive relationship between Irish poetry and the
national tradition.
In Bolands view we all [women] exist in a mesh, web, labyrinth of associations
we ourselves are constructed by the construct images are not ornaments, they
are truths.
Her collections of poems include In Her Own Image (1980), Night Feed (1982),
Outside History (1990), In a Time of Violence (1994).
She has also written a prose memoir, Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and
the Poet in Our Time (1995).
In The Woman Turns herself Into A Fish, Boland engages directly with Yeatss The
Song of the Wondering Aengus, re-writing the mermaid image:
The Woman Turns Herself into a Fish
its done:
I turn,
I flab upward
and I am
of ecstasy,
a pale
pealing eggs
in seaweed.
Its what
I set my heart on.

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and muscling
in the sunless tons
of new freedoms
I feel
a chill pull,
a brightening,
a light, a light
and how
in my loomy cold,
my greens
she moons
in me.

Choose one of the following topics to develop into a 4000-word essay of the
argumentative type:
1. The Celtic Pantheon in its Indo-European Context (8 p.).
2. The World of the Sidhe with W.B. Yeats and Nuala NiDhumnaill (10 p).
3. The Dreamers Mermaid or the Mermaids Dream? (The Song of the
Wandering Aengus vs. The Woman Turns Herself Into a Fish) (10 p.)

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Chapter 3 - The Ulster Cycle and the Celtic Hero

3.1. The Ulster (Red Branch ) Cycle

3.2. Emin Macha
3.3. Main Characters of the Cycle
3.4. Main Tales of the Cycle
3.4.1. The Exile of the Sons of Usneach
3.4.2. Tin B Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of
3.4.3. Tin B Fraoch (The Cattle Raid of Fraoch)
3.5. Celtic myth in the theatre of Yeats:
3.5.1. The Cuchulain cycle: On Bailes Strand (1904) The Green Helmet (1910) At the Hawks Well (1916) The Only Jealousy of Emer
(1916) The Death of Cuchulain
3.6. De-constructing heroism: Nuala Ni Dhumnaills
Cuchulain I

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3.1. The Ulster (Red Branch ) Cycle

The cycle of Ulster contains a group of heroic tales relating to the Ulaid and their
military order known as the House of the Red Branch.
The main part of the Ulaid Cycle is set during the reigns of Conchobar in Ulaid
(Ulster) and Queen Medb in Connacht (Connaught).
The cycle centers on the greatest hero in Celtic myths, C Chulainn (Cu Chulainn or
The Ulaid Cycle is supposed to be contemporary to Christ (1st century BC) since
Conchobar's death coincides with the day of Christs crucifixion.
Thomas Kinsella, in the Introduction to his translation of The Cattle Raid of
Cooley, asserts the following:
The origins of the Tain are far more ancient than these manuscripts [8 th
century manuscripts in which it was preserved]. The language of the earliest form
of the story is dated to the eighth century, but some of the verse passages may
be two centuries older and it is held by most Celtic scholars that the Ulster cycle,
with the rest of early Irish literature, must have had a long oral existence before it
received a literary shape, and a few traces of Christian colour, at the hands of the
monastic scribes. As to the background of the Tain the Ulster cycle was
traditionally believed to refer to the time of Christ. This might seem to be
supported by the similarity between the barbaric world of the stories,
uninfluenced by Greece or Rome, and the La Tene Iron age civilisation of Gaul
and Britain. The Tain and certain descriptions of Gaulish society by Classical
authors have many details in common: in warfare alone, the individual weapons,
the boastfulness and courage of the warriors, the practices of cattle-raiding,
chariot-fighting and beheading.

3. 2. Emain Macha is the seat of power in Ulaid (Ulster), situated near modern
The dun (hill-fort) was named after the Red Queen Macha, said to be its founder.
Macha had used her brooch to mark the boundary of her capital, so the name Emain
Macha could mean the "Brooch of Macha".
Macha was identified as the Irish goddess of fertility, war and of horses, being one of
the aspects of Morrgan. She was portrayed as red goddess, either because she was
dressed in red or that she had red hair.
She reappeared in the Ulaid Cycle as wife of Crunnchu and was associated with the
curse placed upon the men of Ulster. In this version, Emain Macha means "The
Twins of Macha", such as asserted in one tale of the dinnseachas type, entitled the
Pangs of Ulster.

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There was a very rich landlord in Ulster, Crunniuc mac Agnomain. He lived in
a lonely place in the mountains with all his sons. His wife was dead. Once, as
he was alone in the house, he saw a woman coming toward him there, and
she was a fine woman in his eyes. She settled down and began working at
once, as though she were well used to the house. When night came, she put
everything in order without being asked. Then she slept with Crunniuc.
She stayed with him for along while afterward, and there was never a
lack of food or clothes or anything else under her care.
Soon a fair was held in Ulster. Everyone in Ulster, men and women,
boys and girs, went to the fair. Crunniuc set out for the fair with the rest, in his
best clothes and in great vigour.
It would be as well not to grow too boastful or careless in anything you
say, the woman said to him.
/that isnt likely, he said.
The fair was held. At the end of the days, the kings chariot was bought
onto the field. His chariot and horses won. The crowd said that nothing could
beat those horses.
My wife is faster, Crunniuc said.
He was taken immediately before the king and the woman was sent
for. She said to the messenger:
It would be a heavy burden for me to go and free him now. I am full
with child.
Burden? the messenger said. He will die unless you come.
She went to the fair, and her pangs gripped her. She called out to the
A mother bore each one of you! Help me! Wait till my child is born.
But she couldnt move them.
Very well, she said. A long lasting evil will come out of this on the
whole of Ulster.
What is your name? the king asked.
My name, and the name of my offspring, she said, will be given to this
place. I am Macha, daughter of Sainrith mac Imbaith.
Then she raced the chariot. As the chariot reached the end of the field,
she gave birth alongside it. She bore twins, a son a nd a daughter. The name
Emain Macha, the Twins of Macha, comes from this. As she gave birth she
creamed out that all who heard that scream would suffer from the same pangs
for five days and four nights in their times of greatest difficulty. This affliction
ever afterward, seized all the men of Ulster who were there that day, and nine
generations after them. Five days and four nights, or five nights and four days
the pangs lasted. For nine generations any Ulsterman in those pangs had no
more strength than a woman on the bed of labour. Only three classes of
people were free from the pangs of Ulster: the young boys of Ulster, the
women, and Cuchulainn.

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3.3. Main characters of the Cycle

Conchobar MacNessa was the son of Ness, or Nessa and Fachtna Fthach, a giant
and king of Ulster. Fachtna was either the brother or half-brother of Fergus Mac
In a more popular version, Conchobar's father was Cathbad, the ard-druid (high
druid) of Ulster, who later became Conchobar's adviser.
During his reign, Ulster prospered. Conchobar established a military order of elite
warriors called the Red Branch. His uncle, Fergus served as captain of the Red
Branch, and with his teaching, he produced the greatest warriors of Ulster, Conall
Cernach and Cu Chulainn.
Conchobar had many wives, including Medb (Maeve), who fled to Connacht to
become his mortal enemy.
Medb (Maeve) had actually come from the province of Leinster. Her father was
Eochaid Feidlech, king of Tara. Like her three sisters, she was at one time married to
Conchobar Mac Nessa, king of Ulster. She left Conchobar and became Conchobar's
chief enemy throughout the rest of her life.
In Connacht she had three different husbands, who each became king of the
province. As such, Medb represents the Sovereignity of Connacht. The best known
of her husbands was Ailill Mac Mata.
Medb had many children, most of them by Ailill. Apart from her Finnabair and several
other daughters, she also had seven sons, all of them with the name Maine.
Medb had many lovers, but Fergus Mac Rioch was the best known and was seen as
her most frequent lover.
C Chulainn (Cuchulain) is the greatest hero of the Ulster Cycle. Cuchulain was
the son of Deichtine and the sun god, Lugh Lamfada. Though Lugh was his father,
he called himself C Chulainn Mac Sualtam, after his stepfather, who was the
brother of Fergus Mac Roich. Cuchulain was also grandson of the great druid
Cuchulain was called Stanta at birth. His name was to change to C Chulainn
("Hound of Culann) when, still a boy, he killed a great hound belonging to Culann,
Conchobars master-smith.

3. 4. Main tales of the cycle

3. 4. 1. The Exile of the Sons of Usneach
The tale of Deirdre and Naosi, son of Uisnech, is the most famous Irish romance.
This romance of a love triangle was to influence other tales, such as The Pursuit of
Diarmait and Grainne of the Fenian Cycle and the legend of Tristan.
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It also holds Conchobar responsible for the defection of Fergus and 3000 other
warriors, including his own son, Cormac, to Ulster's traditional enemy Connacht,
when he had the sons of Uisnech put to death.
The Ulaid feasted one day in the house of Fedlimid, the chronicler of King
Conchobar, and as the feast came to an end, a girl-child was born to the wife
of Fedlimid; and a druid prophesied about her future. [Her name is to be
Deirdre. The child will grow to be a woman of wonderful beauty and will cause
enmity and trouble and will depart out of the kingdom. Many will die on
account of her.]
The Ulaid proposed to kill the child at once and so avoid the curse. But
Conchobar ordered that she be spared and reared apart, hidden from mens
eyes; and that he himself would take her for his wife. So Deirdre was
entrusted to foster-parents and was reared in a dwelling apart. A wise woman,
Leborcham, was the only other person allowed to see her.
Once the girls foster-father was flaying a calf outside in the snow in
winter to cook it for her, and she saw a raven drinking the blood in the snow.
Then she said to Leborcham, Fair would be man upon whom those three
colours should be: his hair like the raven, and his cheek like the blood, and his
body like the snow. Grace and prosperity to you! said leborcham. He is not
far from you, inside close by: Naoisi the son of Usnach. I shall not be well,
said she, until I see him.
Once that same Naoisi was on the rampart of the fort sounding his cry.
And sweet was the cry of the sons of Usnach. Every cow and every beast that
would hear it used to give two-thirds excess of milk. For every man who heard
it, it was enough of peace and entertainment. Good was their valour too.
Though the whole province of the Ulaid should be around them in one place, if
the three of them stood back to back, they would not overcome them, for the
excellence of their defence. They were as swift as hounds at the hunt. They
used to kill deer by their speed.
When Naoisi was there outside, soon she went out to him, as though to
go past him, and did not recognise him. Fair is the heifer that goes past me,
said he. Heifers must grow big where there are no bulls, said she. You have
the bull of the province, said he, the king of the Ulaid. I would choose
between you, said she, and I would take a young bull like you. No! said he.
Then she sprang toward him and caught his ears. Here are two ears of
shame and mockery, said she, unless you take me with you.
Naoisi sounded his cry, and the Ulstermen sprang up as they heard it,
and the sons of Usnach, his two brothers, went out to restrain and warn him.
But his honour was challenged. We shall go into another country, said he.
There is not a king in Ireland that will not make us welcome. That night they
set out with 150 warriors and 150 women and 150 hounds, and Deirdre was
with them.
Conchobar pursued them with plots and treachery, and they fled to
Scotland. And they took service with the king of Scotland and built a house
around Deirdre so that they should not be killed on account of her. One day
the steward saw her and told the king of her beauty, so that he demanded her
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


for wife; and the sons of Usnach had to flee and take refuge on an island in
the sea.
Then Conchobar invited them back and sent Fergus as a surety; but when
they came to Emain, Naoisi and his followers were killed, and Deirdre was
brought to Conchobar, and her hands were bound behind her back.
When Fergus and Cormac heard of this treachery, they came and did great
deed: three hundred of the Ulaid were killed, and women were killed, and
Emain was burnt by Fergus. And Fergus and Cormac went to the court of Ailill
and Maeve, and for sixteen years the Ulaid had no peace.
But Deirdre was for a year with Conchobar, and she never smiled or
raised her head from her knee.[. . .] And when Conchobar was comforting her
she used to say:
Conchobar, what are you doing? You have caused me sorrows and tears.
As long as I live, I shall not love you.
What was dearest to me under heaven, and what was most beloved, you
have taken from me, - a great wrong - so that I shall not see him till I die.
Two bright cheeks, red lips, eyebrows black as a chafer, pearly teeth
bright with the noble colour of snow.
Do not break my heart. Soon I shall die. Grief is stronger than the sea, if
you could understand it, Conchobar.
What do you hate most of what you see? said Conchobar. You, she
said, and Eogan son of Dubhthach. you shall be a year with Eogan, said
Conchobar. He gave her to Eogan. They went next day to the assembly of
Macha. She was behind Eogan in the chariot. She had prophesied that she
would not see two husbands on earth together. Well, Deirdre, said
Conchobar. You look like a sheep between two rams, between Eogan and
me. There was a big rock in front of her. She thrust her head against the
rock, so that it shattered her head, and she died.
That is the exile of the Sons of Usnach, and the exile of Fergus and the
Tragic Death of the sons of Usnach and of Deirdre. Finit. Amen. Finit.
Summary by Myles Dillon

3. 4. 2. Tin B Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley)

Tin B Cuailnge is the best known and longest tale of the cycle (closest to an Old
Irish epic.)
Main plot concerns the invasion of Ulster by the army of Connacht led by Medb who
wants to capture the Brown Bull of Cooley.
As the Ulsterman are debilitated by the curse of Macha, Cuchulain (who is exempt
from it) defeats Medbs army single-handed.
Though the Brown Bull is captured and sent to Cruachain, he kills the White Bull of
Connacht but dies of exhaustion after galloping back to Ulster with his rival on his
There follows a summary of this tale:
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Once when their royal bed had been made ready for Ailill and Maeve they
conversed as they lay on the pillows. It is a true saying, girl, said Ailill, that
the wife of a good man is well off. It is true, said the girl. Why do you say
so? Because, said Ailill, you are better off today than the day I wed you. I
was well off without you, said Maeve. I had not heard or known it, said Ailill,
but that you were an heiress and that your nearest neighbours were robbing
and plundering you. That was not so, said Maeve, for my father, Eochu
Feidlech son of Finn, was high king of Ireland. And she went on to boast of
her riches, and he of his.
Their treasures were brought before them, and it appeared that Maeve
had possessions equal to those of Ailill, save for a splendid bull, Whitehorn,
which had belonged to Maeves herd but had wandered into the herd of Ailill
because it would not remain in a womans possession. All her wealth seemed
to Maeve not worth a penny, since she had no bull equal to that of Ailill. She
learned that there was one as good in the province of Ulster in the cantred of
Cuailnge, and she sent messengers to ask a loan of it for a year, promising a
rich reward. If the reward was not enough, she would even grant the owner
the enjoyment of her love. The messengers returned without the bull and
reported the owners refusal. There is no need to smooth over difficulties,
said Maeve, for I knew that it would not be given freely until it was taken by
force, and so it will be taken.
Maeve summoned the armies of Connacht and Cormac son of Conchobar
and Fergus son of Roech, who were in exile from Ulster at the time, and set
out to carry off the precious bull. Before the expedition started, she consulted
her druid for a prophesy. He told her that she at least would return alive. Then
she met a mysterious prophetess who rode on the shaft of a chariot, weaving
a fringe with a gold staff, and she asked her to prophesy. The woman
answered, I see crimson upon them, I see red. Four times Maeve appealed
against this oracle, but each time the answer was the same; and the
prophetess then chanted a poem in which she foretold the deeds of
On the first day the army advanced from Cruachan as far as Cuil Silinni,
and the tents were pitched. Ailills tent was on the right wing of the army. The
tent of Fergus was next, and beside it was the tent of Cormac, son of
Conchobar. To the left of Ailill was the tent of Maeve and next to hers that of
Findabair, her daughter. [...] Fergus was appointed to guide the army, for the
expedition was a revenge for him. He had been King of Ulster for seven years
and had gone into exile when the sons of Usnach were killed in violation of his
guaranty and protection. And so he marched in front. But he felt a pang of
longing for Ulster and led the army astray northward and southward while he
sent warnings to the Ulstermen. But the Ulstermen had been stricken with a
mysterious sickness which afflicted them in times of danger, the result of a
curse laid upon them by Macha, a fairy whom they had wronged. Cuchulainn
and his father, Sualtam, were exempt from the curse, and they set out to
oppose the enemy. They arrived at Ard Cuillenn, and Cuchulainn told his
father to go back and warn the Ulstermen to depart from the open plains into
the woods and valleys. He cut an oak sapling with a single stroke, and, using
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


one arm, one leg, and one eye, he made it into a hoop, wrote an ogam on it,
and fixed it around a stone pillar. Then he departed to keep a tryst with a girl
south of Tara.
The Connacht army reached Ard Cuillenn and saw the ogam. Fergus
interpreted it for them. Any man who advanced farther that night, unless he
made a hoop in the same way, would be slain by Cuchulainn before morning.
Ailill decided to turn aside into the forest for the night. In the morning
Cuchulainn returned from his tryst and found the army at Turloch Caille Moire,
north of Cnogba na Rig. There he cut off the fork of a tree with a single stroke
and cast it into the earth from his chariot, so that two-thirds of the stem was
buried in the earth. He came upon two Connaught warriors and beheaded
them and their charioteers. He set their heads upon the branches of the treefork and turned their horses back toward the camp, the chariots bearing the
headless bodies of the men. [. . . ]
The Man who did this deed, Fergus said, is Cuchulainn. It is he who
struck the branch from its base with a single stroke, and killed the four as
swiftly as they were killed, and who came to the border with only his
What sort of man, Aillil said, is this Hound of Ulster we hear tell of?
How old is this remarkable person?
It is soon told, Fergus said. In his fifth year he went to study the arts
and the crafts of War with Scathach, and courted Emer. In his eight year he
took up the arms. At present he is in his seventeenth year.
Is he the hardest they have in Ulster? Maeve said.
Yes, the hardest of all, Fergus said. Youll find no harder warrior
against you - no point more sharp, more swift, more slashing; no raven more
flesh-ravenous, no hand more daft, no fighter more fierce, no one of his own
age one third as good, no lion more ferocious; no barrier in battle, no hard
hammer, no gate of battle, no soldiers doom, no hinderer of hosts, more fine.
Youll find no one there to measure him - for youth or vigour, for apparel,
horror or eloquence; for splendour, fame or form, for voice or strength or
sternness, for cleverness, courage or blows in battle; for fire or gury, victory,
doom, or turmoil; for stalking, scheming or slaughter in the hunt; for swiftness,
alertness or wilderness; and no one with the battle-feat nine men on each
point - none like Cuchulainn.
On the next day the army moved eastward, and Cuchulainn went to meet
them. He surprised Orlam son of Ailill and Maeve and killed him, and the next
day he killed three more with their charioteers. The army advanced and
devastated the plains of Bregia and Muirthemne, and Fergus warned them to
beware of Cuchulainns vengeance. They went on into Cuailnge and reached
the river Glaiss Cruind, but it rose against them so that they could not cross. A
hundred chariots were swept into the sea. Cuchulainn followed hard upon
them seeking battle, and he killed a hundred men. Maeve called upon her
own people to oppose him in equal combat. Not I, not I! said each one from
where he stood. My people owe no victim, and if one were owing I would not
go against Cuchulainn, for it is not easy to fight with him. That night a
hundred warriors died of fright at the sound of Cuchulainns weapons.

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Maeve sent a messenger to summon Cuchulainn to a parley with her and

Fergus, but he would accept no conditions; and for the next three days the
army lay without pitching their tents and without feasting or music, and
Cuchulainn killed a hundred men each night. The messenger was sent again
to ask for terms, and he refused all that were proposed. There was one
condition that he would accept, but he would not himself declare it. Fergus
was able to tell that Cuchulainn would agree to single combat with a warrior
each day, if the army would advance only while the combat lasted and would
halt when the warrior had been killed until another was found. Maeve decided
to accept the proposal, because it would be better to lose one man every day
than a hundred every night. [. . .]
Meanwhile Maeve turned northward to Dun Sobairche, and Cuchulainn
followed her. He turned back to protect his own territory and found Buide son
of Ban Blai, with twenty-four followers, driving the Brown Bull of Cuailnge,
which they had found in Glenn na Samisce in Sliab Cuilinn. The bull was
accompanied by twenty-four of his cows. Cuchulainn challenged Buide and
killed him, but, while they were exchanging casts of their spears, the great bull
was driven off, and that was the greatest grief and dismay and confusion that
Cuchulainn suffered on that hosting. Maeve plundered Dun Sobairche, and
then after six weeks the four provinces of Ireland with Ailill and Maeve and
those who had captured the bull came into camp together. [. . .]
In the morning, when the sun was up, the Ulstermen attacked, and the
men of Ireland [the Connaught army] came to meet them. Three times the
Men of Ireland broke through northward and each time they were driven back.
The Conchobar himself went into the field, where the enemy had been
advancing, and found Fergus opposed to him. They fought shield to shield,
and Fergus struck three mighty blows upon the shield of Conchobar so that it
screamed aloud. But, remembering that he was an Ulsterman, he turned his
anger against the hills, and three hills were shorn of their tops by his sword.
Cuchulainn heard the scream of Conchobars magic shield where he lay
prostrate from his wounds. He rose up in heroic frenzy and seized no mere
weapons but his war-chariot, body and wheels, to wield against the enemy.
Fergus had promised, if ever he and Cuchulainn should meet in the battle,
that he would retreat before him. When Cuchulainn now came against him, he
led his company out of the fight, and the Leinstermen and Munstermen
followed them, so that only Ailill and Maeve and their sons with nine battalions
remained in the field. At noon Cuchulainn came into the battle. At sunset he
had defeated the last battalion, and of his chariot there remained a few ribs of
the body and a few spokes of the wheels.
Meanwhile, Maeve had sent the Brown Bull of Cuailnge to Cruachan, so
that he at least should come there, whoever else might fail to come. Then she
appealed the Cuchulainn to spare her army until it should go westward past
Ath Mor, and he consented. [. . .]
When the Brown Bull came to Cruachan, he uttered three mighty bellows,
and the Whitehorned Bull heard that and came to fight him. All who had
returned from the battle came to watch the bull-fight. They watched until night
fell, and when night fell they could only listen to the great noise of the fight.
The bulls travelled all over Ireland during the night, and in the morning the
Brown Bull was seen going past Cruachan with the Whitehorned Bull on his
horns. He galloped back to Ulster, scattering fragments of the dead bulls
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flesh from his horns on the way, and when he came to the border of Cuailnge,
his heart broke, and he died.
Summary by Myles Dillon

3.4.3. Tin B Fraoch (The Cattle Raid of Fraoch)

Tin B Fraoch is the second most popular cattle raid tale in Old Irish literature.
Its first part, in which Medb plots the death of Fraoch (a young Connach warrior who
has fallen in love with Finnabair) forcing him fight a monster who dwells in a lake,
has echoes in the anglo-saxon poem of Beowulf. After killing the monster, Fraoch
marries Finnabair, and the second part of the tale recounts how both she and his
cattle herds are kidnapped and carried off from Connacht.

3.5. Celtic Myth in the Theatre of W.B. Yeats

3.5.1. The Cuchulain cycle of plays
Cuchulain appears as the main hero in 5 plays written by William Butler Yeats from
1902 to 1938. In these plays Yeats blends elements of Irish myth made available to
him through the translations of the Tan, and Lady Augusta Gregorys Cuchulain of
Muirthemne (1902), with his personal symbolism that carries forward the oppositions
between the real and the spirit world evolved in his poems.
In their chronological order, the Cuchulain plays are:

On Bailes Strand (1904)

The Green Helmet (1910)

At the Hawks Well (1916)

The Only Jealousy of Emer (1916)

The Death of Cuchulain (1938)

At the Hawks Well

Sources: Macgnmartha/boyhood deeds, narrated by Fergus in the Tan; Tochmarc
Emire (the Courtship of Emer).
Cuchulain overhears from Cathbad that the youth who take up arms that day would
become the greatest warrior in Ireland; his life would be most glorious, but short. He
makes his choice immediately and asks the king to let him take up arms like a man.
Cuchulain receives his training first under Fergus and then under Scathach, a
famous warrior woman from the Land of Shadow (island of Skye).
While in Scotland, he has to fight Scathachs sister, Aife, whom he finally manages
to defeat. Becoming her lover, he begets Aife a son, Connla.
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Play: Cuchulain, as a Young Man, arrives at a Well, whose waters are said to give
immortality. An Old Man, who has spent 50 years waiting for the chance of drinking
from its waters, urges him to join him, for else his life will be spent in ceaseless
warfare. Cuchulain decides to pursue the Hawk guardian of the well, and in doing so
he embraces his heroic destiny.
The Green Helmet
Source: Fledd Bricrenn (Bricrius Feast)
Bricriu, a mischief-maker, invites the warriors of Ireland to a feast, where he
maliciously exploits the contention that the choicest portion of meat is given to the
greatest hero. Cuchulain, Conall Cernach and Laegaire Buadach claim the title in
turn. To decide which of these warriors is the greatest, a giant or demon, named
Uath (Horror) appears and challenges them into a beheading game. Only Cuchulain
accepts the challenge and beheads the giant, to be then proclaimed by Uath the
greatest champion in Ireland.
Play: Cuchulain makes a sacrificial gesture in offering himself to the Red Man from
the sea (Manannan in disguise) to kill.
On Bailes Strand
Source: Aided Oenfhir Aife (Violent Death of Aifes Son)
Before the birth of his son, Cuchulain placed a geis upon him: Connla was to never
reveal his name to any man; he was to fight any man who impeded his path.
When Connla grew into a young man, he set out for Emain Macha in search of his
father. There he encountered many warriors of the Red Branch, but refused to give
each warrior his name, and he either wounded or killed them. Finally Conchobar
send Cuchulain against the boy, and, though warned by Emer that the young man
was possibly his son by Aife, his duty to his king forced him fight and kill Connla.
Play: Reluctantly, Cuchulain swears loyalty to Conchobar and is forbidden by him to
befriend an unknown young man sent by Aife. After learning that the youth he killed
was his own son, Cuchulain dies fighting the waves, mistaken their foam for
Conchobars crown.
A Blind Man and a Fool act as chorus, framing the main action of the play.
ON BAILES STRAND (1901, P.1904)
FOOL: What a clever man you are though you are blind! Theres nobody with
two eyes in his head that is as clever as you are. Who but you could have
though that the henwife sleeps every day a little at noon? I would never
be able to steal anything if you didnt tell me where to look for it. And what
a good cook you are! You take the fowl out of my hands after I have
stolen it and plucked it, and you put it into the big pot at the fire there, and
I can go out and run races with the witches at the edge of the waves and

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get an appetite, and when Ive got it, theres the hen waiting inside for me,
done to the turn.
BLIND MAN [who is feeling about with his stick]: Done to the turn.
FOOL [putting his arm round Blind Mans neck]: Come now, Ill have a leg and
youll have a leg, and well draw lots for the wish-bone. Ill be praising you
while youre eating it, for your good plans and for your good cooking.
Theres nobody in the world like you, Blind Man. Come, come. Wait a
minute. O shouldnt have closed the door. There are some that look for
me, and I wouldnt like them not to find me. Boann herself out of the river
and Fand out of the deep sea. Witches they are, and they come by in the
wind, and they cry, Give a kiss, Fool, give a kiss, thats what they cry.
Thats wide enough. All the witches can come in now. I wouldnt have
them beat at the door and say, Where is the Fool? Why has he put a lock
on the door? Maybe theyll hear the bubbling of the pot and come in and
sit on the ground. But we wont give them any of the fowl. Let them go
back to the sea, let them go back to the sea.
BLIND MAN [feeling legs of big chair with his hand] Ah! [Then, in a louder
voice as he feels the back of it]. Ah - ah FOOL: Why do you say Ah - ah?
BLIND MAN: I know the big chair. It is to-day the High King Conchubar is
coming. They have brought out this chair. He is going to be Cuchulains
master in earnest from this day out. It is that hes coming for.
FOOL: He must be a great man to be Cuchulains master.
BLIND MAN: So he is. He is a great man. He is over all the rest of the kings of
FOOL: Cuchulains master! I thought Cuchulain could do anything he liked.
BLIND MAN: So he did, so he did. But he ran too wild, and Conchubar is
coming to-day to put an oath upon him that will stop his rambling and
make him as biddable as a housedog and keep him always at his hand.
He will sit in this chair and put the oath upon him.
FOOL: How will he do that?
BLIND MAN: You have no wits to understand such things. [The Blind Man has
got into the chair]. He will sit up in this chair and hell say: Take the oath,
Cuchulain. I bid you take the oath. Do as I tell you. What are your wits
compared with mine, and what are your riches compared with mine? And
what sons have you to pay your debts and to put a stone over you when
you die? Take the oath, I tell you. Take a strong oath.
FOOL [crumpling himself up and whining]: I will not. Ill take no oath. I want
my dinner.
BLIND MAN: Hush, hush! It is not done yet.
FOOL: You said it was done to a turn.
BLIND MAN: Did I, now? Well, it might be done, and not done. The wings
might be white, but the legs might be red. The flesh might stick hard to the
bones and not come away in the teeth. But, believe me, Fool, it will be
well done before you put your teeth in it.
FOOL: My teeth are growing long with the hunger.
BLIND MAN: Ill tell you a story - the kings have story-tellers while they are
waiting for their dinner - I will tell you a story with a fight in it, a story with a
champion in it, and a ship and a queens son that has his mind set on
killing somebody that you and I know.
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FOOL: Who is that? Who is he coming to kill?

BLIND MAN: Wait, now, till you hear. When you were stealing the fowl, I was
lying in a hole in the sand, and I heard three men coming with a shuffling
sort of noise. They were wounded and groaning.
FOOL: Go on. Tell me about the fight.
BLIND MAN: There had been a fight, a great fight, a tremendous great fight. A
youg man had landed on the shore, the guardians of the shore had asked
his name, and he had refused to tell it, and he had killed one, and others
had run away.
FOOL: Thats enough. Come on now to the fowl. I wish it was bigger. I wish it
was as big as a goose.
BLIND MAN: Hush! I havent told you all. I know who that young man is. I
heard the men who were running away say he had red hair, that he had
come from Aoifes country, that he was going to kill Cuchulain.
CUCHULAIN: Because I have killed men without your bidding
And have rewarded others at my own leisure,
Because of half a score of trifling thing,
Youd lay this oath upon me , and now - and now
you add another pebble to the heap, And I must be your man, well-nigh your
Because a youngster out of Aoifes country
Has found the shore ill-guarded.
CONCHUBAR: He came to land
While you were somewhere out of sight and hearing,
Hunting or dancing with your wild companions.
CUCHULAIN: He can be driven out. Ill not be bound.
Ill dance or hunt, or quarrel or make love,
Wherever and whenever Ive a mind to.
If time had not put water in your blood,
You never would have thought it.
I would leave
A strong and settle country to my children.
CUCHULAIN: And I must be obedient in all things;
Give up my will to yours; go where you please;
Come when you call; sit at the council board
Among the unshapely bodies of old men;
I whose mere name has kept this country safe,
I that in early days have driven out
Maeve of Cruachan and the northern pirates,
The hundred kings of Sorcha, and the kings
Out of the Garden in the East of the World.
Must I, that held you on the throne when all
Had pulled you from it, swear obedience
As if I were some cattle-raising king?
Are my shins specked with the heat of the fire,
Or have my hands not skill but to make figures
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Upon the ashes with a stick? Am I

So slack and idle and I need a whip
Before I serve you?
CONCHUBAR: No, no whip, Cuchulain,
But every day my children come and say:
This man is growing harder to endure.
How can we be at safety with this man
That nobody can buy or bid or bind?
We shall be at his mercy when you are gone;
He burns the earth as if he were a fire,
And time can never touch him.
And so the tale
Grows finer yet; and I am to obey
Whatever child you set upon the throne,
As if it were yourself!
Most certainly.
I am High King, my son shall be High King;
And you for all the wildness of your blood,
And though your father came out of the sun,
Are but a little king and weigh but light
In anything that touches government,
If put in balance with my children.
CUCHULAIN: Its well that we should speak out minds out plainly,
For when we die we shall be spoken of
In many countries. We in our young days
Have seen the heavens like a burning cloud
Brooding upon the world, and being more
Than men can be now that clouds lifted up,
We should be the more truthful. Conchubar,
I do not like your children - they have no pith,
No marrow in their bones, and will lie soft
Where you and I lie hard.
FOOL: He is going up to King Conchubar. They are all about the young man. No,
no, he is standing still. There is a great wave going to break, and he is
looking at it. Ah! Now he is running down to the sea, but he is holding up his
sword as if he were going into a fight. [pause]. Well struck! Well struck!
BLIND MAN: What is he doing now?
FOOL: O! he is fighting the waves!
BLIND MAN: He sees kind Conchubars crown on every one of them.
FOOL: There, he has struck at a big one! He has struck the crown off it; he has
made the foam fly. There again, another big one!
BLIN MAN: Where are the kings? What are the kings doing?
FOOL: They are shouting and running down to the shore, and the people are
running out of the houses. They are all running.
BLIND MAN: You say they are running out of the houses? There will be nobody
left in the houses. Listen, Fool!
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FOOL: There, he is down! He is up again. He is going out in the deep water.

There is a big wave. It has gone over him. I cannot see him now. He has
killed kings and giants, but the waves have mastered him, the waves have
mastered him!
BLIND MAN: Come here, Fool!
Fool: The waves have mastered him.
BLIND MAN: Come here!
FOOL: The waves have mastered him.
BLIND MAN: Come here, I say.
FOOL [coming towards him, but looking backwards towards the door]: What is
BLIND MAN: There will be nobody in the houses. Come this way; come quickly!
The ovens will be full. We will put our hands into the ovens.
[They go out].

The Only Jealousy Of Emer

Sources: Serglige con Chulainn (Cuchulains Illness) and Oenet Emire (The Jealousy of
When Cuchulain tries to kill two magical birds, he is horsewhipped in a dream by two
women of the sdh. He spends a year in a coma at Emain Macha, until , in a further
vision, he is told that Fand needs him to fight off three demons who besieged her
palace. Cuchulain enters the Otherworld, defeats the demons, and spends a month in
Fands loving arms. When he returns to the surface, he promises to meet Fand again.
Emer plans to kill Fand at the meeting-place, but instead each woman offers to
surrender her love. Fand leaves, but all three are distraught until Manannan uses his
magic cloak to cast a spell of oblivion upon them.
Play: Yeats exploits the dramatic potential of the love triangle, adding a new
character, Eithne Inguba, Cuchulains young mistress.
While Emer renounces Cuchulain in order to save him from Fand (who wants to take
him to the Otherworld), Eithne seemingly wins him back to life and to herself.
The Death Of Cuchulain
Source: Aided Chon Culainn (The Violent Death Of Cuchulain)
Cuchulain meets his death on the plain of Mag Muirthemne, as ordained by
Morrigan. As in the Tan, he contends alone against the enemies of Ulster. Pierced
by a spear in the fighting, he fastens himself to a pillar-stone, so that he may die
standing up. When a raven settles on his shoulder, it is taken as a sign he is dead,
and his enemies behead him.

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Play: Though in legend Cuchulain is said to die young, here he has aged with the
The Morrigan gets Eithne Inguba to falsify a message from Emer, so that Cuchulain
leaves to fight against Medbs army, who has attacked Ulster again. He is wounded
six times in battle. Aife appears and ties him to a stake, ready to avenge upon him
the death of Connla. But it is not her, but the Blind Man (from On Bailes Strand) who
beheads the hero, having been promised 12 pennies by a big man. Cuchulains
mode of dying becomes an indictment of the modern materialist society which no
longer treasures heroes and artists alike.

3. 6. De-Constructing Heroism: Nuala N Dhomhnaill

C Chulainn I
from Selected Poems, 1988
Small dark rigid man
C Chulainn
who still lacks a lump on your shoulder
who spent your first nine months in a cave
swimming in your mothers fluid.
Grave hunter
whod satisfy no woman
saying your father never went
to a small seaside town
like Ballybuion
never made arms and instruments of war
to give you
so you could leap from the womb
three minutes after the conception
your hand full of spears
holding five shields it is not we who injured you.
We also came my ladies, out of wombs
and the danger yet remains
morning noon and evening
that the ground will open
and opened to us all will be
Brufon na hAlmhaine
Br na Binne
or Teach Da Deige
with its seven doors
and hot cauldrons.
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Dont threat us again with your youth again

small poor dark man
C Chulainn.

Choose from one of the following topics to develop into a 4000-word essay of the
argumentative type:
1. Tain Bo Cualgne and the Celtic Framework (9 p.)
2. Constructing and De-constructing Mythic Heroism: representations of
Cuchulain in Tain Bo Cualgne , W. B. Yeatss Cuchulain plays and Nuala
NiDhumnaills Chuchulain I. (10 p.)

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Chapter 4 - The Cycle of Munster (the Finn Cycle)

4.1. The Fionn Cycle (Fenian, Ossianic, Munster)

4.2. Fenian Heroes and Tales
4.3. Osin in the Land of Youth
4.4. Literary Treatments of Fenian Tales and Heroes
4. 4. 1. Ossianism
4. 4. 2. W. B. Yeats, The Wanderings of Oisin
4. 4. 3. Finn Maccool, from Finnegans Wake to
Joyces Finnegans Wake

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The Fionn Cycle (Fenian, Ossianic, Munster)

The Fionn Cycle contains a group of tales developed in Munster and Leinster and
dating to the 3rd century A.D.
Most stories centre on the exploits of the mythical hero Fionn mac Cumhaill, his son
Oisn, and other famous members of the fian (warrior-band) of Fionn, collectively
known as the Fianna, who hunt, fight, conduct raids, and live an open-air nomadic
This set of literary conventions reflects a feature of early Irish society in that such
bands of warriors did live outside the structures of that society while retaining links
with it.
Another characteristic is its frequent celebration of the beauty of nature, evoked in
vivid language.

4.2. Fenian Heroes and Tales

Fionn mac Cumhaill is the leader of the Fianna under the High King Cormac mac
Airt, Fionn was to some extent an outlaw; yet he was also a poet, diviner, and sage,
and, therefore, endowed with traditional, and, in early Ireland, institutional attributes.
His father, Cumhall, had led, in his turn, the Tara fian, while his mother, Muirne
(Muireann) was the daughter of the druid Tadg, said to be descending from the
Danann. As such, his parentage combined warrior and visionary elements.
As well as being endowed with physical courage, Fionn possesses a gift of special
insight which he can summon by biting his finger.
According to one account of his origin, his finger was injured when a fairy woman
caught it in the door of the fairy-fort at Femun.
In folklore the injury is caused by Fionns burning his thumb on the Salmon of
Knowledge from the Boyne, which he is cooking for Finnegas, his druid teacher.
Thereafter he finds himself inspired with imbas (great knowledge), which also brings
him the gift of poetry.
His famous hounds, Bran and Sceolang, are said to be his cousins (Muirnes sister
having been turned into an animal during her pregnancy.)
Among his romances, the most famous is the one with the goddess Sadb, the
mother of Osin, who came to him in the form of a deer.
In The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grinne, Fionn appears as a vindictive and
jealous older man, initially threatened by the youthful lover, but eventually getting his
bride back.
When Cormacs son succeeds to the thrown, he declares war on the Fianna. At the
battle of Gabhra (Cath Gabhra), Oscar (Fionns grandson) and many of the Fianna
are killed.
Afterwards, Osin is lured away to Tir-na-nOg by Niamh, Manannans daughter,
where he spends 300 years until returning to Ireland.
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Hundreds of years after Finn and his companions had died, Saint Patrick
came to Ireland bringing the Christian religion with him. He had heard many
stories about the adventures of the Fianna and he was interested in these old
heroes whom the people spoke about as if they were gods. Their story was
written into the very landscape of Ireland; hills and woods resounded with
their legends, rivers and valleys bore their names, dozens marked their
One day a feeble, blind old man was brought to Patrick. His body was
weak and wasted but his spirit was strong. Patrick preached the new
doctrines to him but the old warrior scorned the newcomers and their rituals
and in defiant response sand the praises of the Fianna, their code of honour
and their way of life. He said he was Oisin, the son of Finn himself. Patrick
doubted the old mans word since Finn had been dead for longer than the
span of any human life. So to convince the saint that his claim was true, Oisin,
last of the Fianna, told his story.
After the battle of Gowra, the last battle the Fianna fought, Oisin, Finn
and a handful of survivors went south to Lough Lene in Kerry, a favourite
haunt of theirs in happier times. They were dispirited because they knew their
day was over. They had all fought many battles in their time, but this last
battle had brought them total defeat and bitter losses. Many of their
companions had been killed at Gowra, among them the bravest warrior of the
Fianna, Oisins own son, Oscar. When Finn, the baule-hardened old veteran,
had seen his favourite grandson lying dead on the field, he had turned his
back to his troops and wept. Only once before had the Fianna seen their
leader cry and that was at the death of his staghound Bran.
Around Lough Lene the woods were fresh and green and the early
mists of a May morning were beginning to lift when Finn and his followers set
out with their dogs to hunt. The beauty of the countryside and the prospect of
the chase revived their spirits a little as they followed the hounds through the
woods. Suddenly a young hornless deer broke cover and bounded through
the forest with the dogs in full cry at its heels. The Fianna followed them,
rejuvenated by the familiar excitement of the chase.
They were stopped in their tracks by the sight of a lovely young woman
galloping towards them on a supple, nimble white horse. She was so beautiful
she seemed like a vision. She wore a crown and her hair hung in shining,
golden loops down over her shoulders. Her long, lustrous cloak, glinting with
gold-embroidered stars, hung down over the silk trapping of her horse. Her
eyes were as clear and blue as the May sky above the forest and they
sparkled like dew on the morning grass. Her skin glowed white and pink and
her mouth seemed as sweet as honeyed wine. Her horse was saddled and
shod with gold and there was a silver wreath around his head. No one had
seen a better animal.
The woman reined in her horse and came up to where Finn stood,
moon-struck and silent. Ive travelled a great distance to find you, she said,
and Finn found his voice.
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Who are you and where have you come from? he asked. Tell us your
name and the name of your kingdom.
I am called Niamh of the Golden Hair and my father is the king of Tir
na n-Og, the Land of Youth, the girl replied.
Then tell us, Princess Niamh, why have you left a country like that and
crossed the sea to come to us? Has your husband forsaken you or has some
other tragedy brought you here?
My husband didnt leave me, she answered, for Ive never had a
husband. Many men in my own country wanted to marry me, but I wouldnt
look at any of them because I loved your son.
Finn started in surprise. You love one of my sons? Which of my sons
do you love, Niamh? And tell me why your mind settled on him? he asked.
Oisin is the champion Im talking about, replied Niamh. Reports of his
handsome looks and sweet nature reached as far as the Land of Youth. So I
decided to come and find him.
Oisin had been silent all this time, dazzled by the beautiful girl and
when he heard her name him as the man she loved he trembled from head to
toe. But he recovered himself and went over to the princess and took her
hand in his. You are the most beautiful woman in the world and I would
choose you above all others. I will gladly marry you!
Come away with me, Oisin! Niamh whispered. Come back with me to
the Land of Youth. It is the most beautiful country under the sun. You will
never fall ill or grow old there. In my country you will never die. Trees grow tall
there and treed bend low with fruit. The land thaws with honey and wine, as
much as you could ever want. In Tir na n-Og you will sit at feasts and games
with plenty of music for you, plenty of wine. You will get gold and jewels, more
than you could imagine. And a hundred swords, a hundred silk tunics, a
hundred swift bay horses, a hundred keen hunting dogs. The King of the Ever
Young will place a crown on your head, a crown that he has never given to
anyone else, and it will protect you from every danger. You will get a hundred
cows, a hundred calves, and a hundred sheep with golden wool. You will get
a hundred of the most beautiful jewels youve ever seen and a hundred
arrows. A hundred young women will sing to you and a hundred of the
bravest, young warriors will obey your command. As well as all of this, you will
get beauty, strength and power. And me for your wife.
Oh, Niamh, I could never refuse you anything you ask and I will gladly
go with you to the Land of Youth! Oisin cried and he jumped up on the horse
behind her. With Niamh cradled between his arms he took the reins in his
hands and the horse started forwards.
Go slowly, Oisin, till we reach the shore! Niamh said.
When Finn saw his son being borne away from him, he let out three
loud, sorrowful shots. Oh, Oisin, my son, he cried out, why are you leaving
me? I will never see you again. Youre leaving me here heartbroken for I know
well never meet again!
Oisin stopped and embraced his father and said goodbye to all his
friends. With tears streaming down his face he took a last look at them as they
stood on the shore. He saw the defeat and sorrow on his fathers face and the
sadness of his friends. He remembered his days together with them all in the
excitement of the hunt and the heat of battle. Then the white horse shook its
mane, gave three shrill neighs and leapt forward, plunging into the sea. The
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waves opened before Niamh and Oisin and dosed behind them as they
As they travelled across the sea, wonderful sight appeared to them on
every side. They passed cities, courts and castles, white-washed bawns and
forts, painted summerhouses and stately palaces. A young fawn rushed past,
a white dog with scarlet ears racing after it. A beautiful young woman on a bay
horse galloped by on the crests of the waves, carrying a golden apple in her
right hand. Behind her, mounted on a white horse, rode a young prince,
handsome and richly dressed with a gold-bladed sword in his hand. Oisin
looked in awe at this handsome couple but when he asked Niamh who they
were, she replied that they were insignificant compared to the inhabitants of
the Land of Youth.
Ahead of them and visible from afar, a shining palace came into view.
Its delicate, marble facade shone in the sun.
Thats the most beautiful palace I have ever see! Oisin exclaimed.
What country are we in now and who is the king?
This is the Land of Virtue and that is the palace of Fomor, a giant,
Niamh replied. The daughter of the king of the Land of Life is the queen. She
was abducted from her own country by Fomor and he keeps her a prisoner
here. She has put a geis on him that he may not marry her until a champion
has challenged him to single combat. But a prisoner she remains for no one
wants to fight the giant.
Niamh, the story youve told me is sad, even though your voice is
music in my ears, Oisin said. Ill go to the fortress and try to overcome the
giant and set the queen free.
They turned the horse towards the white palace and when they arrived
there they were welcomed by a woman almost as beautiful as Niamh herself.
She brought them to a room where thy sat on golden chairs and ate and
drank of the best. When the feast was over, the queen told the story of her
captivity and as tears coursed down her cheeks she told them that until the
giant was overcome she could never return home.
Dry your eyes, Oisin told her. Ill challenge the giant. Im not afraid of
him! Either Ill kill him or Ill fight till he kills me.
At that moment Fomor approached the castle. He was huge and ugly
and he carried a load of deerskins on his back and an iron bar in his hand. He
saw Oisin and Niamh but did not acknowledge their presence. He looked into
the face of his prisoner and straight away he knew that she had told her story
to the visitors. With a loud, angry shout he challenged Oisin to fight. For three
days and three nights they struggled and fought but, as powerful as Fomor
was, Oisin overpowered him in the end and cut off his head. The two women
gave three triumphant cheers when they saw the giant felled. When they saw
that Oisin was badly injured and too exhausted to walk unaided, they took him
gently between them and helped him back to the fortress. The queen put
ointments and herbs on his wounds and in a very short time Oisin had
recovered his health and spirits. They buried the giant and raised his flag over
the grave and caned his name in ogham script in stone. Then they feasted till
they were full and slept till dawn in the feather beds that were prepared for
The morning sun awoke them and Niamh told Oisin they must continue
on their journey to Tir na n-Og. The queen of the Land of Virtue was sad to
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see them go, and indeed they were sad to leave her, but she was free now to
return home, so they said goodbye to her and that was the last they saw of
her. They mounted the white horse and he galloped away as boisterously as a
March wind roaring across a mountain summit.
Suddenly the sky darkened, the wind rose and the sea was lit up by
angry flashes of light. Niamh and Oisin rode steadily through the tempest,
looking up at the pillars of clouds blotting out the sun until the wind dropped
and the storm died down. Then, ahead of them, they saw the most delightful
country, bathed in sunshine, spread out in all its splendour. Set amid the
smooth rich plains was a majestic fortress that shone like a prism in the sun.
Surrounding it were airy halls and summerhouses built with great artistry and
inlaid with precious stones. As Niamh and Oisin approached the fortress a
troop of a hundred of the most famous champions came out to meet them.
This land is the most beautiful place I have ever see! Oisin exclaimed.
Have we arrived at the Land of Youth?
Indeed we have. This is Tir na n_og, Niamh replied. I told you the
truth when I told you how beautiful it was. Everything I promised you, you will
As Niamh spoke a hundred beautiful young women came to meet
them, dressed in silk and heavy gold brocade, and they welcomed the couple
to Tir na n-Og. A huge glittering crowd then approached with the king and
queen at their head. When Oisin and Niamh met the royal party, the king took
Oisin by the hand and welcomed him. Then he turned towards the crowd and
said. This is Oisin, Finns son, who is to be married to my beloved daughter,
Niamh of the Golden Hair. He turned to Oisin. Youre welcome to this happy
country, Oisin! Here you will have a long and happy life and you will never
grow old. Everything you ever dreamt of is waiting for you here. I promise you
that all I say is true for I am the king of Tir na n-Og. This is my queen and this
is my daughter Niamh, the Golden-haired, who crossed the sea to find you
and bring you back here so that you could be together for ever.
Oisin thanked the king and queen and a wedding feast was prepared
for Oisin and Niamh. The festivities lasted for ten days and ten nights.
Niamh and Oisin lived happily in the Land of Youth and had three
children. Niamh named the boys Finn and Oscar after Oisins father and son.
Oisin gave his daughter a name that suited her loving nature and her lovely
face; he named her Plur na mBan, the Flower of Women.
Three hundred years went by, though to Oisin they seemed as short as
three. He began to get homesick for Ireland and longed to see Finn and his
friends, so he asked Niamh and her father to allow his to return home. The
king consented but Niamh was perturbed by his request.
I cant refuse you though I wish you had never asked, Oisin! she said.
Im afraid that if you go youll never return.
Oisin tried to comfort his wife. Dont be distressed, Niamh! he said.
Our white horse knows the way. Hell bring me back safely!
So Niamh consented, but she gave Oisin a most solemn warning.
listen to me well, Oisin, she implored him, and remember what Im saying. If
you dismount from the horse you will not be able to return to this happy
country. I tell you again, if your foot as much as touches the ground, you will
be lost for ever to the Land of Youth.

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Then Niamh began to sob and wail in great distress. Oisin, for the third
time I warn you: do not set foot on the soil of Ireland or you can never come
back to me again! Everything is changed there. You will not see Finn or the
Fianna, you will find only a crowd of monks and holy men.
Oisin tried to console her but Niamh was inconsolable and pulled and
clutched at her long hair in her distress. He said goodbye to his children and
as he stood by the white horse Niamh came up to him and kissed him.
Oh, Oisin, here is a last kiss for you! You will never come back to me
or to the Land of Youth.
Oisin mounted his horse and turning his back on the Land of Youth, set
out for Ireland. The horse took him away from Tir na n_og as swiftly as it had
brought Niamh and him there three hundred years before.
Oisin arrived in Ireland in high spirits, as strong and powerful a
champion as he had ever been, and set out at once to find the Fianna. He
travelled over the familiar terrain but saw no trace of any of his friends.
Instead he saw a crowd of men and women approaching from the west. He
drew in his horse and, at the sight of Oisin, the crowd stopped too. They
addressed him courteously, but they kept on staring at him, astonished at his
appearance and his great size. When Oisin told them he was looking for Finn
MacCumhaill and asked of his whereabouts the people were even more
Weve heard of Finn and the Fianna, they told him. The stories about
him say that there never was anyone to match him in character, behaviour or
build. There are so many stories that we could not even start to tell them to
When Oisin heard this a tide of weariness and sadness washed over
him and he realized that Finn and his companions were dead. Straight away
he set out for Almu, the headquarters of the Fianna in the plains of Leinster.
But when he got there, there was no trace of the strong, shining white fort.
There was only a bare hill overgrown with ragwort, chickweed and nettles.
Oisin was heartbroken at the sight of that desolate place. He went from one of
Finns haunts to another but they were all deserted. He scoured the
countryside but there was no trace of his companions anywhere.
As he passed through Wicklow, through Glenasmole, the Valley of the
Thrushes, he saw three hundred or more people crowding the glen. When
they saw Oisin approach on his horse one of them shouted out, Come over
here and help us! You are much stronger than we are! Oisin came closer and
saw that the men were trying to lift a vast marble flagstone. The weight of the
stone was so great that the men underneath could not support it and were
being crushed by the load. Some were down already. Again the leader
shouted desperately to Oisin, Come quickly and help us to lift the slab or all
these men will be crushed to death! Oisin looked down in disbelief at the
crowd of men beneath him who were so puny and weak that they were unable
to lift the flagstone. He leaned out of the saddle and, taking the marble slab in
his hands, he raised it with all his strength and flung it away and the men
underneath it were freed. But the slab was so heavy and the exertion so great
that the golden girth round the horses belly snapped and Oisin was pulled out
of the saddle. He had to jump to the ground to save himself and the horse
bolted the instant its riders feet touched the ground. Oisin stood upright for a
moment, towering over the gathering. Then, as the horrified crowd watched,
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the tall young warrior, who had been stronger than all of them, sank slowly to
the ground. His powerful body withered and shrank, his skin sagged into
wrinkles and folds and the sight left his clouded eyes. Hopeless and helpless,
he lay at their feet, a bewildered blind old man.
(from Marie Heaney, OVER NINE WAVES, Faber and Faber, 1994)

Accounts of Fionns death vary, but in folk tradition he is still alive (sleeping in a
cave), ready to help Ireland in times of need.
The cycle has been Christianized, and some stories present the meeting of Osin
and other survivors of the Fianna with St. Patrick, the warriors lamenting the
abeyance of heroic conduct in Christian Ireland.

4.4. Literary Treatments of Fenian Tales and Heroes

The stories included in the Fionn Cycle as well as the Fenian heroes like Fionn,
Oisin and Oscar have inspired many generation of writers.

4. 4. 1. Ossianism
The Scott James MacPherson is among the first to have revived the figure of Oisin
under the guise of Ossian, an ancient Caledonian bard, whose poems he claimed to
have discovered and then translated into English with the publication of:

Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Collected in the Highlands of

Scotland, and Translated from the Gaelic or Erse Language (1760);

Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem, in Six Books (1762)

Temora (1763)

Ossianism had a massive cultural impact during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Napoleon carried a copy into battle; Goethe translated parts of it, and one of Ingres'
most romantic and moody paintings, the Dream of Ossian was based on it.

4. 4. 2. W. B. Yeats, The Wanderings of Oisin

W.B. Yeats reworked the tale of Oisin in the Land of Youth in his first long narrative
poem entitled The Wanderings of Osin (1889). Written in the form of a dialogue
between the aged fenian hero and St. Patrick, held traditionally to have converted
Ireland to Christianity, the poem relates Oisins three-hundred years sojourn in the
immortal islands of the Sidhe, spent hunting, dancing, and feasting in the company
of Niamh, the fairy daughter of the sea-god Manannan.

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4. 4. 3. Finn Maccool, from Finnegans Wake to Joyces

Finnegans Wake
Nevertheless, the most famous literary treatment of Fionn himself is found in James
Joyces Finnegans Wake (1939)
Finnegans Wake is a modernist novel, written in a highly innovative dream
language combining multilingual puns with the stream of consciousness developed
in Ulysses.
The title is taken from a popular ballad about Tim Finnegan, a drunken hod-carrier,
who dies in a fall from a ladder and is revived with a splash of whiskey at his wake.
Tim Finnegan livd in Walkin Street
a gentleman Irish mighty odd.
He had a tongue both rich and sweet,
an to rise in the world he carried a hod.
Now Tim had a sort of a tipplin way,
with the love of the liquor he was born,
An to help him on with his work each day
hed a drop of the craythur evry morn.
Chorus: Whack fol de dah,
dance to your partner
Welt the flure yer trotters shake
Wasnt it the truth I told you,
Lots of fun at Finnegans wake.
One morning Tim was rather full,
His head fell heavy which made him shake,
He fell from the ladder and broke his skull,
So they carried him home his corpse to wake.
They rolled him up in a nice clean sheet
And laid him out upon the bed,
With a gallon of whiskey at his feet,
And a barrel of porter at his head.
His friends assembled at the wake,
And Mrs. Finnegan called for lunch,
First they brought in tay and cake,
The pipes, tobacco, and whiskey punch.
Miss Biddy OBrien began to cry,
Such a neat clean corpse, did you ever see,
Arrah, Tim avourneen, why did you die?
Ah, hould your gab, said Paddy McGee.
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Then Biddy OConnor took up the job,

Biddy, says she, youre wrong, Im sure,
But Biddy gave her a belt in the gob,
And left her sprawling on the floor;
Oh, then the war did soon enrage;
Twas woman to woman and man to man,
Shillelagh law did all engage,
And a row and a ruction soon began.
Then Micky Maloney raised his head,
When a noggin of whiskey flew at him,
It missed and falling on the bed,
The liquor scattered over Tim;
Bedad he revives, see how he rises,
And Timothy rising from the bed,
Says, Whirl your liquor round like blazes,
Thanam on dhoul, do ye think Im dead?

It further relates to Fionn mac Cumhaill who, having passed away (Macool, Macool,
orra whyi deed ye diie?), will inevitably return (Mister Finn, youre going to be Mister
Its structure is governed by Giambattista Vicos division of human history into three
ages (divine, heroic, and human), to which Joyce added a section called the
Ricorso, emphasizing the Neapolitan philosophers cyclical conception.
It also systematically reflects Giordano Brunos theory that everything in nature is
realized through interaction with its opposite.
It also connects to modern psychology, the novel enacting the processes of the
sleeping mind in keeping with Joyces description of it as the dream of Fionn lying in
death beside the Liffey.
The main characters of the novel are:

Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE) (Father)

Ana Livia Plurabelle (ALP) (Mother)

Shem the Penman and Shaun the Post (Sons)

Issy (Daughter)

These are not so much members of a particular family, but representatives of a

kinship system repeating itself afresh in all times and places.
They appear under different personal and impersonal forms throughout the text, also
serving as underlying symbols for male and female in a world of flux.
The narrative line consists of a series of situations primarily relating to the sexual
life of the Earwicker family.

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HCE perpetrates a sexual misdemeanour in the Phoenix Park, and becomes the
victim of a scadalmongering. ALP defends him in a letter written by Shem and
carried by Shaun. The boys endlessly contend for Issys favours. HCE grows old and
impotent, is buried and revives. Aged ALP prepares to return as her daughter Issy to
catch his eye again.
In testimony of this cyclic conception, the novel starts in the middle of a sentence
and ends with its beginning:
Finnegans Wake (1939)
riverrun, past Eve and Adams, from swerve of shore to bend of bay,
brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and
Sir Tristram, violer damores, frover the short sea, had passencore
rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe
minor to wielderfight his penisolate war, nor had topsawyers rocks by the
stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens Countrys gorgios while
they went doublin their mumper all the time, nor avoice from afire bellowsed
mishe mishe to tauf-tauf thuartpeatrick, not yet, though vennissoon after, had
a kidscad buttened a bland old isaac, not yet, though alls fair in vanessy,
were sosie sesters wroth with thone nathandjoe. Not a peck of pas malt had
Jhem or Shen brewed by archlight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be
seen ringsome on the aquaface.
The fall (bababadalgharagharaghtakmminorronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhhounawskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once
wallstrait oldparr is related early in bed and later on life down through all
christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice
the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of himself
prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west quest of his tumptytumtoes:
and their upturnpikepoindandplace is at the knock out in the park where
oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.
[. . .]
A way a lone a last a loved a long the

Consider one of the following topics to develop into a full-length essay:
1. Celtic Connections: from the Finn to the Arthurian cycle of tales (9 p.)
2. Irish Heroes in Joycean Metamorphosis: Fion MacCumhail, Tim Finnegan and
Finnegans Wake (9 p.)

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Chapter 5 - The King (Historical) Cycle Of Tales

5.1. The historical (king) cycle:
5.1.1. BUILE SUIBHNE (The Madness of Sweeney)
5.2. Early Irish poetry
5.3. The Suibhne motif in Irish literature
5.3.1. Flann OBrien (Brian ONolan)(1911-66):
At Swim-Two Birds (1939)
The Third Policeman (1940)
The Poor Mouth (1941, 1961)
The Hard Life (1961)
The Dalkey Archive (1964)
5.3.2. Seamus Heaney (1919 - ):
Death of a Naturalist (1966)
Door Into the Dark (1969)
Wintering Out (1972)
North (1975)
Field Work (1979)
Sweeney Astray (1983)
Station Island (1984)
The Haw Lantern (1987)
Seeing Things (1991)

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5.1. The Historical (King) Cycle

The Historical Cycle includes a group of early Irish tales composed between the 9th
and 12th centuries.
They deal with persons and events of the early historical period from the 6th to the
8th centuries.
They are often concerned with kingship, dynastic conflicts and battles.
Though history is present in the background of all stories, romance, mythology and
magic continue to play an important part.


Buile Suibne (Frenzy of Sweeney)

The most famous tale in the cycle is Buile Suibhne, which recounts the tribulations
of the Mad King Sweeney.
Suibne, originally a vigorous ruler and a great warrior, is drive mad by the sound of
battle, as consequence of a curse imposed on him by a cleric named Rnn. He
takes to the wilderness, where he spends may years naked or very sparsely clothed,
living in tree-tops, bemoaning his fate, and celebrating nature in haunting lyrical
verse. Finally, having travelled much of Ireland, he arrives at a small religious
community, where St. Moling welcomes him and, after Suibne is killed by one of the
servants, buries the madman in consecrated ground.
Suibhne son of Colman was king of Dal nAraide. One day St. Ronan was
marking the boundaries of a church in that country, and Suibhne heard the
sound of his bell. Then his people told him that the saint was establishing a
church in his territory, he set out in anger to expel the cleric. His wife Eorann
sought to restrain him and caught the border of his cloak, but he rushed
naked from the house, leaving the cloak in her hands. Ronan was chanting
the Office when Suibhne came up, and the king seized the psalter and threw it
into the lake. He then laid hands on the saint and was dragging him away,
when a messenger arrived from Congal Claen to summon him to the battle of
Moira. Suibhne departed with the messenger, leaving Ronan sorrowful. Next
day an otter from the lake restored the psalter to the saint unharmed. Ronan
gave thanks to God and cursed the king, wishing that he might wander naked
through the world as he had come naked into his presence.
Ronan went to Moira to make peace between Domnall and Congal Claen,
but without success. He and his clerics sprinkled holy water on the armies, but
when they sprinkled in on Suibhne, he slew one of the clerics with a spear
and made a second cast at Ronan himself. The second spear broke against
the saints bell, and the shaft flew into the air. Ronan cursed Suibhne, wishing
that he might fly through the air like the shaft of his spear and that he might
die of a spar cast like the cleric whom he had slain.
Thereafter, when the battle was joined, the armies on both sides raised
three mighty shouts. Suibhne was terrified by the clamour. His weapons fell
from his hands. He was seized with trembling and fled in a frenzy like a bird of
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the air. His feet rarely touched the ground in his flight, and at last he settled
upon a yew tree far from the battle field. There he was discovered by a
kinsman, Aongus the Fat, who had fled the field after the victory of Domnall.
Aongus sought to persuade Suibhne to join him, but Suibhne flew away like a
bird and came to Tir Conaill, where he perched on a tree near the church
called Cill Riagain. It happened that the victorious army of Domnall had
encamped there after the battle. Domnall recognised him and lamented his
Suibhne fled again and was for a long time travelling through Ireland till he
came to Glenn Bolcain. It was there that the madmen used to abide when
their year of frenzy was over, for that valley is always a place of great delight
to madmen. Glenn Bolcain has four gaps to the wind and a lovely fragrant
wood and clean-bordered wells and cool springs, and a sandy stream of clear
water with green cress and long waving brooklime on its surface.
For seven years, Suibhne wandered throughout Ireland, and then he returned
to Glenn Bolcain. There Loingsechan came to seek him and found the
footprints of Suibhne near the river where he came to eat watercress, He slept
one night in a hut and Suibhne came near and heard him snore. And he
uttered a lay:
The man by the wall snores: I dare not sleep like that. For seven years
since that Tuesday at Moira I have not slept for a moment. [. . .]
The cress of the well of Druim Cirb is my meal at terce. My face betrays it.
Truly I am Suibhne the Madman. [. . .]
Though I live from hill to hill on the mountain above the valley of yews,
alas! That I was not left to lie with Congal Claen. [. . .]
Green cress and a drink of clear water is my fare. I do not smile. This is
not the fate of the man by the wall. [. . .]
[. . .]At last Suibhne came to the monastery of St. Mo ling. Mo Ling made him
welcome and bade him return from his wanderings every evening so that his
history might be written, for it was destined that his story should be written
there and that he should receive a Christian burial. Mo Ling bade his cook
give supper to Suibhne, and, wherever he travelled during the day, he would
return at night. The cook would thrust her foot into some cowdung and fill the
hole with milk, and Suibhne would lie down to drink. But the cooks husband,
who was a herdsman, grew jealous of this attention by his wife, and he slew
Suibhne with a spear as he lay drinking the milk one evening. Before his
death he confessed his sins and received the body of Christ and was
anointed. [The conversation of Suibhne, Mo Ling and Mongan the herdsman
is recorded in a poem of twenty-six quatrains, in which Suibhne says:
Sweeter to me once that the sound of a bell beside me was the song of a
blackbird on the mountain and the belling of the stag in a storm.
Sweeter to me once than the voice of a lovely woman beside me was the
voice of the mountain grouse at dawn.
Sweeter to me once was the cry of wolves than the voice of a cleric within
bleating and whining.

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Though you like to drink your ale in taverns with honour, I would rather
drink water from my hand taken from the well by stealth.
Though sweet to you yonder in the church the smooth words of your
students, sweeter to me the noble chant of the hounds of Glenn Bolcain.]
Then Suibhne swooned, and Mo Ling and his cleric brought each a stone
for his monument, and Mo Ling said:
Here is the tomb of Suibhne. His memory grieves my heart. Dear to me
for the love of him is every place the holy madman frequented. [. . .]
Dear to me each cool stream on which the green cress grew, dear each
well of clear water, for Suibhne used to visit them.
If the King of the stars allows it, arise and go with me. Give me, O heart,
thy hand, and come from the tomb.
Sweet to me was the conversation of Suibhne: long shall I remember it. I
pray to the chaste King of heaven over his grave and tomb.
Suibhne arose out of his swoon, and Mo Ling took him by the hand, and
they went together to the door of the church. And Suibhne leaned against the
doorpost and gave a great sigh, and his spirit went to heaven, and he was
buried with honour by Mo Ling.
Summary by Miles Dillon

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5.2. Early Irish Poetry

The lyrical passages contained in the story and attributed to the mad King display
similar characteristics with early Irish poems, which are characterised by Kuno
Meyer, in his Introduction to the Ancient Irish Poetry, in the following terms:
In nature poetry the Gaelic muse may vie with that of any other nation. Indeed,
these poems occupy a unique position in the literature of the world. To seek out
and watch and love Nature, in its tiniest phenomena as in its grandest, was given
to no people so early and so fully as to the Celt. Many hundreds of Gaelic and
Welsh poems testify to this fact. It is a characteristic of these poems that in none
of them do we get an elaborate or sustained description of any scene or scenery,
but rather a succession of pictures and images which the poet, like an
impressionist, calls up before us by light and skilful touches. Like the Japanese,
the Celts were always quick to take an artistic hint; they avoid the obvious and
the commonplace; the half-said thing to them is dearest.


The small bird

lets a trill
from bright tip
of yellow bill.

Over me green branches hang

A blackbird leads the loud son;
Above my pen-lined booklet
I hear a fluting bird-throng

The shrill chord

by Loch Lee
of blackbird
from yellow tree.

The cuckoo pipes a clear call

Its dun cloak hid in deep dell:
Praise to God for this goodness
That in woodland I write well.


I have a shielding in the wood
None knows it safe my God:
An ash-tree on the higher side, a hazel-bush beyond,
A huge old tree encompasses it . . .
Swarms of bees and chafers, little musicians of the wood,
A gentle chorus:
Wild geese and ducks, shortly before summers end,
The music of the dark torrent . . .
The voice of the wind against the branchy wood
Upon the deep-blue sky:
Falls of the river, the note of the swan,
Delicious music . . .

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing



The Suibhne Motif in Irish Literature

Through the story of his wanderings physical and mental Suibhne became the
principal Irish exponent of the legend of the Wild Man.
Many of the motifs attached to him are associated with rites of passage and the
transition from one state to another.
Through its overt religious symbolism, the story is historically rooted in the clash
between pre-Christian and Christian customs and values, and, by extrapolation,
tradition vs. modernity, past vs.present, nature vs. culture, the individual and the
Another motif relates to the state of frenzy and the world of vision entailed by it (the
frenzy unlocks the gifts of poetry ad seership.)
The Suibne story continues to inspire Irish writers, notably Flan OBrien in At-SwimTwo-Birds (1939) and Seamus Heaney in Sweeney Astray (1982)


Brian O'Nolan (Brian Nallin) (1911 1966)

Brian ONolan is best known for his novels An Bal Bocht, At Swim-Two-Birds and
The Third Policeman written under the nom de plume Flann O'Brien.
He also wrote many satirical columns in the Irish Times under the name Myles na
Other pseudonyms he used were: John James Doe, George Knowall, Brother
Barnabas, and the Great Count O'Blather. At Swim-Two Birds (1928)

The novel is narrated by a college student who never goes to class. Instead, he
spends his time carousing with friends and smoking cigarettes (in bed, while wearing
a single suit of clothes). The student begins to write a novel about an Irish novelist,
Dermot Trellis, who has a limited imagination and borrows characters from the
existing pool of literary stereotypes: cowboys from American westerns, a Good Fairy
and a pookah, and figures of Irish legend like Finn MacCool and the mad King
Sweeney. Along with these characters there is a more banal cast, namely Antony
and Sheila Lamont, Paul Shanahan, John Furriskey, and Peggy. Trellis falls in love
with Sheila Lamont, summons her to his room and seduces her. This seduction
results in the birth of a child, whose upbringing is controlled by the pookah. The
characters in the authors proposed novel, meanwhile, dislike their narrative and
convince Trelliss child to write a novel about his novelist, in which the author is to be
tortured to death. Just at this point, the college student passes his exams, and At
Swim-Two-Birds ends.

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from AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS (1939)

I withdrew my elbow and fell back again as if exhausted by my effort. My talk
had been forced, couched in the accent of the lower or working-classes.
Under the cover of the bed-clothes I poked idly with a pencil at my navel.
Brinsley was at the window, giving chuckles out.
Nature of chuckles: Quiet, private, averted.
What are you laughing at? I said.
You and your book and your porter, he said.
Did you read that stuff about Finn, I said, that stuff I gave you?
Oh, yes, he said, that was the pigs whiskers. That was funny all right.
This I found a pleasing eulogy. The God-big Finn. Brinsley turned from
the window and asked me for a cigarette. I took out my butt or half-spent
cigarette and showed it in the hollow of my hand.
That is all I have, I said, affecting a pathos in my voice.
By God, youre the queer bloody man, he said.
He then brought from his own pocket a box of the twenty denomination,
lighting one for each of us.
There are two ways to make big money, he said, to write a book or to
make a book.
It happened that this remark provoked between us a discussion on the
subject of Literature - great authors living and dead, and character of modern
poetry, the predilections of publishers and the importance of being at all times
occupied with literary activities of a spare-time or recreative character. My dim
room rang with the iron of fine words and the names of great Russian masters
were articulated with fastidious intonation. Witticisms were canvassed,
depending for their utility on a knowledge of the French language as spoken
in medieval times. Psycho-analysis was mentioned - with, however, a
somewhat little touch. I then tendered an explanation spontaneous and
unsolicited concerning my own work, affording an insight as to its aesthetic, its
daemon, its argument, its sorrow and its joy, its darkness, its sun-twinkle
Nature of explanation offered: It was stated that while the novel and the
play were both pleasing intellectual exercises, the novel was inferior to the
play inasmuch as it lacked the outward accidents of illusion, frequently
inducing the reader to be outwitted in a shabby fashion and caused to
experience a real concern for the fortunes of illusory characters. The play was
consumed in wholesome fashion by large masses in places of public resort;
the novel was self-administered in private. The novel, in the hands of un
unscrupulous writer, could be despotic. In reply to an inquiry, it was explained
that a satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader
could regulate at will the degree of his credulity. It was undemocratic to
compel characters to be uniformly good or bad or poor or rich. Each should be
allowed a private life, self-determination and a decent standard of living. This
would make for self-respect, contentment and better service. It would be
incorrect to say that it would lead to chaos. Characters should be
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


interchangeable as between one book and another. The entire corpus of

existing literature should be regarded as a limbo from which discerning
authors could draw their characters as required, creating only when they
failed to find a suitable existing puppet. The modern novel should be largely a
work of reference. Most authors spend their time saying what has been said
before - usually said much better. A wealth of references to existing works
would acquaint the reader instantaneously with the nature of each character,
would obviate tiresome explanations and would effectively preclude
mountebanks, upstarts, thimbleriggers and persons of inferior education from
understanding contemporary literature. Conclusion of explanation.
That is all my bum, said Brinsley.
But taking precise typescript from beneath the book that was at my
side, I explained to him my literary intentions in considerable detail - now
reading, now discoursing, oratio recta and oratio obliqua. [direct speech and
indirect speech]
[. . . ]
After a prolonged travel and a searching in the skies, Sweeny arrived at
nightfall at the shore of the widespread Loch Ree his resting-place being the
fork of the tree of Tiobradan for that night. It snowed on his tree that night, the
snow being the worst of all the other snows he had endured since the feather
grew on his body, and he was constrained to the recital of these following
Terrible is my plight this night
the pure air has pierced my body,
lacerated feet, my cheek is green O Mighty God, it is my due.
It is bad living without a house,
Peerless Christ, it is a piteous life!
A filling of green-tufted fine cresses
a drink of cold water from a clear rile
Stumbling out of the withered tree-tops
walking the furze - it is truth wolves for company, man-shunning,
running with the red stag through fields.
If the evil hag had not invoked Christ against me that I should perform leaps
for her amusement, I would not have relapsed into madness, said Sweeny.
Come here, said Lamont, whats this about jumps?
Hopping around, you know, said Furriskey.
The story, said learned Shanahan in a learned explanatory manner, is
about this fellow Sweeny that argued the toss with the clergy and came off
second-best at the wind-up. There was a curse - a malediction - put down in
the book against him. The upshot is that your man becomes a bloody bird.
I see, said Lamont.

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing



Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

Heaney was born into a nationalist Irish Catholic family at Mossbawn, in a rural area
thirty miles to the north-west of Belfast.
His main collections of poetry are:

Death of a Naturalist (1966)

Door into the Dark (1969)

Wintering Out (1972)

North (1975)

Field Work (1979)

Sweeney Astray: A Version From the Irish (1983)

Station Island (1984)

The Haw Lantern (1987)

Seeing Things (1991)

The Midnight Verdict (1993)

The Spirit Level (1996)

Heaney's work is often set in rural Londonderry, the county of his childhood. Hints of
sectarian violence can be found in many of his poems, even works that on the
surface appear to deal with something else. Like the Troubles themselves, Heaney's
work is deeply associated with the lessons of history, sometimes even prehistory.
Under the influence of P.V. Globs The Bog People which dealt with the discovery
of well-preserved Iron Age bodies in the Danish bogs, many of which seemed to
have been ritually sacrificed to earth deities, Heaney evolved the bog myth to
distance the sectarian killings in modern Ulster through their analogues of 2000
years ago.
In Punishment, for example, the body of a young Danish woman accused of
adultery and sacrificed to the land in an ancient fertility ritual prompts him meditate
on tribal revenge and justice, finding its modern counterpart in the shaved and tarred
heads of young Irish women humiliated by the I.R.A. for fraternizing with British
PUNISHMENT (from North, 1975)
I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.
It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


it shakes the frail rigging

of her ribs.
I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.
Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:
her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring
to store
the memories of love.
Little adulteress,
before they punish you
you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,
I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur
of your brains exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles webbing
and all your numbered bones:
I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,
who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.
Nevertheless, if the bog myth distances contemporary violence through an objective
correlative, it also aestheticises it through Heaneys art. Being accused of having
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


become an anthropologist of ritual violence, Heaney decided that investing poetry

with the burden of political meaning meant to frustrate its flight. While he himself
withdrew from the politically embittered North to Wicklow, in the Republic, his
subsequent poems revel in the condition of exile as a necessary one for a poet who
acknowledges the priority of his artistic vocation over the constraints of the political
In Exposure the speaker is an inner migr, who has given up history as a bad
It is December in Wicklow:
Alders dripping, birches
Inheriting the last light,
The ash tree cold to look at.
A comet that was lost
Should be visible at sunset,
Those million tons of light
Like a glimmer of haws and rose-hips,
And I sometimes see a falling star.
If I could come on meteorite!
Instead I walk through damp leaves,
Husks, the spent flukes of autumn,
Imagining a hero
On some muddy compound,
His gift like a slingstone
Whirled for the desperate.
How did I end up like this?
I often think of my friends
Beautiful prismatic counselling
And the anvil brains of some who hate me
As I sit weighing and weighing
My responsible tristia.
For what? For the ear? For the people?
For what is said behind-backs?
Rain comes down through the alders,
its low conductive voices
Mutter about let-downs and erosions
And yet each drop recalls
The diamond absolutes.
I am neither internee nor informer;
An inner migr, grown long-haired
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


And thoughtful; a wood-kerne

Escaped from the massacre,
Taking protective colouring
From bole and bark, feeling
Every wind that blows;
Who, blowing up these sparks
For their meagre heat, have missed
The once-in-a-lifetime portent,
The comets pulsing rose. Sweeney Astray (1983)

In 1983 Heaney undertook a full-scale translation of Buile Suibhne as Sweeney
Astray, finding in the figure of the ancient king an analogue for himself as an artist
who has chosen to flee from the constraints of the tribe in order to find release into
imaginative freedom.
God of heaven! Why did I go
battling out that famous Tuesday
to end up changes into Mad Sweeney,
roosting alone up in the ivy?
From the well of Drum Cirb, watercress supplies
my bite and sup at terce;
its juices that have greened my chin
are Sweeneys markings and birth-stain.
And the manhunt is an expiation.
Mad Sweeney is on the run
and sleeps curled beneath a rag
under the shadow of Slieve leaguelong cut off from the happy time
when I lived apart, an honoured name;
long exiled from those rushy hillsides,
far from my home among the reeds.
I give thanks to the King above
whose harshness only proves His love
which was outraged by my offence
and shaped my new shape for my sins
a shape that flutters from the ivy
to shiver under a winter sky,
to go drenched in teems of rain
and crouch under thunderstorms.
The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Though I still have life, haunting deep

in the yew glen, climbing mountain slopes,
I would swoop places with Congal Claon,
stretched on his back among the slain.
My life is steady lamentation
that the roof over my head has gone,
that I go in rags, starved and mad,
brought to this by the power of God.
It was sheer madness to imagine
any life outside Glen BolcainGlen Bolcain, my pillow and hearts ease
my Eden thick with apple trees.
What does he know, the man at the wall,
how Sweeney survived his downfall?
Going stooped through the long grass.
A sup of water. Watercress.
Summering where herons stalk.
Wintering out among wolf-packs.
Plumed in twigs that green and fall.
What does he know, the man at the wall?
I who once camped among mad friends
in Bolcain, that happy glen of winds
and wind-borne echoes, live miserable
Beyond the dreams of the man at the wall.
In 1995 Seamus Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Consider one of the following topics to develop into a full-length critical essay:
1. Mad King Sweeney and the Buile Motif in Irish Literature (10 p.)
2. At-Swim-Two-Birds and Sweeney Astray: Two Versions of Buile Sweeney.
3. The Matter of Ireland and Heaneys Ars Poetica: Punishment vs. Exposure..
(10 p.)

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Minimal Bibliography:



Constable, 1991.



Lagan Press, 1993.


Kiberd, Declan, INVENTING IRELAND: The Literature of the Modern

Nation, Vintage, 1998.










Editura Didactica si Pedagogica, 2004.


WRITING, Galati University Press, 2014.


Moody, T.W. (ed.) THE COURSE OF IRISH HISTORY, Mercier

Press, 1994.



LITERATURE, Oxford UP, 1996.

The Celtic Paradigm in Irish Writing


Universitatea Dunrea De Jos din Galai

Facultatea de Litere

Colonial Themes and the
Politics of Representation

(Curs opional de literatura englez)

Anul II

Professor Ioana Mohor-Ivan, PhD



INTRODUCTION The Matter of Ireland . . . . . 4
CHAPTER 1 The Anglo-Norman Legacy in Irish
Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
1.1. The Norman Invasion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13
1.2. Norman Cultural Influences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
1.3. Anglo-Norman Literary Productions . . . . . . . . . . .14
1.3.1. Chansons des geste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
1.3.2. Goliardic poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
1.3.3. The danta gradha . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

CHAPTER 2 Englands Other: Inscribing and reinscribing Irelands story . . . . . . . . 20

2.1. Plantations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20
2.2. English Narratives of Ireland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
2.2.1. Colonial Discourse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
2.2.2. Othering Ireland . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . 22 Civilians vs. Barbarians . . . . . . 22 The Stage Irishman . . . . . . . . . 25
2.3. Re-writing Irelands story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
2.3.1. The 19th-century Irish melodrama . . . . 28
2.3.2. Contemporary Revisions of Historical Narratives
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

CHAPTER 3 Colonialism and the Nationalist

Imaginary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
3.1. Colonial Identities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
3.2. Nationalist Literary Tropes: Woman as Nation . . . 36
3.2.1. Celtic Matriarchs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
3.2.2. The Spear-Bhean and the 18th-century Aislinge .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
3.2.3. The Shan Bhean Bhocht and the popular ballad .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
3.2.4. Cathleen Ni Houlihan . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
3.3. Deconstructing the Woman-Nation trope . . . . . . . 44
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature


CHAPTER 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big

House . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
4.1. The Protestant Ascendancy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
4.2. Landmarks of Historical Decline . . . . . . . . . . . 47
4.3. The Big House: from cultural construct to literary theme
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
4.3.1. Cultural Myth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
4.3.2. Literary Theme . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Big House Novels . . . . . . . . . 50 Poetry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 Drama . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

APPENDIXES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Appendix 1: Brief Chronology of Historical Events. . 60
Appendix 2: Suggested Essay Topics . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Appendix 3: Individual Authors and Texts . . . . . . . . 62
Appendix 4: Pronunciation Guide . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63

MINIMAL BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .64

familiarizarea studenilor cu particularitile istorico-culturale ale
spaiului irlandez;
evidenierea unei tradiii literare proprii Irlandei, urmrite n
evoluia sa cronologic;
insuirea terminologiei de critic literar culturalist i postcolonialist
aplicarea acesteia n analiza de text pentru a depista legtura
dintre context cultural i creaie literar

Metode de predare nvare:

Studiu individual, tutoriat, conversaia euristic, explicaia,
dezbaterea, studiul de caz, problematizarea, metode de lucru n
grup, individual i frontal, metode de dezvoltare a gndirii critice,
portofoliul, studiul bibliografiei.
Irish Literature. Part 2: Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation

Introduction The Matter of Ireland


The first contacts established between the English state and Ireland
occurred at the end of the 12th century, when Dermot, the exiled king of
Leinster, asked the Norman lords of South Wales to help him regain his
kingdom. Yet, once in Ireland, the Normans turned into conquistadors,
occupying and colonising a region around Dublin, the Pale, and subsequently
trying to advance westwards. As a result of this first wave of English
colonists, a three-fold division of the island was established, consisting in: the
Pale (that region where English law was administered as in an English shire),
the West (an area peopled by purely Celtic tribes, ruled by their Irish chiefs),
and tracts of mixed control in-between (with Anglo-Irish barons ruling over
the native population).
These first colonists and their descendants were largely absorbed in
the Celtic atmosphere around them, many intermarrying with the native
populations and adopting the local customs. Later, after the Reformation,
they chose to remain within the Catholic Church, being called Old English in
order to differentiate them from the fresher waves of Protestant conquerors.
Yet, throughout the Middle Ages, Ireland itself remained independent
of English royal control, for, though the English kings called themselves
Lords of Ireland and claimed, at times, sovereignity over it, in practice no
troops were effectively sent there to actually conquer and govern the island.
The policy of real conquest and colonisation was undertaken by the
English state during Elizabeth Is and James Is reigns, and was largely
prompted by Englands turn to Protestantism during the 16th century. Within
the new religious discourse, Catholic Ireland was no longer a place to be
ignored, but a possible security threat as the Irish could be now used by the
Catholic powers of the day (the Spaniards in particular) to attack England.
The fact that Ireland was becoming the danger point in Elizabeths dominions
was confirmed in 1588 when the Pope himself planned to attack England by
sending armed troops bearing his commission to Ireland, even if the English
captured and massacred them at Smerwick, prompting the Queen to
undertake its conquest.
As Trevelyan notes, Ireland was attacked with great brutality and
colonised in the same way that America was at the time, as both represented
two new fields, of equal importance and attraction, where private fortunes
could be made, public service rendered to the Queen, and the cause of true
religion upheld against the Pope and the Spaniards 1 .
The island was first subjugated military, and, after the defeat of the
rising of the Northern earls 2 , Ireland was colonised, mainly in Ulster, as the

G. M. Trevelyan, A Short History of England, Penguin, 1979, p.

In 1607 the last of the Northern earls, Hugh ONeill, earl of Ulster, departed from Ireland,
exiling himself in Italy. This event has come to be called The Flight of the Earls, signifying the
moment when the Gaelic rule comes to an end in Ireland.
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Introduction The Matter of Ireland

best land the country possessed. But, despite the efforts undertaken by the
English state in order to persuade people to emigrate to Ireland, the largest
part of the colonists establishing James Is Plantation of Ulster in 1608 were
Scots from the neighbouring coast, carrying with them their extreme version
of Protestantism.
The next important moment within the history of Anglo-Irish
relationships occurred during the 17th century Civil Wars in England, that
confirmed once again for the English that Ireland did represent a security
threat for their state. As the Catholic Irish registered their support on the
Kings side, at the end of the war Cromwell took full revenge on them,
sending his troops to reconquer Ireland as the first step in the reconstitution
of the British Empire. It was rendered easier for Cromwell and his army
because the Protestants over there, whatever their political allegiance,
tended to rally round him as the champion of their race and creed 3 , while the
Irish resistance became racial and Catholic instead of Royalist. After the fall
of Drogheda had broken the back of resistance in the East, Cromwell went
home, leaving the rest of the army carry on, in an atrocious way, the guerrilla
war in the West.
The subsequent land settlement completed the transference of the soil
from Irish to British proprietors, aiming to fulfil a three-fold objective: to pay
off in Irish land the soldiers who had fought, to render the English hold secure
against another rebellion like that of 1641 4 , and lastly to extirpate
Catholicism, by trying to push the whole indigenous population to the west of
the river Shannon, to Cannaught, a region that invokes a deep primitive
Gaelic feeling, but is economically very poor 5 .
The most important outcome of the Cromwellian policy was the fact
that Ulster had now to face its own set of problems deriving from the largescale settlements of Scots in Down, Antrim and Derry. The Cromwellian
conquest also led to the downfall of the Old English interest in Ireland. The
real beneficiaries were the New English planters of pre-1641, now styling
themselves as Old Protestants 6 to distinguish themselves from the Baptists
and Quakers (the New Protestants) of the Cromwellian army.
Another key-date in the history of Irelands colonisation is the year
1689, when the Catholic King James II was deposed by the English
Parliament in favour of the Protestant William of Orange. A year later, James
II landed in Ireland, aided by French money, troops and generals, trying to
complete the conquest of a land where already three-fourth of its population
obeyed him. In response to this action, the Protestants in the north
proclaimed William king and fortified Derry, enduring the famous Catholic
siege of 169o until William landed in Ireland and released the town.
The decisive battle was fought at the Boyne on the 12 July 1690, upon
two quarrels. It was the struggle of the Anglo-Scots against the Catholic Irish
for the leadership of Ireland, but also the struggle of Britain and her European
allies to prevent a Jacobite restoration in England, and the consequent

G.M.Trevelyan, op. cit., p.

In 1641 Sir Phelim ONeill led an insurrection against the Ulster Plantation.
Although the idea of driving the whole Catholic population beyond the Shannon was
entertained, eventually only the landlords suffered this fate.
Hugh Kearney, The British Isles. A History of Four Nations, Cambridge UP, 1989.
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Introduction The Matter of Ireland

domination of the world by the French monarchy 7 . The presence, on both

sides of the river, of regiments from the continent represented the
international issues at stake. The outcome of that battle decided the future of
Ireland for the next two centuries, bringing the defeat of the native Irish and
the final eclipse of the culture of the Old English, but it also saved
Protestantism in Europe and enabled the British Empire to launch forth on its
career of expansion overseas.
The defeated Catholic forces retreated to Limerick which, in its turn,
was forced to withstand a Protestant siege and finally surrender in 1691, the
year that also witnessed the renaming of Derry to Londonderry (a victory has
to be enunciated in different ways).
The 17th century and its events provide the focus for the most
politically charged folk festivals for both Protestants and Catholics alike. In
August and December, the siege of Derry is commemorated by the
Apprentice Boys March 8 , while the Battle of Boyne is celebrated on the 12
July by Protestant Orange Lodge marches that commemorate the defeat of
James II. With equal intensity of recollection, the defence of Limerick and its
defeat has also been turned into a celebratory event by the Nationalist
rhetoric, as the moment when the brave and gallant defenders of Ireland
were eventually defeated, and Patrick Sarsfield, the hero of the Limerick
siege, has entered the Catholic pantheon of heroes withstanding oppression.
The restored English rule in Ireland reflected very little tolerance to
any groups outside the Established Anglican Church. The penal code placed
the Catholics in Ireland under every political and social disadvantage and
pursued and persecuted their leaders, while, at the same time, Anglican
intolerance refused political equality, and for some time even religious
freedom, to Presbyterians as well. At the same time, the decrees of the
English Parliament were ruining the Irish Trade, halting the economical
development of a country which was now freezing into a three-fold cultural
pattern that was to persist throughout the next century: a Protestant landowning Ascendancy in the East (smallest in number, but enjoying the
greatest political power and closely involved with affairs in England); a
Presbyterian culture in Ulster (socially dominant in Antrim and Down, but not
well represented elsewhere, and preserving close links with Scotland); and
the Catholic majority to be found in all the four provinces, ultimately merging
the Gaelic and the Old English cultures through its sense of a common
Catholicism 9 .
At the end of the 18th century Ireland was affected by the two great
revolutions that are part of the world history, the American Independence
War and the French Revolution, which stirred up once again the factions
involved. Yet, in the first instance, the initiative was not Catholic and Gaelic,
but Protestant and Liberal, a movement calling itself The Volunteers, led
largely by landlords, prepared to defend the country against a French
invasion, on condition that the English government abolished all Irelands

G.M.Trevelyan, op. cit.

A group of apprentice boys closed the gates of Derry against the wish of its governor and
resisted James IIs siege until Williams troops arrived.
Hugh Kearney, op. cit.
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Introduction The Matter of Ireland

commercial disabilities and granted the formal independence of its

Parliament from British control.
In 1791, a much more radical political society was formed in Dublin
and Belfast with members of the newly-expanding Protestant urban middleclass, which claimed to be non-sectarian and rationalist under the influence
of French political thought. This society of The United Irishmen sought to
forge an alliance with leaders of the Catholic community in order to demand
the widening of the franchise and to put an end to the political and civil
disabilities of the Presbyterians and Catholics. Suppressed in 1794, the
Societys demands grew more radical, as it operated underground, and
eventually republican, entering an alliance with the French forces with the
aim of concerting a French invasion with an Irish insurrection.
In reaction against The United Irishmen society, in 1795 the landlords
placed themselves at the head of a Church and King society, the Orange
Order, an exclusively Protestant society which was formalised with quasiMasonic ritual in 1797 when lodges were formed.
In 1798 the United Irishmen rose in revolt, led by Wolfe Tone and
Robert Emmett, hoping to unite the religions of Ireland in arms against
Englands domination and establish a United Independent Ireland (in the
fashion of The United States of America). The rebellion was put down by the
British and the Orange Order loyalists, and sectarian hostility led to atrocious
reprisals being taken against the insurrectionists and the native population.
The memories of 98 became a heirloom of hatred, cherished in every
cottage, and renewed by successive generations of nationalists.
The rebellion of 1798 also led the British government conclude that a
union of Ireland with Britain was a necessity, as the only method of
permanently restoring order and justice, in spite of the opposition of the
Protestant Ascendancy.
In 1800, the Act of Union abolished the parliament in Dublin and
secured the incorporation of Ireland within the British State. It was an act
which also listed the support of the Catholic population who was hoping now
for an improvement of their condition. But even if the act provided for Irish
representation in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, in effect
only the Anglican interest was represented at Westminster as Irish Catholic
MPs were not admitted.
The Union had the result of bringing the complexity of Irish society and
politics into the heart of Westminster, and also provided the outlet for Irish
immigration to England. It also brought the Industrial Revolution to the North
of Ireland, with the result that the gulf between the North and the South was
enlarged, and the balance of power shifted within the Ascendancy in favour
of the industrially-expanding North, while the economic backwater of the
South was left in the hands of the Catholic urban and rural middle-class. It
was from the ranks of the latter one that the charismatic leader, Daniel
OConnor, rose to fight for the Catholic emancipation, forcing the British
government to pass the Bill in 1828. A final outcome of the union was that the
old animosities between the Anglican and Presbyterian Protestants died out
in the North in an environment of industrialisation and revived Catholicism.
Towards the middle of the 19th century, the Great Potato Famine that
struck Ireland in 1846 enhanced once again the division between the
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Introduction The Matter of Ireland

Catholic and Protestant cultures, due to their contrasting experiences. While

the North of the country was mostly spared by the failure of the potato crops
(the main element of popular diet was oats), the Catholic South of small
farming and labouring classes, heavily dependent upon the potato, was
decimated by starvation and disease. By 1847 large numbers of small
farmers were obliged to emigrate to the United States of America, forming
the basis of a very powerful pressure group in the years to come, while by
1851 statistics showed that Ireland had lost one quarter of its population,
either by emigration or by death, a social tragedy that had its greatest impact
on the Catholic poor.
This sudden drop in population, which was not reversed in subsequent
decades, also led to a complex series of economic, social and cultural
accommodations in the South. As the numbers of the landless labourers and
their families drastically declined, they ceased to exert the same degree of
influence that they had wielded before the Famine. At the same time this
event made possible for the Irish tenant farmers to consolidate and extend
landholdings after the Famine, transmitting family wealth from generation to
generation through a set of practices termed familism 10 . As a result, a
distinct culture emerged in the later 19th century, the culture of the Irish
tenant farmers (marked by late marriage and strict sexual taboos), the most
numerous class at the time which also defined the characteristics of the
By contrast, in the north more sexual permissiveness was allowed in
rural society, and the labourers also survived as an important segment of the
By the mid-1860s, a period of comparative political tranquillity ended abruptly
with the advent of Fenianism, when the issue of the long-term future of
Anglo-Irish relations came again to the fore. Fenians was the alternative,
popular name for the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret revolutionary
organisation, founded in 1858, inspired by the advanced nationalism of the
Italian nationalistic movement of Mazzini. Its intention of establishing an Irish
republic by force, led the Fenians start bombing activity in the Autumn of
1865, and even if the movement ultimately failed, the execution of some of its
leaders in Manchester 11 helped the publicity of the Fenian cause within
Catholic opinion.
In the 1880s a first nationalist party emerged, being concerned in the
beginning with a campaign - in the wake of the agrarian crisis of 1879 - to
resist landlord seizure of tenants land for non-payment of rents. Being
founded in 1879 under the name of The Irish Land League by a Fenian,
Michael Davitt, it was taken over by Charles Stewart Parnell who used its
cause as platform to become the leader of a group of Irish MPs pressing for
the Home Rule bill for Ireland. The national demand for self-government
proved so deeply implanted in the mind of the Irish that it survived not only
the fall and death of Parnell, but the subsequent removal of the land

Familism consisted of a number of procedures used to control access to marriage,

including the imposition and perpetuation of strict codes of behaviour between men and
women, general endorsement of celibacy outside marriage and postponement of marriage in
farmers families until the chosen heir was allowed by the father to take possession of the
The so-called Manchester Martyrs
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Introduction The Matter of Ireland

grievance - the man and the question which had first given it power -,
dominating the British politics until the beginning of the First World War.
Meanwhile, after the fall of Parnells parliamentary, its followers
reunited within a new shell organisation, the United Irish League, and the
political landscape was further complicated by the emergence of other
groups struggling for hegemony, such as the Gaelic League 12 and later, in
1908, the Sinn Fein, a party that united a number of smaller groups to
campaign for Irish independence.
In reaction to this growing nationalism, the Orange Order opposition to
an independent and united Ireland intensified and before the outbreak of the
First World War Ireland was on the brinks of a civil war, with both sides
illegally armed and the drilling of the Ulster Volunteers in the North answered
by similar demonstrations in the south. When the war broke out, even if
conscription was not applied in Ireland, most Ulster Volunteers and Irish
National Volunteers joined the British army, while the Fenian linked
organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, disapproving of Irish support
for England, decided that a new insurrection was to take place in Ireland
before the end of the war. The outcome was the Easter rebellion of 1916.
It was not so much the rebellion of the Easter week that completed the
change in the attitude of the Irish people generally as its aftermath, for the
government made the mistake of shooting the rebels, one by one, even those
who were wounded, and of arresting and executing people who had no
involvement in the rising. This led to a complete reversal of the Irish opinion
which turned its sympathies from the Irish parliamentary party and, in a wave
of national anger, gave its approval to Sinn Fein, which won the general
elections in 1918.
The victorious Sinn Fein pledged itself to the Irish republic and
proceeded to put into operation a policy of passive resistance to continued
British rule, refusing to send its members to occupy their places at
The outcome of this measure was the Anglo-Irish war from early 1919
to July 1921, or the troubles as the people euphemistically called it. It was a
struggle characterised by guerrilla warfare, ambushes, raids on police
barracks, and planned assassinations on the one side; and reprisals, the
shooting-up and burning-up of towns, executions and terrorising on the other.
Eventually public opinion in America and in Britain demanded a truce, which
was arranged in July 1921, followed by the signing of a treaty five months
later that conceded dominion status to the twenty counties that formed the
Irish Free State, while the six Protestant counties of Ulster remained within
the British Union, with a Home Rule Parliament of their own. 13
Northern Ireland had been brought into existence, but its future was
far from assured. The act of 1920 had set up a state in which about one third
of the population was bitterly hostile. Some took part in an attempt to
overthrow it by force, others adopted an attitude of non-cooperation, enabling
thus the unionists to appropriate loyalty and good citizenship to themselves
and identify Catholicism with hostility to the state.

an organisation founded in 1893 to promote the restoration of the Irish language.

Donald McCartney, From Parnell to Pearse (1891-1921), in The Course of Irish
History, Mercier Press, 1994, pp 307-310.
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Introduction The Matter of Ireland

Events in the rest of Ireland during these years also helped to keep
alive old issues in the north. The dismantling of the Anglo-Irish Treaty after
1932, the new Irish constitution of 1937, and the policy of raising the partition
question on every possible occasion heartened the nationalists but confirmed
the unionists in their resolve that Ulsters position within the United Kingdom
and the Empire must remain unchanged. Eires neutrality in the Second
World War was the final proof of how far the paths of the two Irish
governments had diverged 14 . More than this, the cultures of the two
communities were also divergent, with a minimum of social contact
established between them: each had its own churches, schools, newspapers
and forms of recreation. For one community, soccer and rugby were
appropriate games, while for the other Gaelic football and hurling were
national sports. In mixed rural areas, a complex and subtle system of
relationships came into existence in which both sides were taking great pains
to avoid causing offence. From time to time, IRA, a legacy from the days of
Fenianism, attempted offensive operations to overthrow partition.
The old issues survived into the post-war age as well. A new
campaign of violence was carried on from 1956 to 1962. There were
occasions when nationalist demonstrations were broken up by the police.
Nationalists continued to complain of discrimination in the distribution of
houses and jobs, the enforcement of law and order and the drawing of
electoral boundaries. Unionists retorted that Catholics were disloyal to the
state and used occasional royal visits to reaffirm their loyalty to Britain. 15
Yet, the 1960s were years of change for both communities, North and
South. In the Republic change was above all economic and social. A new
government brought along the shift from conservatism to innovation, paving
the way for the expansion of education and beginning the erosion of the rural
political and cultural domination.
In Northern Ireland, change was most obviously political, but important
social and economic changes occurred as well. Due to the general benefits
brought by the implantation of the British Welfare State in Northern Ireland,
an articulate middle-class had risen within the Catholic community, more
prepared than its predecessors to acquiesce in the constitutional status quo,
provided Catholics received a fair deal within it. A sign of the new mood of
the catholic community was the growth of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights
Association, founded in 1967. This body, unlike previous organisations, did
not challenge the existence of the Northern Ireland state, but demanded
merely the ending of abuses within it. From August 1968, marches and
demonstrations in support of this objective were held in various towns, but
the police and the Protestant right wing saw this development as a new
attempt to undermine the state so that successive demonstrations were
broken up by police and harassed by Protestant extremists. A year later
disorder had reached such a height with Protestant mobs launching savage
attacks on Catholic areas of west Belfast that the Northern Irish government
was obliged to request the British government to send in troops to restore

J.L.McCracken, Northern Ireland, 1921-66, in The Course of Irish History, op. cit., pp
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Introduction The Matter of Ireland

But the crisis deepened as in the 1970s IRA appeared on the scene of
battle, reorganised as the Provisional IRA and reverted to nationalist military
traditions and with the first IRA victims the government lost control of its own
Army who turned against nationalists. The politics of internment 16 which was
subsequently applied only helped to increase the level of violence, so that in
1972 the British government decided to suspend the Northern Ireland
government and introduce direct rule from Westminster 17 .
From 1972 to the present day all attempts to deal with the Troubles
in Ireland 18 have offered only momentary respite from the embittered clash
between the two communities, as the sharp divergence between unionist and
nationalist aspirations has remained. Northern Ireland is still an extremely
parochial place where matters of life and death have forced people to fall
back on their own resources and close ranks, a place where identity has
always been conceived in antithetical pairs, Catholic/Protestant,
Republican/Unionist, Irish/Scot or Anglo-Irish, and where conflict is still based
on an atavistic claim to territory on both sides.
Northern Ireland has remained a place where history and its versions
play a central role in shaping the attitudes of the two groups involved in this
intricate drama, as each community has its different interpretation of more
remote or more recent events that would legitimate its claims. Nationalist
history classically portrays an opposition between Britain and Ireland, planter
and Gael as that between oppressor and oppressed, the central events of
this historical narrative being the successive invasions of Ireland in the 16th
and 17th century, undertaken with great ferocity, entitling the Irish to a
catalogue of grievances whose rhetorical force derives from the reciprocity
principle: their moral advantage against the putative descendants of
oppressors. On the other hand, Protestant history celebrates 17th century
events as those which allowed the defence of civilisation, freedom and true
religion, as well as the establishment of a Protestant Ascendancy, while for
rhetorical purposes the more recent history (from the 1920s onwards) is
employed as a catalogue of grievances against the Catholics who have failed
to accept the will of the majority and subverted the state using violent means.
To this it adds a folk history, feelings handed down from generation to
generation, always pointing to the goodness of us versus the badness of
them, which is culturally ingrained and genetically transmitted, plus a
personal history for everybody has his own memories of fathers and
ancestors who have been cast as martyrs in this drama.
As recent events have demonstrated, the peace-process proved to be
only a fragile mutual cease-fire, the two communities continuing to step on
each others feet persistently. The only hope for a true lasting peace would
be for the reason of living to triumph over the law of the dead.


the holding without trial of suspected terrorists

J.H.White, Ireland, 1966-82, in The Course of Irish History, op.cit., pp342-347 passim.
the 1985 Anglo-Irish treaty, the 1994 peace-process
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 1 The Anglo-Norman Legacy


After the death of the famous High King Brian Boru in 1014, Ireland was
at almost constant civil war for two centuries. The various families which
ruled Ireland's four provinces were constantly fighting with one another for
control of all of Ireland.
At that time Ireland was like a federal kingdom, with five provinces (Ulster,
Leinster, Munster and Connaught along with Meath, which was the seat of
the High King) each ruled by kings who were all supposed to be loyal to the
High King of Ireland.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 1 The Anglo-Norman Legacy

1.1. The Norman Invasion

1152 Dermot Mac Murrough, King of Leinster, abducts
ORourkes wife, Dervorgilla
1155 The Pope gives Ireland by papal Bull to Henry II
1166 Rory OConor and oRourke attack Dermot, forcing
him to take refuge in Aquitaine.
1169 A Norman army, led by Richard FitzGilbert de
Clare, Earl of Pembroke (Strongbow) lands in
1171 Following Dermots death, Strongbow assumes the
office of King of Leinster
1199 On Johns ascension to the English throne, the
second phase of the Norman conquest is innitiated.
1366 The Statutes of Kilkenny acknowledge the Irish
Revival of the 14th c.
In the mid-1100's, two competing Irish Kings, Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster and
Rory OConnor of Connacht, feuded over the high kingship of Ireland. Upon
OConnors victory, MacMurrough was sent into exile. He sought aid from Henry
II, King of England, and invited the Anglo-Norman Earl of Pembroke, subsequently
known as Strongbow, to invade part of Ireland and help him subdue his rival.
Strongbow conquered much of the east, including Waterford, Wexford, and
Dublin. Henry II wanted to insure that his lords did not set up an independent, rival
kingdom in Ireland; hence Henry subsequently claimed the conquered lands as
English domains. When OConnor formally submitted to Henry in 1175 (thereby
becoming the last High King in Irish history), the English conquest of Ireland (and
the first holding in the future British Empire) had begun.
During the next two centuries English occupation in Ireland consolidated
itself, and the English married and mingled with the "native" Irish to form the Old
Anglo-Irish or Old English, the elite ruling class who constituted the great earldoms
of the 14th century.
Though English by descent, this class soon considered itself Irish, so much so
that an anxiety arose among the English about the "gaelicization" of the Anglo-Irish,
resulting in the passage of the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366.

1.2. Norman Cultural Influences

o Within the Pale feudal estates are evolved. Gradually English civil
government established in Ireland: exchequer, chancery, courts of
justice, division into counties, parliament (Anglo-Irish only). During this
time the great Old English (Anglo-Norman) familiesFitzgerald, de
Burgh, Butlerform their power, and the Old Irish KingsOConnor,
OBrien, and ONeillstill retain much of their ancient kingdoms.
o Southern varieties of English are introduced within the Pale. These
mediaeval varieties of Hiberno-English become the language of
commerce and administration, and still survive in rural Wexford and the
north of Dublin.
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Chapter 1 The Anglo-Norman Legacy

o After the plantations of the 16th and 17th century, northern dialects of
English and Inglis (dialect of the Scottish lowlands) are introduced in
Ireland, forming the basis of modern Hiberno-English.

1.3. Anglo-Norman Literary Productions

1.3.1. Chansons des geste: The Song of Dermot and the Earl
Chansons de geste (Old French for "songs of heroic deeds) are the epic
poetry that appears at the dawn of French literature. The earliest known
examples date from the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, nearly a
hundred years before the emergence of the lyric poetry of the troubadours
and the earliest verse romances.
Composed in Old French, and made up of strophes of varying length
linked by assonance - apparently intended for oral performance by
jongleurs - the chansons de geste narrate legendary incidents
(sometimes based on real events) in the history of France in the eighth
and ninth centuries, the age of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, with
emphasis on their combats against the Moors and Saracens.

The Song of Dermot and the Earl, is a chanson de geste, composed

in the mid-thirteenth century, and assigned to Morice Regan, secretary
to Dermot MacMurrough.

The Song records Dermots journey to enlist the Norman support for
regaining his kingdom, and the victory of Strongbow, followed by the
latters subsequent marriage to Aoife, Dermots daughter.


Quant dermod, li reis vaillant,
Al rei henri par deuant
Esteit uenus a cele fiez,
Par deuant li rei engleis,
Mult le salue curteisement,
Bien ebel deuant la gent:
Icil deu ke meint en haut
Reis henri, vus ward e saut,
E vu donge ensement
Quer e curage e talent
Ma hunte uenger e ma peine,
Que fet me hunte le men demeine!()
(When Dermot, the valiant king, before King Henry had come at
this time, before the English king, very courteously he saluted him
fairly and finely before his men: May God who dwells on high
guard and save you, King Henry, and give you also heart and
courage and will to avenge my shame and my misfortune that my
own people have brought upon me! Hear, noble King Henry,
whence I was born, of what country. Of Ireland I was born a lord, in
Ireland a king; but wrongfully my own people have cast me out of

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 1 The Anglo-Norman Legacy

my kingdom. To you I come to make my claim, good sire, in the
presence of the barons of your empire. Your liege man I shall
become henceforth all the days of my life, on condition that you be
my helper so that I do not lose at all: you I shall acknowledge as
sire and lord, in the presence of your barons and lords. Then the
king promised him, the powerful king of England, that wilfully would
he help him as soon as he should be able.)
Li quens al hort iert bacheler.
Femme naueit ne mullier,
Si entent del rei dermot
Que sa fille doner lui uolt
Par si que od lui uenist
E sa terre lui conquist.()
(The earl at this time was a bachelor. He had neither spouse nor
wife. When he hears from King Dermot that he was willing to give
him his daughter on condition that he would come with him and
subdue his land for him, the earl replies before his men: Rich king,
hearken unto me. Here I assure you loyally that I shall assuredly
come to you. But I should wish in these matters to crave licence of
the English king, for he is the lord of my landed estate; wherefore I
cannot go from his territory without obtaining licence in this way.
The king assured the earl that he would give him his daughter
when he would come to his aid to Ireland with his barons. When
they had concluded this accord, the king turned straight towards
Wales and never ceased journeying there until he came to St.

Historical characters:

Diarmait Mac Murchada (also known as Diarmait na nGall, "Dermot

of the Foreigners"), anglicized as Dermot MacMurrough (died 1 May
1171) is often considered to have been the most notorious traitor in
Irish history.

Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (1130 20 April 1176),

known as Strongbow, was the son of Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of
Pembroke and Isabel de Beaumont. De Clare was a Cambro-Norman
lord notable for beginning the Norman conquest of Ireland.

Derbforgaill , Anglicised as Dervorgilla, (1108-1193) was a daughter

of Murchad Ua Maeleachlainn, king of Meath. She is famously known
as the "Helen of Ireland" as her abduction from her husband Tigernn
Ua Ruairc by Diarmait Mac Murchada in 1152 played some part in
bringing the Anglo-Normans to Irish shores, although this is a role that
has often been greatly exaggerated and often misinterpreted. Unlike
many other women, she is mentioned no less than five times in
contemporary annals: her abduction by Diarmait in 1152 (Annals of
Clonmacnoise), her donation to the Cistercian abbey of Mellifont of
altar cloths, a gold chalice, and 60 ounces of gold during the
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 1 The Anglo-Norman Legacy

consecration ceremony in 1157 (Annals of the Four Masters); her
completion of the Nuns' Church at Clonmacnoise in 1167 (Annals of
the Four Masters); her retirement to Mellifont in 1186 (Annals of
Ulster, Annals of Loch Ce); and her death in Mellifont in 1193 (Annals
of Ulster, Annals of the Four Masters).

Modern treatments of Dermot and Dervorgillas story:

Augusta Gregory, Dervorgilla (1907): 20 years after the events,

Dervorgilla has retired to the Abbey of Mellinfont, spending her
declining years in pray, self-denial and good works. But the news of
the casual slaughter of the Irish by the Normans prove that her acts of
charity are but a futile attempt to allay her sense of guilt.

W.B. Yeats, The Dreaming of the Bones (1919): A rebel soldier who
has taken part in the Easter Rising flees to Corcomroe Abbey, where
he encounters the ghosts of Dermot and Dervorgilla, who beg him to
absolve them of their guilt. The soldier refuses, renewing the curse:
My curse upon all that brought in the Gall
Upon Dermots call, and on Dervorgilla!

1.3.2. Goliardic poems: The Land of Cockayne

The Goliards were a group of clergy who wrote bibulous, satirical

Latin poetry in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They were mainly
clerical students at the universities of France, Germany, Italy, and
England who protested the growing contradictions within the Church,
such as the failure of the crusades and financial abuses, expressing
themselves through song, poetry and performance.
The Land of Cockayne (c. 1340)
Fur in see bi west Spayngne
Is a lond ihote Cokaygne.
er nis lond vnd' heuen riche
Of wel, of godnis, hit iliche.
o3 Paradis be miri and bri3t,
Cokaygn is of fairir si3t.
What is er in Paradis
Bot grasse and flure and grene ris?
()I Cokaigne is met and drink
Wivte care, how, and swink;
e met is trie, e drink is clere,
To none, russin, and sopper.
Far in the sea to the west of Spain
There is a land that we call Cokaygne;
Under God's heaven no other land
Such wealth and goodness has in hand
Though paradise be merry and bright,

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 1 The Anglo-Norman Legacy

Cokaygne is yet a fairer sight.
For what is there in paradise
But grass and flowers and green rice?
In Cokayne there is food and drink
Without care, anxiety and labor.
The food is excellent, the drink is splendid,
At dinner, snack time, and supper.

This poem survives in only one manuscript, Harley MS 913, British Library,
Probably compiled in Ireland in the early-mid 1300s, The Land of
Cokaygne is not an isolated poem; its fictional and parodic otherworld
belongs to a tradition of poems dealing with an imaginary paradise where
leisure rules and food is readily available.

Classical: going back to Lucian's True History, a Greek work of the

second century AD, that describes a comical paradise full of food,
drink, and loose women.
Christian: descriptions of both Heaven and the garden of Eden (which
was seen as a real, though remote, place on earth). Believed visited
by Alexander the Great, it often was placed far to the East.
Goliardic: one Latin poem of the twelfth century (Carmina Burana 222)
is spoken by an abbas Cucaniensis, an 'abbot of Cockaygne' who
presides over drinking and gambling, and the descriptions of the two
abbeys in Cockaygne, which invert the usual norms of religious life.

The fantastic descriptions of plenteous food may be compared to those in

The Vision of MacConglinne, a parody of the medieval vision and voyage
tales, which also mocks the conventions of heroic literature and the
institutions of Church and State. Influenced by goliardic satire, the tale was
composed in the 12th century.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 1 The Anglo-Norman Legacy

1.3.3. The Danta Gradha: O Woman Full of Wile

The Danta Gradha is an Irish adaptation of the Courtly love poetry.

Courtly love was a medieval European conception of ennobling love

which found its genesis in the ducal and princely courts in southern
France at the end of the eleventh century. In essence, courtly love
was a contradictory experience between erotic desire and spiritual
attainment, "a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and
self-disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent."

Gerald Fitzgerald, the 4th Earl of Desmond (1333-1398) was the first
to adapt the courtly love tradition of the Norman French to the Irish. In
the poetry of courtly love, the love of woman is exalted, a redemptive
force for both the lover and his beloved. Gerald's poem is a rebuttal of
the fierce clerical misogyny that was prevalent in the Middle Ages:
Woe to him who slanders women.
Scorning them is no right thing.
All the blame they've ever had
is undeserved, of that I'm sure . . .

He draws on the older, Celtic tradition, in which women were held in

high esteem.
Sweet their speech and neat their voices,
They are a sort I dearly love . . .

Geoffrey Keating (Seathrn Citinn) (c. 1580-1644) was a

renowned priest, poet, prose-writer, and scholar. It is thought that in
his youth he studied at a bardic school in South Tipperary, close to his
birthplace. In common with many of his educated Catholic
contemporaries, he went abroad to pursue his philosophical and
theological training as a priest. Keating's most significant work, Foras
Feasa ar irinn, a history of Ireland from the creation of the world to
the coming of the Normans in the twelfth century, was completed
about 1634.

His poem O Woman Full of Wile is one of the finest examples of the
Irish Danta Gradha.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 1 The Anglo-Norman Legacy


O woman full of wile,
Keep from me thy hand:
I am not a man of the flesh,
Tho thou be sick for my love.
See how my hair is grey!
See how my body is powerless!
See how my blood hath ebbed!
For what is thy desire?
Do not think me besotted:
Bend not again thy head,
Let our love be without act
Forever, O slender witch.
Take thy mouth from my mouth,
Graver the matter so;
Let us not be skin to skin:
From heat cometh will.
Tis thy curling ringleted hair,
Thy grey eye bright as dew,
Thy lovely round white breast,
That draw the desire of eyes.
Every deed but the deed of the flesh
And to lie in thy bed of sleep
Would I do for thy love,
O woman full of wile!
Trans. Padraic Pearse

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 2 Englands Other: inscribing and re-inscribing Irelands story


2.1. Plantations
1509 Henry VIII succeeds to the throne of England
1534 The English Reformation
1551 Henry VIII is declared King of Ireland, leading to
his policy of surrender and regrant
1558 Accession of Elizabeth I
1580 The Munster rebellion is crushed by the English
1586 Plantation of Munster
1588 Defeat of Spanish Armada
1595 Hugh ONeills rebellion
1599 Essex in Ireland as Lord Deputy
1601 Battle of Kinsale
1607 Flight of the Earls
1608 James Is accession. Plantation of Ulster
1641 Irish rebellion
1649 Cromwell begins his Irish campaign after the
Kings execution
1654 Cromwellian Plantation
The Reformation and the declaration by Henry VIII in 1534 that England
would no longer acknowledge the Catholic Church led to the establishing of
the Church of England or Anglican Church, thereby making England a
Protestant nation.
The native Irish, and many of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, refused to
follow this split from Rome, and so the division between Irish and English
became also a division between Catholic and Protestant.
This split created turmoil in both English and Irish politics throughout
the 16th and 17th centuries, as Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) restored
Catholicism, and Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603) then restored Protestantism.
Under Elizabeths rule, the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity were
passed, making the Anglican Church the "official" Irish Church (now called
"the Church of Ireland"), enforcing strict Anglican rule, and suppressing the
rights and privileges of Catholics.
Such policies resulted in several rebellions in the late 16th century by
great Irish and Anglo-Irish aristocratic families, all of which were put down by
the English.
Finally in 1607 the Earls of Tyrone (Hugh O'Neill) and Tyrconnell
(Rory O'Donnell), the last of the native Irish aristocracy--fled the country for
the continent. This "Flight of the Earls" becomes a paradigm in Irish thought
for the abandonment of the country by the very leaders who needed to save
The Munster Plantation (colonised by English Anglicans in the
second half of the 16th century) was followed at the beginning of the 17th
century by the Ulster Plantation, when mainly Scottish Presbyterians
flocked to the North of Ireland. These colonists came partly to escape
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 2 Englands Other: inscribing and re-inscribing Irelands story

England, where the official Anglican Church persecuted the more radical
sects of Protestantism.
Gradually these radical Protestants, called "dissenters," would present
a third term in Anglo-Irish politics, along with native Irish Catholics and ruling
British Anglicans.

2.2. English Narratives of Ireland

2.2.1. Colonial Discourse

Discourse (Michel Foucault): groupings of statements, utterances

enacted within a social context, determined by this social context and
contributing to its continuing existence.
Colonial discourse: language in which colonial thinking was
expressed; literary and non-literary texts produced within the period
and context of colonialism about the colonised society.
In Orientalism, Edward Said describes the discursive features of the
19th-century body of knowledge on the Orient, produced by scholars,
travel writers, poets, or novelists.
The Orient was thus produced as a repository of Western knowledge,
not a society and culture functioning on its own terms:
The Orient was almost an European invention . . . one of its
deepest and most recurring images of the Other. In addition the
Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its
contrasting image, idea, personality, experience.

Produced in relation to the West, the Orient was described in terms of

the way it differed from it, being represented as the Other to the
civilised image of the West.
Everyone who writes about the Orient must locate himself vis-vis the orient, translated into his text; this location includes the
kind of narrative voice he adopts, the type of structure he
builds, the kind of images, themes, motifs that circulate in his
text - all of which adds up to deliberate ways of addressing the
reader, containing the Other, and finally representing it or
speaking on its behalf.

Colonial oppositions:
The West

The Orient





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Chapter 2 Englands Other: inscribing and re-inscribing Irelands story

Discursive structures of colonial discourse:

The colonised countries become objects of knowledge;

The colonised become stereotyped: the docile Hindu, the
sneaky Arab;
They are labelled as backward, primitive (i.e. existing on a
different time-scale);
The use of ethno-graphic present freezes their society at the
time of its observation;
The use of the 3rd person singular reduces the colonised to a
single specimen;
Negativity: idle, weak, corrupt, etc.

2.2.2. Othering Ireland

If Ireland had never existed, the English would have invented it; and
since it never existed in English eyes as anything more than a patchwork-quilt of warring fiefdoms, their leaders occupied the neighbouring
island and called it Ireland. . . Ireland was soon patented as not-England,
a place whose peoples were, in various ways, the very antitheses of their
new rulers . . . These rulers began to control the developing debate; and it
was to be their version of things which would enter universal history. At
the outset they had no justification other than superior force and cohesive
organisation. Later an identity was proposed for the natives which cast
them as foils to the occupiers. (Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, Vintage,
1996, p. 9) Civilians vs. Barbarians

Anglo-Irish Chronicles: a body of political writings about Ireland
produced during the 16th and 17th centuries, which were primarily concerned
with justifications for the expropriation of the country by the English crown,
commonly recycling prejudices and misconceptions that compared the Irish
to other uncivilised races in different historical and geographical contexts.

Fynes Moryson (1556-1630): English traveller and writer,

Moryson became in 1600 secretary to Sir Charles Blount, lorddeputy of Ireland. In 1617 he published an account of his travels
and of his experiences in Ireland, (where he had witnessed
O'Neill's rebellion) in a voluminous work entitled An
Itinerary.Another part of the Itinerary was republished in 1735 with
the title History of Ireland 1599-1603, with a short Narrative of
the State of the Kingdom from 1169.

John Derricke: English engraver who accompanied Sir Henry

Sidney on campaigns against Hugh ONeill in the 1570s. His
detailed and skilfully composed woodcuts in The Image of Ireland
with A Discovery of Woodkarne (1581) depict contemporary

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scenes in camp and battle, with illustrations of Irish plundering from
an English standpoint.

Sir John Davies (1569-1626) English poet and lawyer, Davies

became in 1603 attorney general in Ireland. Davies was very
much committed to reform not just in the law but in religious affairs
too, aiming to banish the catholic clergy from Ireland and for
enforcing church attendances. He also became heavily involved in
government efforts to establish the plantation of Ulster. In 1610 he
wrote the Discoverie of the True Causes why Ireland was never
entirely subdued (pub.1612), a well-written account of the
constitutional standing of Ireland.

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599): One of the most famous English

Renaissance poets and Poet Laureate, Spenser went to Ireland in
the 1570s , probably in the service of the newly appointed lord
deputy, Arthur Grey. From 1579 to 1580, he served with the
English forces during the rebellions in Munster. After the defeat of
the rebels he was awarded lands in County Cork. Among his
acquaintances in the area was the poet Walter Raleigh, also a
fellow colonist. In the early 1590s Spenser wrote a prose pamphlet
titled, A View of the Present State of Ireland. Due to its
inflammatory content, the pamphlet remained in manuscript form
until its publication in print in the mid-seventeenth century. The text
argued that Ireland would never be totally 'pacified' by the English
until its indigenous language and customs had been destroyed, if
necessary by violence.
EUDOXUS: What is this that ye say of so many as remain English
of them? Why are not they that were once English abiding English
IRENIUS: No, for the most part of them are degenerated and
grown almost Irish, yea and more malicious to the English that the
very Irish themselves.
EUDOXUS: What hear I? And is it possible that an Englishman
brought up naturally in such sweet civility as England affords could
find such liking in that barbarous rudeness that he should forget
his own nature and forgo his own nation? How may this be, or
what, I pray you, may be the cause hereof?
IRENIUS: Surely nothing but the first evil ordinance and institution
of that commonwealth. But thereof now is here no fit place to
speak, lest by the occasion thereof offering matter of a long
discourse, we might be drawn from this that we have in hand,
namely the handling of abuses in the customs of Ireland.
(. . . )
IRENIUS: . . . My reason is, for that those which will afterwards
remain without are stout and obstinate rebels, such as will never
be made dutiful and obedient, nor brought to labour or civil
conversation, having once tasted that licentious life, and being
acquainted with spoil and outrages will ever after be ready for the

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like occasions, so as there is no hope of their amendment or
recovery, and therefore needful to be cut off.
EUDOXUS: The end I assure me will be very short and much
sooner than can be in so great a trouble (as it seemeth) hoped for.
Although there should none of them fall by the sword, nor be slain
by the soldier, yet thus being kept for manurance, and their cattle
from running abroad by this hard restraint, they would quickly
consume themselves and devour one another. The proof whereof I
saw sufficiently ensampled in those late wars in Munster, for
notwithstanding that the same was a most rich and plentiful
country, full of corn and cattle, that you would have thought they
could have been able to stand long, yet ere one year and a half
they were brought to so wonderful wretchedness, as that any stony
heart would have rued the same. Out of every corner of the woods
and glens they came, creeping forth upon their hands, for their
legs could not bear them. They looked anatomies of death, they
spoke like ghosts crying out of their graves, they did eat of the
dead carrions, happy were they could find them, yea and one
another soon after in so much as the very carcasses they spared
not to scrape out of their graves. And if they find a plot of water
cress or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time,
yet not able long to continue therewithal, that in short space there
were none almost left and a most populous and plentiful country
suddenly left void of man or beast. Yet sure in all that war there
perished not many by the sword, but all by the extremity of famine,
which they themselves had wrought.

English / Irish Polarities





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Chapter 2 Englands Other: inscribing and re-inscribing Irelands story The Stage Irishman

A term for stereotypical Irish characters on the English-language stage

from the 17th century.
As a product of colonialism, the first stage Irishman reflected a desire
to stigmatise the Irish as savages or anathemise them as traitors.
Later versions sought to provide amusement to English audiences by
exaggerating the traits which differentiated the Irish from the English.
Irishmen on the stage, prior to the foundation of the Irish Literary
Theatre of 1898 tend to fall into one or other of two categories - one,
the lazy, crafty, and (in all probability) inebriated buffoon who
nonetheless has the gift of good humour and a nimble way with words.
. . ; the other the braggart (also partial to a dhrop of the besht) who is
likely to be s soldier or ex-soldier, boasting of having seen a great deal
of the world when he has probably been no further from his own
country than some English barracks and camp. (Fitz-simons 1983: 94)
He [the Stage Irishman] has an atrocious Irish brogue, makes
perpetual jokes, blunders and bulls in speaking, and never fails to
utter, by way of Hibernian seasoning, some wild screech or oath of
Gaelic origin at every third word: he has an unsurpassable gift of
blarney and cadges for tips and free drinks. His hair is of a fiery rea;
he is rosy-cheeked, massive and whiskey-loving. His face is one of
simian bestiality, with an expression of diabolical archness written all
over it.. . . His main characteristics . . . are his swagger, his
boisterousness and his pugnacy. (Maurice Bourgeois, q in Styan

William Shakespeare, Henry V

Also known as The Cronicle History of Henry the fifth, it is a play by
William Shakespeare (thought to date from 1599) based on the life of
King Henry V of England.
It deals with the events immediately before and after the Battle of
Agincourt during the Hundred Years' War.
The play can be seen as a glorification of nationalistic pride and
conquest, with the Chorus, Archbishop of Canterbury, Fluellen, and Henry
himself all being prime examples.
The play is connected to the English military ventures in Ireland that
were important at the time of the play's writing, notably the Earl of Essex's
attempted suppression of revolts in Ireland, since the Chorus directly
refers to Essex's military triumphs in the fifth act.
. . . the General of our gracious Empress As in good time he may - from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broachd on his sword,
How many would the peaceful city quit
To welcome him! . . . (V.1. 30-34)

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The Irish Captain Macmorris is considered to be the prototype for the
Stage Irishman.
Enter Fluellen, Gower following
GOWER Captain Fluellen, you must come presently to the mines.
The Duke of Goucester would speak with you.
FLUELLEN To the mines? Tell you the Duke, it is not so good to
come to the mines, for, look you, the mines is not according to the
disciplines of the war. The concavities of it is not sufficient; for,
look you, thathversary, you may discuss unto the Duke, look you,
is digt himself four yard under the countermines. By Cheshu, I thin
a will plow up all, if there is not better directions.
GOWER The Duke of Gloucester, to whom the order of the siege is
given, is altogether directed by an Irishman, a very valiant
gentleman, Ifaith.
FLUELLEN It is Captain Macmorris, is it not?
GOWER I think it be.
FLUELLEN By Cheshu, he is an ass, as in the world; I will verify as
much in his beard. He has no more directions in the true
disciplines of the wars, look you, of the Roman disciplines, than is
a puppy-dog.
Enter Captain Macmorris and Captain Jamy
GOWER Here a comes, and the Scots captain, Captain Jamy, with
FLUELLEN Captain Jamy is a marvellous falorous gentleman, that is
certain, and of great expedition and knowledge in thauchient wars,
upon my particular knowledge of his directions. By Cheshu, he will
maintain his arguments as well as any military man in the world, in
the disciplines of the pristine wars of the Romans.
JAMY I say gud-day, Captain Fluellen.
FLUELLEN Good-een to your worship, good Captain James.
GOWER How now, Captain Macmorris, have you quit the mines?
Have the pioneers given oer?
MACMORRIS By Chrish, la, tish ill done! The work ish give over, the
trompet sound the retreat. By my hand I swear, and my fathers
soul, the work ish ill done: it is give over. I would have blowed up
the town, so Crish save ma, la, in an hour. O, tish ill done, tish ill
done - by my hand, tish ill done!
FLUELLEN Captain Macmorris, I beseech you now, will you voutsafe
me, look you, a few disputations with you, as partly touching or
concerning the disciplines of the war, the Roman wars, in the way
of argument, look you, and friendly communication? - partly to
satisfy my opinion, and partly for the satisfaction, look you, of my
mind, - as touching the direction of the military discipline, that is
the point.
JAMY It sall be vary gud, gud feith, gud captens, bath, and I sall quit
you with gud leve, as I may pick occasion: that sall I, marry.
MACMORRIS It is no time to discourse, so Crish save me! The day is
hot, and the weather, and the wars, and the King, and the Dukes it is not time to discourse, the town is beseeched, and the trumpet
call us to the breach, and we talk, and, be Chrish, do nothing; tis

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shame for us all: so God sa me, tis shame to stand still, it is
shame, by my hand - and there is throats to be cut, and works to
be done, and there ish nothing done, so Chrish sa me, la!
JAMY By the mess, ere theise eyes of mine take themselves to
slomber, ayll de gud service, or ayll lig Ithgrund for it, ay, or go to
death! And qyll pqyt as valorously as I may, that sall I suerly do,
that is the breff and the long. Marry, I wad full fain hear some
question tween you tway.
FLUELLEN Captain Macmorris, I think, look you, under your
correction, there is not many of your nation
MACMORRIS Of my nation? What ish my nation? Ish a villain, and a
bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish my nation? Who talks
of my nation?
FLUELLEN Look you, if you take the matter otherwise than is meant,
Captain Macmorris, peradventure I shall think you do not use me
with that affability as in discretion you ought to use me, look you,
being as good a man as yourself, both in the disciplines of war,
and in the derivation of my birth, and in other particularities.
MACMORRIS I do not know you so good a man as myself. So Chrish
save me, I will cut off your head.
GOWER Gentlemen both, you will mistake each other.
JAMY Ah, thats a foul fault!
(A parley is sounded)
GOWER The town sounds a parley.
FLUELLEN Captain Macmorris, when there is more better opportunity
to be required, look you, I will be so bold as to tell you, I know the
disciplines of war; and there is an end. (Exeunt)

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Chapter 2 Englands Other: inscribing and re-inscribing Irelands story


Re-writing Irelands Story

A recurrent strategy of Anglo-Irish dramatists was to subvert the

stereotype by enabling their Irish characters to defeat with comical aplomb
the ruses of English tricksters who try to gull them.
George Farquhar (c. 1677-1707): The Twin Rivals
Thomas Sheridan: The Brave Irishman
Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816): The Rivals

2.3.2. The Irish Melodrama

In the 19th century, Irish melodrama brought further changes to the clich.

The Comic Melodrama

The comic melodrama transforms the stage Irishman into an intelligent and
witty rustic who becomes an agent of mediation between Englishness and

Dion Boucicault (1820-1890): playwright, actor, and producer, began his

remarkable career in 1841 with the successful production of his own London
Assurance and continued virtually unabated until his death in 1890. As a
playwright, he embraced varied genres: historical romance (Louis XI),
domestic plays (Dot -an adaptation of Dicken's The Cricket in the Hearth-),
when Irish plays ( Arrah na Pogue, The Shaughraun and Robert Emmet),
American plays (The Octoroon), detective plays (Mercy Dodd or Presumptive
Evidence), farces (Forbidden Fruit). He also wrote the acting version of Rip
Van Winkle.

The Irish Trilogy (The Colleen Bawn, Arrah-na-Pogue,

The Shaughraun)

The Colleen Bawn: The play is focused on the story of the

beautiful but untutored country girl, Eily OConnor, whom her
gentleman lover (Cregan) wants to kill in order to avoid a
misalliance. Myles-na-Goppaleen (Boucicaults modified stageIrishman) is an engaging rustic who foils the murder attempt
and makes Cregan accept Eily as his bride.

Arrah-na-Pogue: Beamish MacCoul, a United Irishmen rebel,

has returned from exile in France to organise an insurrection,
and also marry Fanny Power. He hides in the cottage of his
foster-sister, Arrah-na-Pogue, but is discovered there on the
eve of her wedding to Shaun the Post. To save his bride,
Shaun takes the blame upon himself and is thus taken to Dublin
to be sentenced to death by a court martial. Fanny, Beamish
and his rival, colonel OGrady, rush to Dublin to save Shauns

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life and a benevolent Secretary of State settles their differences
and grants Shaun a last-minute reprieve.

The Shaughraun: The play is a political melodrama in which

Boucicaults sympathetic version of the stage-irishman has
advanced to the title role. Conn the Shaughraun, a goodhearted wanderer, has helped an ex-Fenian rebel, Robert
Ffolliott, escape from Australia. With the help of Harvey Duff,
traitor and police spy, Robert is arrested by the English Captain
Molineaux. When Duff and the villain Kinchela stage an escape
for the prisoner in order to shoot him on the run, Conn takes his
place and is apparently killed. A pardon for the Fenians arrives
in time to secure the happy ending, with Conn turning well and
alive, and Molineaux marrying Roberts sister, Claire.

Myles na Copaleen, Shaun the Post, Conn the Shaughraun

Though they still wear some of the traditional traits of the dramatic
type, being cast as comic rustics who display a propensity for banter
and blarney and still put their lips to the jug with some regularity,
Boucicaults Stage Irishmen are far removed from the extreme
silhouette of the figure of ridicule, emerging as more than stereotypical
drunken sots to take an active, at times courageous part in the social,
economic and political conflicts of their world.
Endowed with bravery, loyalty and wit, they overcome all obstacles /
adversaries and finally become agents of reconciliation between
opposing parties: landlord/peasant; English/Irish.

The Historical Melodrama

It celebrates heroic events in the nationalist version of Irish history (e.g. the
United Irishmens rebellion, Fenianism.) In this, it reverts to the myth of the
national hero, attempting to construct an Irishness marked by such qualities
as manliness, self-reliance, combativeness, patriotism, and, more
importantly, antagonism towards the British rule.
D. Boucicault: Robert Emmett (1884)
J. W. Whitbread: Wolfe Tone (1898); The Ulster Hero (1903)
Given the power of the heroic myth, the patriotism of the title characters
transgresses any religious, ethnic and social cleavages between themselves
and the other ranks of nationalist Ireland, and Protestant and Catholic,
intellectual and peasant, rich and poor become one in their affection for their
country and in pledging all their efforts against England.
Tensions between England and Ireland intensify, because evil is entirely
projected upon stage villains, who, in contradistinction to the comic
melodrama, become increasingly politicised, typically featuring native
informers operating under the direction of reprehensible British officers.
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Their function is to account for the failure of the heroes enterprises solely
in terms of someone elses moral failings, highlighting thus the latters status
as martyred victims of both tyranny from without and treachery from within.

2.3.2. Contemporary Revisions of Historical Narratives

a) Seamus Heaney: Traditions.
Seamus Heaney (1939 - ) was born into a nationalist Irish Catholic
family at Mossbawn, in a rural area thirty miles to the north-west of
Belfast. His work is often set in rural Londonderry, the county of his
childhood. Hints of sectarian violence can be found in many of his
poems, even works that on the surface appear to deal with something
else. Like the Troubles themselves, Heaney's work is deeply
associated with the lessons of history, sometimes even prehistory. In
1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature

Our guttural muse
was bulled long ago
by the alliterative tradition,
her uvula grows
vestigial, forgotten
like the coccyx
or a Brigids Cross
yellowing in some outhouse
while custom, that most
sovereign mistress,
beds us down into
the British Isles.
We are to be proud
of our Elizabethan English:
varsity, for example,
is grass-roots stuff with us;
we deem or we allow
when we suppose
and some cherished archaisms
are correct Shakespearean.
Nor to speak of the furled
consonants of the lowlanders
shuttling obstinately
between bawn and mossland.

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MacMorris, gallivanting
round the Globe, whinged
to courtier and groundling
who had heard of us
as going very bare
of learning, as wild as hares,
as anatomies of death:
What ish my nation?
And sensibly, though so much
later, the wandering Bloom
replied, Ireland, said Bloom,
I was born here. Ireland.

b) Brian Friel: Making History

Brian Friel (1929 - ): born in a Catholic family, in Omagh, County Tyrone
in Northern Ireland, Brian Friel is one of Ireland's most prominent
playwrights. Though his father was a teacher, his grandparents were
illiterate peasants from County Donegal whose first language was Irish.
Thus his own family exemplifies the divisions between traditional and
modern Ulster and Ireland, a recurring theme for Friel. Donegal, where
he moved in 1969, is another influence that features strongly in Friel's
life and work. Many of his plays are set in fictional Ballybeg, a remote
part of Donegal. In 1980, Friel helped found the Field Day Theatre
Company which is committed to the search for "a middle ground between
the country's entrenched positions" to help the Irish explore new identities
for themselves.

Making History (1988) dramatizes the writing of Irish history as well

as the historical events themselves before and after the Battle of Kinsale
(1601). Its main hero is the historical persona of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of
Tyrone, the leader of the last Gaelic rebellion against the Tudor reconquest of Ireland. This figure has accrued contradictory meanings from
the late 16th-century onwards. Vilified in Anglo-Irish chronicles as traitor
and rebel, he was construed as a mythic hero by the nationalist
discourse. Given the persistence of this ambiguity in colonial writings,
Brian Friel attempts to dismantle traditional representations of the Ulster
chieftain, re-constructing him in accordance to a post-colonial agenda.
Making History employs intertextuality in order to question the mechanics
of historical definition through which previous texts like Peter Lombards
De Regno Hiberniae Commentarius (1632), which promoted ONeill as
the leader of a European counter-Reformation, the Anglo-Irish Chronicles
who viewed him as an Irish barbarian, or Shakespeares Henry V that
transformed him into a stage Irishman have fixed men and events in
their official readings.
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LOMBARD: I dont believe that a period of history - a given space
of time - my life - your life -that it contains within it one true
interpretation just waiting to be mined. But I do believe that it
may contain within it several possible narratives: the life of
Hugh ONeill can be told in many different ways. And those
ways are determined by the needs and the demands and the
expectations of different people and different eras. What do
they want to hear? How do they want it told? [. . .] (pp.15-16)

ONEILL: This is my last battle, Peter.

LOMBARD: Battle? What battle?
ONEILL: That [book].
LOMBARD: What are you talking about?
ONEILL: That thing there.
LOMBARD: Your history?
ONEILL: Your history. Im an old man. I have no position, no
power, no money. No, Im not whingeing - Im not pleading.
But Im telling you that Im going to fight you on that and Im
going to win. [. . . ]
LOMBARD: Hold on now -wait -wait- wait - wait. Just tell me one
thing. Is this book some kind of a malign scheme? Am I doing
something reprehensible?
ONEILL: you are going to embalm me in - in - in a florid lie.
LOMBARD: Will I lie, Hugh?
ONEILL: I need the truth, Peter. Thats all thats left. The schemer,
the leader, the liar, the statesman, the lecher, the patriot, the
drunk, the soured, bitter migr - put it all in, Peter. Record
the whole life - thats what you said yourself. [. . . ]
LOMBARD: Let me explain what my outline is. May I? Please?
And if you object to it - or any detail in it - Ill rewrite the whole
thing in any way you want. That is a solemn promise. Can I be
fairer than that? Now. I start with your birth and your noble
genealogy and I look briefly at those formative years when
you were fostered with the OQuinns and the OHagans and
received your early education from the bards and the poets. I
then move ONEILL: England.
LOMBARD: Whats that?
ONEILL: I spent nine years in England with Leicester and Sidney.
LOMBARD: You did indeed. I have all the material here. We then
look at the years when you consolidated your position as the
pre-eminent Gaelic ruler in the country, and that leads to
those early intimations you must have had of an emerging
nation state. And now we come to the first of the key events:
that September when all the people of Ulster came together at
the crowning stone at Tullyhogue outside Dungannon, and the
golden slipper is thrown over your head and fastened to your
foot, and the white staff in placed in your right arm, and the

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True Bell of St Patrick peals out across the land, and you are
proclaimed . . . The ONeill.
ONEILL: That was a political ploy.
LOMBARD: It may have been that, too.
ONEILL: The very next month I begged Elizabeth for pardon.
LOMBARD: But an occasion of enormous symbolic importance for
your people - six hundred and thirty continuous years of
ONeill hegemony. Right, I then move on to that special
relationship between yourself and Hugh ODonnell; the patient
forging of the links with Spain and Rome; the uniting of the
whole Ulster into one great dynasty that finally inspired all the
Gaelic chieftains to come together under your leadership. And
suddenly the nation state was becoming a reality. [. . . ] Now,
the second key event: the Nine Years War between yourself
and England culminating in the legendary battle of Kinsale
and the crushing of the most magnificent Gaelic army ever
ONEILL: They routed us in less than an hour, Peter. Isnt that the
point of Kinsale?
LOMBARD: You lost a battle - that has to be said. But the telling of
it can still be a triumph.
ONEILL: Kinsale was a disgrace. Mountjoy routed us. We ran
away like rats.
LOMBARD: And again thats not the point.
ONEILL: Youre not listening to me now. We disgraced ourselves
at Kinsale.
LOMBARD: And then I come to my third and final key point; and
Im calling this section - Im rather proud of the title - Ive
named it The Flight of the Earls. That has a ring to it, too,
hasnt it? That tragic but magnificent exodus of the Gaelic
aristocracy ONEILL: Peter LOMBARD: When the leaders of the ancient civilisation took boat
from Rathmullan that September evening and set sail for
Europe ONEILL: As we pulled out from Rathmullan the McSwineys stoned
us from the shore!
LOMBARD: Then their journey across Europe when every
crowned head welcomed and fted them. And then the final
coming to rest. Here. In Rome.
ONEILL: And the six years after Kinsale - before the Flight of the
Earls - arent they going to be recorded? When I lived like a
criminal, skulking round the countryside - my countryside! hiding from the English, from the Upstarts, from the Old
English, but most assiduously hiding from my brother Gaels
who couldnt wait to strip me of every blade of grass I ever
owned. And then when I could endure that humiliation no
longer, I ran away! If these were my people then to hell with
my people! The Flight of the Earls - you make it sound like a
lap of honour. We ran away just as we ran away at Kinsale.
We were going to look after our own skins! Thats why we
took boat from Rathmullan. Thats why the great ONeill is
here - at rest - here - in Rome. Because we ran away. [. . .]
Those are the facts. There us no way you can make

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unpalatable facts palatable. And your point - just what is your
point, Peter? [. . .]
LOMBARD: Thats exactly what my point is. People think they
want to know the fact; they think they believe in some sort of
empirical truth, but what they really want is a story. And thats
what this will be: the events of your life categorised and
classified and then structured as you would structure any
story. No, no, Im not talking about falsifying, about lying, for
heavens sake. Im simply talking about making a pattern.
Thats what Im doing with all this stuff - offering a cohesion to
that random catalogue of deliberate achievement and sheer
accident that constitutes your life. And that cohesion will be a
narrative that people will read and be satisfied by. And that
narrative will be as true and as objective as I can make it with the help of the Holy Spirit. Would it be profane to suggest
that that was the method the Four Evangelists used? - took
the haphazard events in Christs life and shaped them into a
story, into four complementary stories. And those stories are
true stories. And we believe them. We call them gospel, Hugh,
dont we? (He laughs suddenly and heartily) Would you look
at that man! Why are you so miserable about? This of this
[book]as an act of pietas. Ireland is reduced as it has never
been reduced before - we are talking about a colonised
people on the brink of extinction. This isnt the time for a
critical assessment of your ploys and your disgraces and
your betrayal - thats the stuff of another history for another
time. Now is the time for a hero. Now is the time for a heroic
literature. So Im offering Gaelic Ireland two things. Im offering
them this narrative that has the elements of myth. And Im
offering them Hugh ONeill as a national hero. A hero and the
story of a hero [. . .](pp 63-67)

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3.1. Colonial Identities

Cultural identity: a group sharing a relatively common way of life

Colonial identity: a cultural identity shaped by the new environment of
1689 James II lands at Kinsale. The siege of Derry (The
Apprenticeboys March).
1690 William III lands at Carrickfergus. Battle of the Boyne (12
1690-91The siege of Limmerick (Patrick Sarsfield).
1695 Penal Laws restrict Catholic rights. Scots Presbyterians
are also disabled.
1715 &1745 Jacobite risings in Scotland.
1776 American Declaration of Independence
1789 Fall of Bastille.
1791 United Irishmen founded in Belfast.
1795 Foundation of Orange Order.
1798 United Irishmens Rebellion helped by French troops
(Wolfe Tone).
1800 Act of Union
1803 Rising of Robert Emmet
1829 Catholic Emancipation (Daniel OConnell)
1845-49The Great Potato Famine

Cultural groups:

Protestant Ascendancy: elite group, landowners, loyal to Britain.

Ulster Presbyterians: politically and economically disabled, retained
links with Scotland.
Catholic majority: spread throughout the four provinces and including
the Old English (via a common Catholicism.) Largely deprived of
leadership and religiously, politically and economically disabled by the
Penal Acts, they have the least influence.

Each facet of the complex process linked to the development of a colonial

identity is correspondingly expressed in the culture of the given group:
History: Nationalist vs. Unionist versions
Literature: Nationalist vs. Protestant identitary tropes

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3.2. Nationalist Literary Tropes: Woman as Nation

If the colonial discourse is based on a binary model of thought predicated
upon the basic opposition established between self and other, in terms of
gender, the colonial project has often been metaphorically constructed as the
attempt of the male colonizer to subdue and penetrate the female territory of
the colonized people[1]. Very often, the western imagination has translated
the conquered territories of India or Africa, for example, into images of exotic
women, seductive, seducible, and ultimately at the mercy of the masculine
forces competing for domination over them[2]. In response to this colonial
feminization, the colonized have attempted to produce a reverse discourse
of overdetermined masculity[3], in which the land becomes a mother forced
into penury by foreign invaders[4], requiring her sons to fight the oppressors
in order to restore her former possessions. Ireland, though placed in the
paradoxical position of being at once Western and a colony, has not escaped
being culturally cast as other and female in both colonial and
countercolonial contexts.
As such, in the principal discourses of Irish nationalism, the two main
feminine figurations for Ireland were: the Spar-bhean (literally meaning a
sky-woman), a beautiful maiden queen in search for a redeemer for her
occupied nation, or as the Sean Bhean Bocht (the Poor Old Woman), a
sorrowful mother summoning her sons to protect and defend her homestead.

3.2.1. Celtic Matriarchs

Yet both figures claim their ancestry in the distant Gaelic tradition, where
Celtic mythology features a number of formidable divine matriarchs who
stand, at times, as female personifications of Ireland. Starting with the mythic
Danu the mother goddess of the Tuatha de Danaan, the divine race of Irish
myth -, some of the attributes of this archetypal female agency are further
embodied across a range of goddesses associated with the sovereignty and
prosperity of the land (Eriu, Banbha and Fodla), with sexual potency, war and
death (Mrrigan, Babh and Macha), or with the landscape itself, as in the
popular tradition of Cailleach Beara (the Old Woman of Beara, one of the
great peninsulas of the South-West Irish coast), a queen who supposedly
lived seven lifetimes, each time with a new husband. If early Irish literary
texts of the vision type present future kings of Ireland having their claims to
the land legitimated through prophetic encounters with one such sovereignty
goddess, the Irish folklore rescripts the narrative of the legitimacy theme by
turning the Old Woman of Beara into a shape-shifting hag who displays
youthful loveliness to the rightful king.

3.2.2. The Spear-Bhean and the 18th century aisling

Nevertheless, in the context of a colonized Ireland, where the Gaelic culture
and the clan system were inevitably broken, the nature and identity of the
true king become problematic. After the Williamite War and the enactment of
the Penal Laws, native Irish poetry of grows increasingly political in
character, though hiding its expectation of political deliverance in what
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seemed like harmless love songs [11] which rework the conventions of the
Gaelic vision tale. Thus the eighteenth-century aisling (vision) poem
repeatedly looked outside the country for liberation and the true sovereign,
evoking the former sovereignty goddess into the image of a willing [and]
defenceless spirbhean [sic] or sky-woman, who would only recover her
happiness when a young liberator would come to her defence. [12]

Aogan O Rathaille (c. 1675-1729): Gile na Gile (Brightness

Most Bright) (c. 1709)


The brightness of Brightness I saw in a lonely path,
Crystal of crystal, her blue eyes tinged with green,
Melody of melody, her speech not more with age,
The ruddy and white appeared in her glowing cheeks.
Plaiting of plaiting in every hair of her yellow locks,
That robbed the earth of its brilliancy by their full sweeping,
An ornament brighter than glass on her swelling breast,
Which was fashioned at her creation in the world above.
A tale of knowledge she told me, all lonely as she was
News of the return of HIM to the place which is his by kingly descent,
News of the destruction of the bands who expelled him,
And other tidings which, through sheer fear, I will not put in my lays.
Oh, folly of follies for me to go up close to her!
By the captive I was bound fast a captive;
As I implored the Son of Mary of aid me, she bounded from me,
And the maiden went off in a flash to the fairy mansion of Luachair.
I rush in mad race running with a bounding heart,
Through margins of a morass, through meads, through a barren
I reach the strong mansion - the way I came I know not That dwelling of dwellings, reared by wizard sorcery.
They burst into laughter, mockingly - a troop of wizards
And a band of maidens, trim, with plaited locks;
In the bondage of fetters they put me without much respite,
While to my maiden clung a clumsy, lubberly clown.
I told her then, in words the sincerest,
How it will became her to be united to an awkward, sorry churl,
While the fairest thrice over of all the Scotic race
Was waiting to receive her as his beauteous bride.
As she hears my voice she weeps through wounded pride,
The streams run down plenteously from her glowing cheeks,
She sends me with a guide for my safe conduct from the mansion,
She is the Brightness of Brightness I saw upon a lonely path.

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In a late eighteenth-century text composed by the blind poet Liam O
hIfearnain this female persona of Ireland is specifically named Caitlin ni
Uallachain (Cathleen ni Houlihan), and identified both with the sovereignty of
Ireland and with the Blessed Virgin, a cluster of associations that will be
carried over by subsequent invocations of Ireland under a female aspect [13].
Such associations inform James Clarence Mangans (1803-49) My Dark
Rosaleen (1846).
O my Dark Rosaleen,
Do not sigh, do not weep!
The priests are on the ocean green,
They march along the Deep.
Theres wine . . . from the royal Pope
Upon the ocean green;
And Spanish ale shall give you hope,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
Shall glad your heart, shall give you hope,
Shall give you health, and help, and hope,
My Dark Rosaleen.
Over hills and through dales
Have I roamed for your sake;
All yesterday I sailed with sails
On river and on lake.
The Erne . . . at its highest flood
I dashed across unseen,
For there was lightning in my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
Oh! There was lightning in my blood,
Red lightning lightened through my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen!

All day long in unrest

To and fro do I move
The very soul within my breast
Is wasted for you, love!
The heart . . . in my bosom faints
To think of you, my Queen,
My life of life, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
To hear your sweet and sad complaints,
My life, my love, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!
Woe and pain, pain and woe,
Are my lot night and noon,
To see your bright face clouded so,

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Like to the mournful moon.
But yet . . . will I rear your throne
Again in golden sheen;
Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
Tis you shall have the golden throne,
Tis you shall reign and reign alone,
My Dark Rosaleen!
Over dews, over sands
Will I fly for your weal;
Your holy delicate white hands
Shall girdle me with steel.
At home . . . in your emerald bowers,
From mornings dawn till een.
Youll pray for me, my flower of flowers,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My fond Rosaleen!
Youll think of me through daylights hours,
My virgin flower, my flower of flowers,
My Dark Rosaleen.
I could scale the blue air,
I could plough the high hills,
Oh, I could kneel all night in prayer,
To heal your many ills!
And one . . . beamy smile from you
Would float like light between
My toils and me, my own, my true,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My fond Rosaleen!
Would give me life and soul anew,
A second life, a soul anew,
My Dark Rosaleen!
O! the Erne shall run red
With redundance of blood,
The earth shall rock beneath your tread,
And flames wrap hill and wood,
And gun-peal and slogan cry,
Wake many a glen serene,
Ere you shall fade, ere you shall die,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
The Judgement Hour must first be nigh,
Ere you can fade, ere you can die,
My Dark Rosaleen!

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3.2.3. The sean bhean bhocht and the popular ballad and
In their turn, the popular ballads of the late eighteenth- and nineteenthcenturies blend the traditions of the Old Woman of Beara with those of the
goddesses of war and death, which stand for the darker side of the Celtic
matriarch. Their favourite trope becomes thus the Sean Bhean Bocht, an
idealised persona of the land who suffers historic wrongs, and, Kali-like,
requires the sacrifice of successive generations of sons in the hope that the
recurring heroic failures to eject the invader will finally prove successful.
Richard Kearney has suggested that the Sean Bhean Bocht has been turned
into an emblem of Irish nationalism because it is closely linked to its
sacrificial mythology in which the blood sacrifice of the heroes is needed to
free and redeem Ireland, at the same time in which these heroic sacrificial
martyrs are rewarded by being remembered for ever [14]. Moreover, this
nationalist sacrificial mythology can be further tied to pagan concepts of
seasonal rejuvenation and the sacrificial aspects of Christianity in the
Crucifixion and tradition of martyrdom [15].
Oh, Paddy dear! an did ye hear the news thats goin round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground.
No more St. Patricks Day well keep, his colour cant be seen,
For theres a cruel law agin the wearin o the green!
I met wid Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand.
And he asaid, Hows poor Ould Ireland, and how does she
Shes the most distressful country that iver yet was seen,
For theyre hangin men and women there for wearin o the green.
An if the color we must wear is Englands cruel red,
Let it remind us of the blood that Ireland has shed;
Then pull the shamrock from your hat, and throw it on the sod, And never fear, twill take root there, tho under foot tis trod!
When law can stop the blades of grass from growing as they
And when the leaves in summer-time their color dare not show,
Then I will change the color, too, I wear in my caubeen,
But till that day, praise God, Ill stick to wearin o the green.

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3.2.4. Cathleen Ni Houlihan

William Butler Yeatss Cathleen Ni Houlihan, the play written in 1902,
epitomizes this tradition, constituting a mythic nexus for personifications of
Ireland. The play makes use of what Valente calls the double-woman trope
(i.e. the combination of the Spar-bhean and the Sean Bhean Bocht who is
both young and old, mother and bride, sexual and pure) in order to create its
dynamic tension. Located with naturalistic precision in 1798, the time of the
historical French landing at Killala, which signalled the beginning of the
United Irishmen Rebellion, the play is set in the cottage of the Gillane family,
where the eldest son, Michael, is about to be married the next day. An old
woman arrives who, taken for a beggar at first, starts to bemoan that she has
been set wandering by too many strangers in the house, who took from her
four beautiful green fields[17] and then tells of the sacrifices young men
have made for her across the ages. Mesmerized by her words, Michael
decides to forsake his family and bride in order to go off to fight in the
brewing insurrection, and, as the son leaves, the old woman offers no doubt
as to what his fate will be.
MICHAEL GILLANE (his son, going to be married)
PATRICK GILLANE (a lad of 12, Michaels brother)
DELIA CAHEL (engaged to Michael)
Interior of a cottage close to Killala, in 1798. Bridget is standing at
a table undoing a parcel. Peter is sitting at one side of the
fire, Patrick at the other.
[. . . ]
Bridget: Do you see anything?
Michael: I see an old woman coming up the path.
Bridget: Who is it, I wonder?
Michael: I dont think its one of the neighbours, but she has her
cloak over her face.
Bridget: Maybe its the same woman Patrick saw a while ago. It
might be some poor woman heard we were making ready
for the wedding, and came to look for her share.
Peter: I may as well put the money out of sight. Theres no use
leaving it out for every stranger to look at.
Michael: There she is, father! [An old woman passes the window
slowly. She looks at Michael as she passes.] Id sooner a
stranger not to come to the house the night before the
wedding. [. . .]

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[The old woman comes in, Michael stands aside to make way for
Old Woman: God save all here!
Peter: God save you kindly.
Old Woman: You have good shelter here.
Peter: You are welcome to whatever shelter we have.
Bridget: Sit down there by the fire and welcome.
Old Woman [warming her hands]: Theres a hard wind outside.
[Michael watches her curiously from the door. Peter comes
over to the table.]
Peter: Have you travelled far to-day?
Old Woman: I have travelled far, very far; there are few have
travelled so far as myself
Peter: it is a pity, indeed, for any person to have no place of their
Old Woman: That is true for you, indeed, and it is long I am on the
road since I first went wondering. It is seldom I have any
rest. [. . .]
Bridget: What was it put you astray?
Old Woman: Too many strangers in the house
Bridget: Indeed you look as if you had had your share of trouble.
Old Woman: I have had trouble, indeed.
Bridget: What was it put the trouble on you?
Old Woman: My land was taken from me.
Peter: Was it much land they took from you?
Old Woman: My four beautiful green fields.
[. . .]
Bridget[to the old woman]: Will you have a drink of milk?
Old Woman: It is not food or drink that I want.
Peter[offering the shilling]: Here is something for you.
Old Woman: That is not that I want. It is not silver I want.
Peter: What is it you would be asking for?
Old Woman: If anyone would give me help, he must give me
himself, he must give me all.
Michael: Have you no man of your own, maam?
Old Woman: I have not. With all the lovers that brought me their
love, I never set out the bed for any.
Michael: Are you lonely going the roads, maam?
Old Woman: I have my thoughts and I have my hopes.
Michael: What hopes have you to hold to?
Old Woman: The hope of getting my beautiful fields back again,
the hope of putting the strangers out of my house.
Michael: What way will you do that, maam?
Old Woman: I have good friends that will help me. They are
gathering to help me now. I am not afraid. If they are put
down to-day, they will get the upper-hand to-morrow. [She
gets up.] I must be going to meet my friends. They are
coming to help me, and I must be there to welcome them. I
must call the neighbours together to welcome them.
Michael: I will go with you
Bridget: It is not her friends you have to go and welcome, Michael;
it is the girl coming into the house you have to welcome.
You have plenty to do; it is food and drink you have to bring
to the house. [. . .]

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Peter[to Bridget]: Who is she, do you think, at all?
Bridget: You did not tell us your name yet, maam.
Old Woman: Some call me The Poor Old Woman, and there are
some that call me Cathleen ny Hoolihan.
Peter: I think I knew someone of that name once. Who was it, I
wonder? It must have been someone I knew when I was a
boy. No, no, I remember I heard it in a song.
Old Woman [who is standing in the doorway]: They are wondering
that there were songs made for me; there have been many
songs made for me. I heard one on the wind this morning.
[She sings.][. . .]
Michael: I do not know what that song means; but tell me
something I can do for you.
Old Woman: Come over to me, Michael. [. . .][She goes out. Her
voice is heard outside, singing.]
They shall be remembered for ever;
They shall be alive for ever;
They shall be speaking for ever;
The people shall hear them for ever.
[. . . ]
[Michael breaks away from Delia and goes towards the neighbours
at the door.]
Michael: Come, we have no time to lose; we must follow her.
[Michael and the neighbours go out.]
Peter [laying his hand on Patricks arm]: Did you see an old
woman going down the path?
Patrick: I did not; but I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a

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3.3. Deconstructing the Woman-Nation trope

While essentially a colonial by-product, the figure of Cathleen has "congealed
into republican rhetoric," [21], and the woman-nation equation has carried
over into the post-colonial imagination, where such traditional feminine
figures of the nation have been reduced to a metaphor for national identity
and a powerful interpellative figure in the nationalist struggle for the
state[22]. As Fleming remarks, any feminine national icons, while seeming
to empower women, actually displace them outside history into the realm of
myth. This effectively re-inscribes the woman as devoid of agency[23]. No
wonder then that Cathleen has become an extremely problematic symbol not
only in contemporary Irish literary and cultural studies, but also for the writers
who attempt to reproduce such symbolic figures of women in their work. The
trope is thus deconstructed in a series of texts that include James Joyces
short-story A Mother (included in his Dubliners, 1905), Samuel Becketts
Miss Counihan, the Irish mistress of the title character of his novel Murphy
(1938), or contemporary plays like Brian Friels Dancing at Lughnasa (1990)
and Tom Murphys Bailengangaire (1985).

James Joyce, A Mother (1905)

An inexperienced Dublin impresario named Mr. Holohan arranges

with Mrs. Kearney for her daughter Kathleen to accompany on the
piano the singers at a series of four concerts. When the first three
concerts are sparsely attended, Mrs. Kearney demands payment for
all the performances before the fourth show, delaying the start of that
evenings entertainment. Finally, Mrs. Kearney refuses to let Kathleen
play during the second half of the concert because she has not been
paid the entire promised fee.

Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938)

A burlesque novel which presents the story of an impecunious

Irishman living in London. The halfhearted plot concerns the efforts of
Murphys girlfriend, a prostitute names Celia, to get him to find work so
that she can stop turning tricks. Murphy ultimately rouses himself to
work as an attendant in a mental institution. He prefers, however, to
strip naked in his apartment, bind himself into a rocking chair, slow his
heart nearly to stopping, and, without quite losing consciousness,
forgo all awareness of his body and the world. A final episode of
deliberate oblivion causes Murphy to perish in a gas explosion that a
more attentive person would have avoided.
Moving between Ireland and England, the novel is caustically satirical
at the expense of the Irish Free State: the astrologer he consults is
famous 'throughout civilised world and Irish Free State'; among the
posse of Irish people who pursue the protagonist, the insatiable Miss
Counihan, his former mistress, is high-breasted and high-buttocked,
and 'quite exceptionally anthropoid for an Irish girl, while Neary is a

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natonalist mystic who smashes his head against the buttocks of
Cuchullains statue in Dublin.

Tom Murphy, Bailengangaire (1985)

The literal translation of the title of this play is "town without laughter.
It is set in a rotting thatched cottage, with a bed placed centre stage.
Mommo, the senile grandmother, once a famed seancha
(storyteller), is now bedridden and fixated on her bygone days.
She endlessly tries to recount the major details of a legendary
and long-ago laughing competition, without ever relating the
contest's results.
Mary, her middle-aged unmarried grand-daughter, had, some
time before, left their country home to become a professional
nurse, and feeling strangely unfulfilled, has returned to care for
her aged and infirm grandparent
Dolly, Mary's younger sister, with children and mired in a
loveless marriage, is now expecting another child without
knowing who the real father is.
The smoldering rivalries between the two sisters act as a catalyst that
force Mommo to finish her story, with the painful recognition that the
laughing contest, won by her husband coincided with the death of the
couples son.
This acts as a cathartic moment, uniting the three women into a family.
The final image of the play is that of the two granddaughters climbing
into the bed with their grandmother. It is a protean feminine image
which, reaching back beyond the woman-nation trope, reclaims for
Cathleen a more distant layer of inheritance in the strong woman of
Celtic mythology: the shape-shifting Cailleach Beara and the Celtic
triune sovereignty goddesses.

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1704 : The Sacramental Test Act, making political office
and membership in municipal corporations available only
to those who receive communion according to the Church
of Ireland (excluding both Roman Catholics and
Protestant dissidents); penal laws reduce Catholic
landowners; English trade laws restrict Irish export &
trade industries. The Protestant Ascendancy begins.
1720: The Declaratory Act gave to the British Parliament
legislative jurisdiction over Irish affairs, the authority to
make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to
bind the kingdom and people of Ireland.
1767-1722: Lord Townsend establishes a resident Lord
Lieutenant-ship in Ireland, as direct representative of
Royal English power in Irish government
1778: First Protestant Volunteer Force forms, a national
volunteer army formed by, and for the defense of, the
Protestant Ascendancy. Their threat, combined with the
crisis in America, leads to removal of most restrictions on
Irish trade.
1782 The Constitution of 1782: a series of concessions
to the Irish Parliament, including repeal of Declaratory
Act, initiated largely due to British concern over the
revolutions in France and America
1782-1800Grattan's Parliament: under leadership of
Henry Grattan, the Irish Parliament holds its greatest
legislative independence. Irish economic revival follows.
As English and Anglo-Irish aristocracy settle in Ireland,
the splendor of Georgian Dublin reaches its height

4.1. The Protestant Ascendancy

Protestant Ascendancy is a term used to refer to the Anglican (not radical
Protestant) descendants of English colonists, who, during the 18th century,
had become firmly established as the great land-owning families throughout,
particularly, the eastern half of Ireland, and were determined to sustain their
social, political and economic power over the land.
The confidence of the Ascendancy was manifested towards the end of
the 18th century by its adoption of a nationalist Irish, though still exclusively
Protestant, identity. (e.g. the formation of Henry Grattans Patriot Party in
Among the achievements of this ruling class are: Trinity College
established as their seat of learning; the Irish Parliament in Dublin (the only
independent Parliament in any British colony in the entire empire); and
Dublin, the center of the Protestant power, turned into a true capital.
Eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish intellectuals, such as George Berkeley,
Jonathan Swift or Oliver Goldsmith, came to stand for a cast of Irish mind
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[Foster, 249] flourishing among this class who increasingly felt that their
fortunes were linked with those of their adoptive country, upon which they
were economically dependant, a feeling solidified by various resentments
against their constitutional and career dependence upon England 1 .

4.2. Landmarks of Historical Decline

1801: The Act of Union - passed partly in response to a
perception that the 1798 rebellion and the subsequent
bloodshed had been provoked by the misrule of the
Ascendancy - abolished the Irish Parliament. This was
followed by economic decline in Ireland, and widespread
emigration of the ruling class to the new centre of power
in London, which led to the phenomenon of the absentee
1829: The eventual arrival of Catholic emancipation (a
relief act enabling Catholics to enter parliament, belong to
any corporation and hold higher offices in state) meant
that the Ascendancy now faced competition from
prosperous Catholics in parliament and the various
1845-9: The Great Famine (subsequent failures of the
potato crop for three out of four years resulted in the
death of as many as 1,000,000 Irish from disease and
starvation, while another 2,000,000 had to emigrate,
largely to the United States) magnified the festering
sense of native grievance. The popular perception of the
Ascendancy became one of an absentee landlord
shipping food to England while the population starved.
1850-80: The emergence of secret and open societies
such as the Tenant League or the Land League
challenged the economic position of many landlords,
often making rents uncollectable.
1880s-1900s: The Land War saw a mass mobilisation of
tenant farmers against the landlord class. A series of
Land Acts allowed tenants to take ownership of the land.
At around the same time, the political power of the
Ascendancy passed to a largely Catholic and middle
class Irish nationalist movement.
1918-1923: During the Anglo-Irish War and the
subsequent Irish Civil War, many stately homes of the old
landed class were burned down by the Irish Republican

Prominent Ascendancy writers include:

o Edmund Burke (1729-97): political philosopher
o George Berkeley (1685-1753): empiricist
o Oliver Goldsmith (?1730-74): novelist, poet, playwright
o Jonathan Swift (1667 1745): satirist, poet, essayist
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Army, who identified them with what they saw as the
continuing domination of Britain over Ireland.
Following the 1801 Act of Union, when England took direct control over the
island, the dominant pattern of Irish political life will show the gradual decline
of the Protestant Ascendancy against the emboldening of the growing
Catholic middle and lower classes.
Ever since the time of Jonathan Swift there had been a pressure on the
Anglo-Irish to throw in their lot with the nativesOver the century and a
half which followed it became more and more clear that a strange
reciprocity bound members of the ascendancy to those peasants with
whom they shared the Irish predicament. Many decent landlords
genuinely cared for their tenants and felt responsible for their fate: that
care was often returned with a mixture of affection and awe. Others
were negligent and some cruelly exploitative: but these attitudes
served only to emphasize the kindness of the better sortWhen the
doom of the big house was sealed by the Land Acts, Shaw was not the
only commentator to wonder whether the lot of landless labourer would
prove happier under peasant proprietors than it had under paternalistic
landlords (Kiberd:1996,67)

4.3. The Big House: from cultural construct to literary

As a historical structure, the Big House made its appearance into the Irish
landscape during the last decades of the twelfth century, when Richard of
Clare, known as Strongbow, invaded Ireland and helped thus the first wave
of English colonizers to establish themselves in the area known as the Irish
Pale. As the English military, administrative and political domination extended
throughout the subsequent centuries, the defensive aspects of the highwalled Anglo-Norman tower-houses were gradually lost [16, 24] and, by the
eighteenth-century, when the Big House reached its heyday, a whole new
class of Anglo-Irish landlords vied to outdo one another in the building of
lavish countryside estates and gardens designed in newly-popular Palladian
style, characterized by grace, understated decorative elements, and use of
classical orders.
While the Irish Big Houses are increasingly valued today for their
architectural significance and have been recognized as an important part of
Irish heritage, they are also cultural constructs, which, according to
Jacqueline Genet, contain the myth of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy by
offering an explanation of that class, its style and manners, [setting] out its
relations with its environment and culture, and [plotting] its eventual
disintegration and decomposition [12, ix].

4.3.1. Cutural Myth

Feeling themselves entitled to candidate for the appellation of
Irishness, the Anglo-Irish had to work up their own set of representations. In
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House

so doing, they turned to the space of the Big House in order to provide
themselves with their own myth of rootedness. This myth was sustained by
two aspects. The first one, totally oblivious to the harsh realities outside the
demesne walls, pointed to an idyll of social and political harmony where the
affinity between paternalistic Protestant landlords and childlike Catholic
peasants expressed itself in what John Corner and Sylvia Harvey term as its
aristocratic, which provides the focus for a mythology of the social order
which is one of the most established in national ideology - that of the country
house, with its serenity, family continuities and apparently unlegislated
harmony of environmental and human relationships [5, 52].
The second one mythologised the Big House as an Apollonian ideal
of civilization and order [6, 158], investing it with the sense of a cultural
continuum able to preserve the values of that eighteenth-century spiritual
lite, made up of literary figures and intellectuals like Swift, Goldsmith, Burke
or Berkeley, whose writings witnessed to similar elements of classicism,
discipline and restraint. This mythical space became then the fictional frame
within which the Anglo-Irish, that group labeled by Declan Kiberd as a
hyphenated people, forever English in Ireland, forever Irish in England [14,
367], tried to invent an ideal self which could live on the hyphen between
Anglo and Irish[14, 368].
But the famines of the nineteenth-century and the subsequent Land
Acts which conceded large parts of Anglo-Irish domains to the tenantry
spelled the end of the great estates and of the families who owned them
[16, 27]. The decline was even more dramatic in the first decades of the
twentieth-century, thus recorded by Terence Brown in his historical account
of the social changes undergone by post-revolutionary Ireland:
The period 1911-26 saw indeed a striking decline of about one-third in
the Protestant population of the south of Ireland as a whole which
must be accounted for not only by the lamentable losses endured by
Protestant Ireland in the Great War but by the large numbers of landed
families, Protestant professional men, former members of the Royal
Irish Constabulary, civil servants and Protestant small farmers, who
felt that the new Ireland was unlikely to provide a satisfactory home for
themselves or their offspring. [2, 116]
Curiously enough, as Guy Fehlman notices, it was not until it was on the
verge of total disappearance that the Big House became a major theme in
Irish literature. Until then, its economic, social, political and legal implications
in Irish life had been too overwhelming to be transferred to fiction [9, 16].

4.3.2. Literary Theme

As setting, theme or character, the Big House resurfaces as a recurrent and
popular motif in Irish literature to the extent that, in Neill Corcorans opinion, it
has become a significant sub-genre in Irish writing[4, 32]. Maria
Edgeworths Castle Rackrent, published in 1800, is generally considered to
inaugurate not only the conventions of the Big House fiction summarized by
Kersti Tarien Powell in terms of the dilapidated house, the rise and fall of the
gentrified family, the irresponsible absentee landlords, and the rise of the
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House

(frequently militant, and therefore threatening) peasant class [20, 115] but
also to anticipate the social phenomenon related to the dramatic dislocation
of the Ascendancy class, the demise of the Big House world. Primarily
related to the Anglo-Irish novelistic tradition, the theme is present in
Somerville and Rosss The Big House at Inver (1925), Elizabeth Bowens
The Last September (1929), or Joyce Carys Castle Corner (1938), among
other works whose fictional representations of this figurative space evoke
elegiac nostalgia for the lost days of Ascendancy grandeur and spirit.

ANGLO-IRISH LITERATURE: term used to describe Irish

writing in English, which helps to distinguish this tradition
from English literature and literature in Gaelic (applied mostly
to Protestant Ascendancy writers).
THE BIG HOUSE: A recurrent theme in Anglo-Irish
Literature, referring to the big houses of the ascendancy, and
reflecting the anxieties and uncertainties of this Protestant
landowning class in their decline, from the early 19th century,
through Catholic Emancipation, the Famine, the Land
League, and the growth of modern militant Irish nationalism,
to the founding of the Irish State. It appears mainly in the
novel, but also in poetry, drama and memoir.
- the decaying house and declining gentry family;
- the improvident, often absentee, landlord;
- the rise of a predatory middle class seeking to
wrest power from landowners. Big House Novels

Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849): Castle Rackrent (1800)

o Thady Quirk, an old steward, narrates the eccentricities and excesses of

three generations of landowning Rackrents, until Thadys own son, Jason,
gains possession of the estate by loans and litigation.


Monday Morning.
Having, out of friendship for the family, upon whose estate, praised be
Heaven! I and mine have lived rent-free, time out of mind, voluntarily
undertaken to publish the Memoirs of the Rackrent Family, I think it my
duty to say a few words, in the first place, concerning myself. My real
name is Thady Quirk, though in the family I have always been known by
no ther than honest Thady - afterward, in the time of Sir Murtagh,
deceased, I remember to hear them calling me old Thady and now Im
come to poor Thady; for I wear a long great coat winter and summer,

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House

which is very handy, as I never put my arms into the sleeves; they are as
good as new, though come Holantide next Ive had it these seven years; it
holds on by a single button round my neck, cloak fashion. To look at me,
you would hardly think poor Thady was the father of attorney Quirk; he is
a high gentleman and never minds what poor Thady says, and having
better than fifteen hundred a year, landed estate, looks down upon honest
Thady; but I wash my hands of his doings, and as I have lived so will I die,
true and loyal to the family. The family of the Rackrents is, I am proud to
say, one of the most ancient in the kingdom. (. . .) Sir Tallyhoo only
never gave a gate upon it, it being his maxim that a car was the best gate.
Poor gentleman! He lost a fine hunter and his life, at last, by it, all in one
days hunt. But I ought to bless that day, for the estate came straight into
the family, upon one condition, which Sir Patrick OShaughlin at the time
took sadly to heart, they say, but thought better of it afterwards, seeing
how large a stake depended upon it, that he should, by act of parliament,
take and bear the surname and arms of Rackrent.
Now it was that the world was to see what was in Sir Patrick. On
coming into the estate, he gave the finest entertainment ever was heard
of in the country; not a man could stand after supper but Sir Patrick
himself, who could sit out the best man in Ireland, let alone the three
kingdoms itself. (. . .)
Sir Patrick died that night: just as the company rose to drink his health
with three cheers, he fell down in a sort of fit, and was carried off: they sat
it out, and were surprised, on inquiry, in the morning, to find that it was all
over with poor Sir Patrick. Never did any gentleman live and die more
beloved in the country by rich and poor. His funeral was such a one as
was never known before or since in the country! (. . .)But whod have
thought it? Just as all was going on right, through his own town they were
passing, when the body was seized for debt - a rescue was apprehended
from the mob; but the heir who attended the funeral was against that, for
the fear of consequences, seeing that those villains who came to serve
acted under the disguise of the law: so, to be sure, the law must take its
course, and little gain had the creditors for their pains. First and foremost,
they had the curses of the country: and Sir Murtagh Rackrent, the new
heir, in the next place, on account of this affront to the body, refused to
pay a shilling of the debts, in which he was countenanced by all the best
gentlemen of property, and others of his acquaintance; Sir Murtagh
alleging in all companies, that he all along meant to pay his fathers debts
of honour, but the moment the law was taken of him, there was an end of
honour to be sure. It was whispered (but none but the enemis of the
family believe it), that this was all a sham seizure to get quit of the debts,
which he had bound himself to pay in honour.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House

Sommerville and Ross [Edith Somerville (1858-1949)and Violet Martin
(1862-1915)]: The Real Charlotte (1894)

Charlotte, an intelligent but plain-looking middle-class Protestant of 40,

wants to make her way up the social scale in the village of Lismoyle by
marrying her pretty cousin Francie Fitzpatrick to Christopher Dysart,
son and heir of the local ascendancy family in Bruff Castle. At the
same time, Charlotte tries to win the Dysarts land agent Roddy
Lambert for herself, using prospects of property as the main
enticement. Her plan fails on both fronts when Francie falls in love with
a member of the garrison in town, and, when he jilts her, marries the
infatuated Lambert.
Well, your ladyship, she said, in the bluff, hearty voice which she
felt accorded best with the theory of herself that she had built up in
Lady Dysarts mind, Ill head a forlorn hope to the bottom of the lake
for you, and welcome; but for the honour of the house, you might give
me a cup otay first!
Charlotte had many tones of voice, according with the many
facets of her character, and when she wished to be playful she
affected a vigorous brogue, not perhaps being aware that her own
accent scarcely admitted of being strengthened.
This refinement of humour was probably wasted on Lady
He had the saving, or perhaps fatal power of seeing his own
handiwork with as unflattering an eye as he saw other peoples. He
had no confidence in anything about himself except his critical ability,
and he did not satisfy that, his tentative essays in painting died an
early death. It was the same with everything else. His fastidious
dislike of doing a thing indifferently was probably a form of conceit: it
brought about him a kind of deadlock.
Wheres Charlotte Mullen, till I tell her to her face that I know
her plots and her thricks? Tis to say that to her I came here, and to
tell her twas she lent money to Peter Joyce that was grazing my
farm, and refused it to him secondly, the way hes go bankrupt on
me, and shes to have my farm and my house that my grandfather
built, thinking to even herself with the rest of the gentry . . .

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973): The Last September (1929)
o Set in the Naylors big house, Danielstown, it explores their niece Lois
Farquahars emotional and sexual awakening against the background of
the Anglo-Irish War in 1920.
She shut her eyes and tried - as sometimes when she was seasick,
locked in misery between Holyhead and Kingstown - to be enclosed
in a nonentity, in some ideal no-place, perfect and clear as a bubble.
And she could not try to explain . . . how after every return awakening, even, from sleep or preoccupation - she and those home
surroundings further penetrated each other mutually in the discovery
of a lack.
He had seemed amazed at her being young when he wasnt. She
could not hope to explain that her youth seemed to her rather
theatrical and that she was only young in that way because people
expected it. She had never refused a role . . . She could not hope to
assure him she was enjoying anything he had missed, that she was
now convinced and anxious but intended to be quite certain, by the
time she was his age, that she had once been happy. For to explain
this - were explanation possible to so courteous, ironical and
unfriendly a listener - would, she felt, be disloyal to herself, to Gerald,
to an illusion both were called upon to maintain.
It must be because of Ireland he was in such a hurry . . . She could
not conceive of her country emotionally . . . His intentions burned on
the dark an almost invisible trail; he might well have been a murderer
he seemed so inspired.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House Poetry
W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) : Coole Park 1929; Coole Park and
Ballylee 1931
I meditate upon a swallows flight,
Upon an aged woman and her house,
A sycamore and lime-tree lost in night
Although that western cloud is luminous,
Great works constructed there in natures spite
For scholars and for poets after us,
Thoughts long knitted into a single thought,
A dance-like glory that those walls begot.

There Hyde before he had beaten into prose

That noble blade the Muses buckled on,
There one that ruffled in a many pose
For all his timid heart, there that slow man,
That meditative man, John Synge, and those
Impetuous men, Shawe-Taylor and Hugh Lane,
Found pride established in humility,
A scene well Set and excellent company.

They came like swallows and like swallows went,

And yet a womans powerful character
Could keep a Swallow to its first intent;
And half a dozen in formation there,
That seemed to whirl upon a compass-point,
Found certainty upon the dreaming air,
The intellectual sweetness of those lines
That cut through time or cross it withershins.

Here, traveller, scholar, poet, take your stand

When all those rooms and passages are gone,
When nettles wave upon a shapeless mound
And saplings root among the broken stone,
And dedicate - eyes bent upon the ground,
Back turned upon the brightness of the sun
And all that sensuality of the shade A moments memory to that laurelled head.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House


Under my window-ledge the waters race
Otters below and moor-hens on the top,
Run for a mile undimmed in Heavens face
Then darkening through dark Rafterys cellar drop,
Run underground, rise in a rocky place
In Coole demesne, and there to finish up
Spread to a lake and drop into a hole.
Whats water but the generated soul?
Upon the border of that lakes a wood
Now all dry sticks under a wintry sun,
And in a copse of beeches there I stood,
For Natures pulled her tragic buskin on
And all rants a mirror of my mood:
At sudden thunder of the mounting swan
I turned about and looked where branches break
The glittering reaches of the flooded lake.
Another emblem there! That stormy white
But seems a concentration on the sky;
And, like the soul, it sails into the sight
And in the mornings gone, no man knows why;
And is so lovely that it sets to right
What knowledge or its lack had set awry,
So arrogantly pure, a child might think
It can be murdered with a spot of ink.
Sound of a stick upon the floor, a sound
From somebody that toils from chair to chair;
Beloved books that famous hands have bound,
Old marble heads, old pictures everywhere;
Great rooms where travelled men and children found
Content or joy; a last inheritor
Where none has reigned that lacked a name and fame
Or out of folly into folly came.
A spot whereon the founders lived and died
Seemed once more dear than life; ancestral trees,
Or gardens rich in memory glorified
Marriages, alliances and families,
And every brides ambition satisfied.
Where fashion or mere fantasy decrees
We shift about - all that great glory spent Like some poor Arab tribesman and his tent.
We were the last romantics - chose for theme
Traditional sanctity and loveliness;
Whatevers written in what poets name
The book of the people; whatever most can bless
The mind of man or elevate a rhyme;
But all is changes, that high horse riderless,
Though mounted in that saddle Homer rode
Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House Drama
Lennox Robbinson (1886-1958): The Big House (1926), (Killycregs in
Twilight (1937)
o The Big House offers four scenes from the recent life of a Big
House family, the Alcocks of Ballydonal House in County Cork,
which span the years 1918 and 1923, the period which witnessed
to the fall of the old order and the inevitable decline of the Big
House in Irish life and culture. At the beginning of the play, the
myths of the Ascendancy sustain both the appearance of the
house, with its impressive Georgian architecture and large,
comfortable rooms described as containing the vestigial of
generations [21, 139] and the beliefs that underpin St Leger
Alcocks quasi-feudal utopianism, which makes him revel in the
privileged position of Ballydonal as symbol of the Anglo-Irish
culture in the community and in his own role as paterfamilias to the
surrounding peasant villagers. But, through the course of the play,
the individual members of the family as well as the house and the
myths sustaining it are besieged by history: the two sons, sent to
fight in the Great War under the English flag, are both killed on the
front, while at home, the villagers, whom the family attempted to
defend against the Black and Tans, turn against their Protestant
neighbours. Betrayed from within, the house is attacked by the
Irregulars for favouring the Free State government and burnt to the
W.B. Yeats: Purgatory (1938)

o An old peddler and his 16-year-old son return to the ruined big house
where the father was conceived. The old man relates how his mother
married a drunken stable-hand who wasted her inheritance, eventually
burning the house down. At the age of 16 the peddler, hating his father
who had kept him ignorant and made him coarse, killed him on the night
of the fire. The ghost of the stable-hand and his bride now re-enact the
peddlers conception, and in an attempt to exorcise guilt and remorse, he
stabs his own son with the knife he used on his father. To his horror the
hoof-beats start again, as the ghosts live through their passion and their
suffering once more.
OLD MAN. But there are some
That do not care whats gone, whats left:
The souls in Purgatory that come back
To habitations and familiar spots.
BOY. Your wits are out again.
OLD MAN. Re-live
Their transgressions, and that not once
But many times; they know at last

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House

The consequence of those transgressions
Whether upon others or upon themselves;
Upon others, others may bring help,
For when the consequence is at an end
The dream must end; if upon themselves,
There is no help but in themselves
And in the mercy of God.
BOY. I have had enough!
Talk to the jackdaws, if talk you must.
OLD MAN. Stop! Sit there upon that stone.
That is the house where I was born.
( . . .)
OLD MAN. Looked at him and married him,
And he squandered everything she had.
She never knew the worst, because
She died in giving birth to me,
But now she knows it all, being dead.
Great people lived and died in this house;
Magistrates, colonels, members of Parliament,
Captains and Governors, and long ago
Men that had fought at Aughrim and the Boyne.
Some that had gone on Government work
To London or to India came home to die,
Or came from London every spring
To look at the may-blossom in the park.
They had loved the trees that he cut down
To pay what he had lost at cards
Or spent on horses, drink and women;
Had loved the house, had loved all
The intricate passages of the house,
But he killed the house; to kill a house
Where great men grew up, married, died,
I here declare a capital offence.
(. . .)
Listen to the hoof-beats! Listen, listen!
BOY. I cannot hear a sound.
OLD MAN. Beat! Beat!
This night is the anniversary
Of my mothers wedding night,
Or of the night wherein I was begotten.
My father is riding from the public-house,
A whiskey-bottle under his arm.
[A window is lit showing a young girl.]
( . . .)
OLD MAN: Do not let him touch you!
It is not true that drunken men cannot beget,
And if he touch he must beget
And you must bear his murderer.
Deaf! Both deaf! If I should throw
A stick or a stone they would not hear;
And thats proof my wits are out.
Come back! Come back!
And so you thought to slip away,
My bag of money between your fingers,

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House

And that I could not talk and see!
You have been rummaging in the pack.
( . . .)
BOY. What if I killed you? You killed my grand-dad,
Because you were young and he was old.
Now I am young and you are old.
OLD MAN. That beast there would know nothing, being nothing,
If I should kill a man under the window
He would not even turn his head.
[He stabs the boy.]
My father and my son on the same jack-knife!
That finishes - there -there - there[He stabs again and again. The window grows dark.]
(. . .)
Dear mother, the window is dark again,
But you are in the light because
I finished all that consequence.
I killed that lad because had he grown up
He would have struck a womans fancy,
Begot and passed pollution on.
Hoof-beats! Dear God,
How quickly it returns - beat - beat -!
Her mind cannot hold up that dream.
Twice a murderer and all for nothing,
And she must animate that dead night
Not once but many times!
( . . .)

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989): A Piece of Monologue (1979)

o The lonely speakers memories recall familiar pictures of the Protestant

Ascendancy, now dead and gone.
Covered with pictures once. Pictures of . . . he all but said of loved
ones. . . . Down one after another. Gone. Torn to shreds and
scattered. . . . Over the years. Years of nights. . . . So stands there
facing blank wall. Dying on. No more no less.
Grey light. Rain pelting. Umbrellas round a grave. Seen from
above. Streaming black canopies. Black ditch beneath. Rain
bubbling in the black mud. Empty for the moment. That place
beneath. Which . . . he all but said which loved one? . . . Coffin out
of frame. Whose? Fade. Gone. Move on to other matters. Try to
move on. To other matters.
Thirty thousand nights of ghosts beyond. Beyond that black
beyond. Ghost light. Ghost nights. Ghost rooms. Ghost graves.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Chapter 4 Protestant Literary Tropes: the Big House

Ghost . . . he all but said ghost loved ones. Waiting on the rip
words. Stands there staring beyond at that black veil lips quivering
to half-heard words. Treating of other matters. . . . Never but the
one matter. The dead and gone. The dying and the going.

Brian Friel (1929 - ): Aristocrats (1979)

o Friels play permutes a Catholic family into a big house setting, in order to
chronicle its disintegration at a reunion in Ballybeg Hall. The wedding of
the youngest daughter Claire to a small local greengrocer coincides with
the death of the patriarch of the family, District Justice ODonnell, who has
oppressed his children in his need for absolute authority. Eamon, married
into the family, is aware of the decline and is the only one to experience a
sense of loss, as the play moves slowly and lyrically towards an extended
scene of Chekhovian leave-taking where the members of the family say
goodbye to each other and to their past.
EAMON: What political clout did they wield? (Considers. Then
sadly shakes his head.) What economic help were they to their coreligionists? (Considers. Then sadly shakes his head.) What
cultural effect did they have on the local peasantry? Alice?
(Considers. Then sadly shakes his head.) We agree, Im afraid.
Sorry, Professor. Bogus thesis. No book.
(. . . ) You know what will happen, dont you? The moment youve
left the thugs from the village will move in and loot and ravage this
place within a couple of hours. (. . . ) Well I know its real worth - in
this area, in this county, in this country. And Alice knows. And
Casimir knows. And Claire knows. And somehow will keep it going.
(. . .)Sorry . . .Sorry . . . sorry again . . . Seems to be a day of
public contrition. What the hell is but crumbling masonry. Sorry.
(Short laugh.) Dont you know that all that is fawning and fore-locktouching and Paddy and shabby and greasy peasant in the Irish
character finds a house like that irresistible? Thats why we were
ideal for colonising. Something in us needs this . . . aspiration.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Appendix 1 Brief Chronology of Historical Events


c. 6000 BC

c. 300 BC
432 AD

probable date of first human settlements in Ireland

possible date of arrival of Celts
traditional date of the beginning of St Patricks mission
first raids of Viking invasion
Brian Boraime recognised as high king
Norman invasion begins
Declaration Act, Henry VIII is declared King of Ireland
Plantation of Munster
Hugh ONeill, Earl of Tyrone, heads rebellion
Flight of the Earls
Plantation of Ulster
Irish Catholic Rebellions
Cromwellian campaigns and Plantation
James II lands at Kinsale. Williamite War begins.
Battle of the Boyne
Penal Laws restrict Catholic rights
United Irishmen founded in Belfast
Foundation of Orange Order
United Irishmens Rebellion
Act of Union
Rising of Robert Emmet
Catholic Emancipation (Daniel OConnell)
First year of the Great Famine
Young Ireland Rising
Irish Republican Brotherhood founded
Fenian Rebellion; Manchester Martyrs
Michael Davitt founds the Land League.
Parnell elected leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party
Gael League founded
Opening season of the Irish Literary Theatre
Ulster Volunteers, Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army
The Easter Rising
Anglo-Irish War
Irish Free State established. Civil War begins
De Valeras Constitution
Irish Free State declares itself a republic
Beginning of the Troubles
Bloody Sunday in Derry. Direct Rule imposed in N.I.
Anglo-Irish Agreement
IRA and Loyalist ceasefires

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Appendix 2 Suggested Essay Topics





Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Appendix 3 Individual Authors and Texts


1. The Land of Cockayne
2. Geoffrey Keating, O Woman Full of Wile
3. Edmund Spenser, A View on the Present State of Ireland
4. William Shakespeare, Henry V
5. Dion Boucicault, The Irish Trilogy (Arrah-na Pogue, The Colleen
Bawn, the Shaughraun), Robert Emmet
6. The Quiet Man (film, directed by Boris Ford)
7. Brian Friel, Making History
8. Seamus Heaney, Traditions, Oceans Love to Ireland
9. James Clarence Mangan, My Dark Rosaleen
10. W. B. Yeats, Kathleen Ni Houlihan
11. James Joyce, A Mother (from The Dubliners)
12. Samuel Beckett, Murphy
13. Dancing at Lughnasa (film or play)
14. Thomas Murphy, Bailegangaire
15. Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent
16. Lennox Robinson, The Big House
17. Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September
18. The Last September (film)
19. The Real Charlotte (film)
20. W.B. Yeats, Purgatory
21. Jennifer Johnston, How Many Miles to Babylon?, The Invisible
Worm (tranl. Into Romanian as Casa de vara)
22. High Spirits (film)

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Appendix 4 Pronunciation Guide


(long), as in "aught;" a (short), as in "hot."
c with slender vowels (e, i), as in "king;" never as s.
c with broad vowels (a, o, u), as in "car;" never as s.
ch with slender vowels (e, i), as in German "Ich;" never as in "church."
ch with broad vowels (a, o, u), as in German "Buch;" never as in
d with slender vowels (e, i), as in French "dieu."
d with broad vowels (a, o, u), as in "thy."
(long), as in ale; e (short), as in "bet."
g with slender vowels (e, i), as in "give;" never as j.
g with broad vowels (a, o, u), as in "go;" never as j.
gh with slender vowels (e, i) is slender ch voiced.
gh with broad vowels (a, o, u) is broad ch voiced.
(long), as in "feel;" i (short), as in it.
mh and bh intervocalic with slender vowels, as v.
mh and bh intervocalic with broad vowels, as w.
(long), as in "note;" o (short), as in "done."
s with slender vowels (e, i), as in "shine," never as z.
s with broad vowels (a, o, u), as s.
t with slender vowels (e, i), as in "tin."
t with broad vowels (a, o, u), as in "threw."
th, like h.
(long), as in "pool;" u (short), as in "full."
The remaining consonants are pronounced almost as in English.

Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Minimal Bibliography

Bradshaw, Brenna, Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley (eds.), REPRESENTING
Cambridge UP, 1993.
Brady, Ciaran, Mary ODowd and Brian Walker (eds.), ULSTER: AN ILLUSTRATED
HISTORY, foreword by J. C. Beckett, London: B .T. Batsford, 1989.
Brophy, James D. and Raymond J. Porter, CONTEMPORARY IRISH WRITING,
Boston: Iona College Press, Twayne Publishers, 1983.
Brown, Terence, IRELANDS LITERATURE, Mercier Press, 1992.
Cairns, David and Shaun Richards, WRITING IRELAND: COLONIALISM,
NATIONALISM AND CULTURE, Manchester, Manchester UP, 1988.
Crotty, Patrick (ed.) MODERN IRISH POETRY. AN ANTHOLOGY, Lagan Press,
Deane, Seamus, A SHORT HISTORY OF IRISH LITERATURE, London et al.:
Hutchinson; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986.
1880-1980, London: Faber and Faber, 1985.
LITERATURE AND CULTURE, Mullingar: The Lilliput Press, 1991.


Gibbons, Luke, TRANSFORMATIONS IN IRISH CULTURE, Cork: Cork University

Press; Field Day, 1996.
BOUCICAULT TO FRIEL, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.
Kenneally, Michael (ed.), IRISH LITERATURE AND CULTURE, Gerrards Cross:
Colin Smythe, 1992
Kiberd, Declan INVENTING IRELAND: The Literature of the Modern Nation, Vintage,
POLITICS OF REPRESENTATION, 2nd revised edition, Europlus, 2014.
Moody, T.W. (ed.) THE COURSE OF IRISH HISTORY, Mercier Press, 1994.
Deane, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.
Blackwell, 1990.
UP, 1996.
Colonial Themes and the Politics of Representation in Irish Literature

Irish Spaces and Ideologies of

Ioana Mohor-Ivan

Irish Literature





1848 the Young Irelanders, a splinter group from O'Connell's repeal

association, attempt a failed insurrection
1858 the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret insurrectionary group, is
formed out of the Fenian Movement, under the leadership of James
Stephens; it attempts a failed insurrection in 1867.
1870 the Home Government Association, soon to become the Home Rule
League, is founded by Isaac Butt
1875 Charles Stewart Parnell enters parliament; he soon assumes leadership
of the Home Rule League from Butt
1886 the first Home Rule bill is defeated in parliament
1889 Parnell is named co-respondent in OShea divorce petition, leading to
his split with catholic clergy and condemnation by British public.
1893 the second Home Rule bill is defeated in parliament; the Gaelic league
is founded by Douglas Hyde



The essential, spiritual life of a people subsists in its culture;

Language bears the gifts of the past into the present and supplies
a living link with a racial spirituality, expressed in legends,
literature and songs.
Irish independence is translated in terms of the countrys
distinctive cultural inheritance (i.e. Celtic).


Archetypal human response to the countryside, viewed either as

a mythic Golden Age, or as rural simplicity and morality to be
contrasted to the present urban existence.
If the Anglophone view has invariably constructed the Irish
identity as the negative term of the basic opposition established
between barbarism and civilisation, the native representational
range for Irishness has mainly nurtured on the pastoral, and
rural Ireland, variously seen as Romantic Golden Age or peasant
community has been discursively used to signify the nation.

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Cultural discourse on the Irish identity, emerging in the second half of the 19th
century, influenced by Matthew Arnolds lectures collected and published as On
the Study of Celtic Literature (1876)
1.4.1. Matthew Arnold (1822 1888): poet and cultural critic.
His principal writings are:

in poetry, Poems (1853), containing "Sohrab and Rustum," and "The Scholar
Gypsy;" Poems, 2nd Series (1855), containing "Balder Dead;" Merope (1858);
New Poems (1867), containing "Thyrsis," "A Southern Night," "Rugby
Chapel," "The Weary Titan," and his masterpiece, "Dover Beach."
in prose, On Translating Homer (1861 and 1862), On the Study of Celtic
Literature (1867), Essays in Celtic Literature (1868), Essays in Criticism, 2nd
Series (1888), Culture and Anarchy (1869), Literature and Dogma (1873), God and
the Bible (1875), Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877), Mixed Essays (1879),
Irish Essays (1882), and Discourses in America (1885).
He also wrote some works on the state of education in mainland Europe.

1.4.2. On the Study of Celtic Literature (1876) is influenced by the thesis

propounded by Ernest Renan in his Posie des Races Celtique, which, drawing
on contemporary philological discourses, had advanced the notion of the
Celt as the producer of civility and culture within the mutually
interdependent Indo-European family of races, Matthew Arnold developed
this view in the context of British cultural imperialism, paying thus the Celtic
world the first valuable compliment it had received from an English source in
several hundred years1. Indeed, the Englishmans work sets out to provide a
list of attributes pertaining to the Celtic race, emphasising the qualities of
melancholy, other-worldliness, indifference to fact, bravery in defeat,
sensitivity to verbal and musical magic, but his intention is far from being
that of outlining these virtues as the basis of a separate Celtic culture and,
consequently, power. Careful to put a politically independent future for the
Celts beyond the bounds of possibility, Arnold argues that it is not in the
outward and visible world of material life that the Celtic genius of Wales and Ireland
can at this day hope to count for much2, because, having ineffectualness and selfwill for its defect 3, it lacks the capacity for political self-government: the skillful
and resolute application of means to ends which is needed both to make progress in
material civilisation and also to form powerful states, is just hat the Celt has least
turn for . . . as in material civilisation he has been ineffectual, so has the Celt been
ineffectual in politics4.
John V. Kelleher, Matthew Arnold and the Celtic Revival, in Perspectives in Criticism, edited by
Harry Levin, Chicago, 1971, p. 197.
2 Quoted from D. Cairns and S. Richards, op. cit., pp. 46-47.
3 Quoted from J.V. Kelleher, op. cit., p. 210.
4 Ibid.

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Arnolds aim is ultimately that of getting his fellow Englishmen accept that
an invigorated British culture may stem only of the blending of the positive aspects
of Saxon common sense and steadfastness 5 with Celtic sensibility, which would
provide the only antidote to what he calls the Philistinism of modern economic
society: . . . we may use German faithfulness to Nature to give us science and to free us
from insolence and self-will; we may use the Celtic quickness of perception to give us
delicacy and to free us from hardness and Philistinism6.
As Cairns and Richards note, the importance of Arnolds study resides with
the fact that the critic managed to produce a context for the cultural incorporation
of the Celts which flattered them into accepting a subsidiary position for themselves vis-vis the English7, the recognition of the values of their cultural products being a
healing measure in Anglo-Irish relations on the cultural plane. More than this, due
to the fact that the sensibility of the Celtic nature, its nervous exaltation, have something
feminine in them, and the Celt is peculiarly disposed to feel the spell of the feminine
idiosyncrasy8, the centrality of the Celts within the British culture was guaranteed through this resort to the categories of sexuality - by the needs of the masculine
According to Seamus Deane, one major outcome of the English critics study
was that of introducing the Celtic idea as a differentiating fact between Ireland
and England, managing to give this word a political resonance it has not yet
entirely lost.9 Consequently, it was accepted that the Celtic spirit was utterly
different from the Saxon one, and Spensers dichotomy between the English order
and the Irish lawlessness was re-written as that between Saxon pragmatism and
Celtic spirituality:

1.4.3. Celt / Saxon dichotomies:



The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature, edited by Robert Welch, Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1996, p.
6 Quoted from D. Cairns and S. Richards, op. cit., p. 47.
7 Ibid., p. 49.
8 Ibid., p. 48.
9 Seamus Deane, Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature, London: Faber and Faber, 1985.

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o Cultural discourse emerging in opposition to Celtism

o Promoted by the members of the Gaelic League
o Irish identity based on the Gael: masculine, warrior-like, antagonistic to the
o Institutions like the Gaelic Athletic Association (founded in 1884 as a
powerful rural network emphasising physical training), or the Gaelic
League (established nine years later and mainly dedicated to the revival
of the Gaelic language) promoted a definition of Irishness based on the
Gael, seen as masculine, warrior-like, and, consequently, antagonistic to
the Anglo-Saxon. Consequently the Gaeltacht people of the rural west
were turned into the ideal of Irishness, becoming endowed with every
virtue known to Gaelic civilisation.
o On the other hand, this Gaelic idea of Irishness soon came to fuse with
the other important discourse shaping rural Ireland, namely familism10.

1.5.1. FAMILISM:
The Great Potato Famine which had struck Ireland in 1846, had led to a sudden
drop in population among the rural Catholic class11, and, as a consequence, during
the latter half of the 19th century, the Irish countryside underwent a complex series
of economic, social and cultural accommodations with the new circumstances
brought by the simplification of rural social relations, caused by the decline in
number and importance of the landless labourers, and the rise in prominence of the
tenant farmers, who became the most numerous class in the land. These social
changes found a counterpart in the distinct culture which this class evolved in
response to these novel social and economic factors, marked by a series of practices
and procedures, collectively termed familism, which the tenant-farmers used in
order to consolidate, extend and transmit family holdings from generation to
generation. Among these practices, Cairns and Richards note:
. . . a number of procedures to control access to marriage, including the imposition
and perpetuation of strict codes of behaviour between men and women, general
endorsement of celibacy outside marriage and postponement of marriage in farmers
families until the chosen heir was allowed by the father to take possession of the farm
[ . . . ]the spread of matchmaking as a preliminary to marriage; pressure on surplus
sons and daughters to emigrate; pressure on them to observe strict chastity and not,
See D. Cairns and S. Richards, op. cit., Chapters 3 and 4.
According to Hugh Kearney (The British Isles: A History of Four Nations, Cambridge,
Cambridge U.P., 1989), the Famine enhanced once more the differences between the Irish Catholic
south and the mainly Scots Presbyterian north, due to their contrasting experiences. While the
northern rural areas, were the main element of popular diet was oats, were spared in the main by
the failure of the potato crops, the southern ones of small farming and labouring classes, heavily
dependant on the potato, were decimated by starvation and disease. By 1847 large numbers of small
farmers were obliged to emigrate to the United States, while by 1851 statistics showed that Ireland
had lost one quarter of its population, either by emigration or by death, a social tragedy that had its
greatest impact on the Catholic poor.

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through following their own desires, to risk the transmission of the farm under
unfavourable circumstances through a msalliance . . .12
The codes of belief and behaviour upon which familism rested, particularly the
regulation of sexuality, and unquestioned patriarchal authority 13, were also discursively
controlled by Catholicism, hence the merging of the two provided the additional
marks of identity to the Gaelic Irishness.
Thus, while retaining what were perceived as positive characteristics of
Celticism, such as the assumed spirituality and anti-materialism of the Irish, the
rural definition of Irishness deployed linguistic, religious and moral categories not
only as criteria of national identity, but also as a code for anti-Englishness14. In this
view, anything English could not be but a corrupting influence on the Gaelic
Declan Kiberd in his study of modern Irish literature and culture, Inventing
Ireland, shows how this definition of Irishness mainly aimed at projecting the
country as not-England, where anything English was ipso facto not for the Irish [. . . ],
but any valued cultural possessions of the English were shown to have their Gaelic


Irish language
Brehon law
Gaelic football

English language*
English law*

D. Cairns and S. Richards, op. cit., pp. 42-43.

Ibid., p. 60.
14 R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland: 1600-1972, London: Penguin Books, 1989, p. 449.
15 Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation, London: Vintage, 1996, p.
* These categories are presented in Kiberds study as instances of national parallelism

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o The Irish Literary Revival stimulated new appreciation of traditional Irish

literature. The movement also encouraged the creation of works written in the
spirit of Irish culture, as distinct from English culture. This was, in part, due to
the political need for an individual Irish identity. An important symbol of the
literary revival became the Abbey Theatre, which served as the stage for many
new Irish writers and playwrights of the time.
o It was influenced by both celticism and gaelicism.

1.6.1. Main representatives: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
Poet, dramatist, mystic and public figure, Yeats was born to an Anglo-Irish
Protestant family, but turned into a committed Irish nationalist, becoming thus the
primary driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival a movement which
stimulated new appreciation of traditional Irish literature, encouraging the creation
of works written in the spirit of Irish culture, as distinct from English culture.Yeats
was also co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, another great symbol of the literary
revival, which served as the stage for many new Irish writers and playwrights of
the time. After the establishment of the Irish Free State, Yeats was appointed to the
first Irish Senate Seanad ireann in 1922 and re-appointed in 1925. He was awarded
the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 for what the Nobel Committee described as
"his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the
spirit of a whole nation".

Introduction to Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry(1888)

These folk-tales are full of simplicity and musical occurences, for they are the
literature of a class for whom every incident in the old rut of birth, love, pain and
death has cropped up unchanged for centuries; who have steeped everything in the
heart: to whom everything is a symbol. They have the spade over which man has
leant from the beginning. The people of the cities have the machine, which is prose
and a parvenue.

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from Manifesto for the establishing of the Irish Literary Theatre (1897)
We propose to have performed in the spring of every year certain Celtic and Irish
plays, which whatever be their degree of excellence, will be written with a high
ambition, and so to build up a Celtic and Irish school of dramatic literature. We hope
to find in Ireland an uncorrupted and imaginative audience, trained to listen by its
passion for oratory, and believe that our desire to bring upon the stage the deeper
thoughts and emotions of Ireland will ensure for us a tolerant welcome, and that
freedom of expression which is not found in the theatre in England, and without
which no new movement in art or literature can succeed. We sill show that Ireland
is not the home of buffoonery and easy sentiment, as it has been represented, but the
home of an ancient idealism. Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory (1852-1932):

With William Butler Yeats and others, she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre
and the Abbey Theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies. She
also produced a number of books of retellings of stories from Irish mythology.
However, Lady Gregory is mainly remembered for her driving force of the Irish
Literary Revival. Her home at Coole Park, County Galway served as an important
meeting place for the leading Revival figures and her early work as a member of
the board of the Abbey was at least as important for the theatre's development as
her creative writings were. Douglas Hyde (1860-1949) (Irish: Dubhghlas de hde)

Hyde was an Anglo-Irish scholar of the Irish language and founder of the Gaelic
League. His famous pamphlet, The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland, argued
that Ireland should follow her own traditions in language, literature and even in
dress. He also wrote one-act plays in the Irish language which were staged by the
Irish Literary Theatre and then by the Abbey. He also served as the first President
of Ireland from 1938 to 1945.

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When we speak of The necessity for De-Anglicising the Irish Nation, we
mean it, not as a protest against imitating what is best in the English people,
for that would be absurd, but rather to show the folly of neglecting what is
Irish, and hastening to adopt, pell-mell, and indiscriminately, everything
that is English, simply because it is English. (. . .)
I shall endeavour to show that this failure of the Irish people in recent
times has been largely brought about by the race diverging during this
century from the right path, and ceasing to be Irish without becoming
English. I shall attempt to show that with the bulk of the people this change
took place quite recently, much more recently than most people imagine, and
is, in fact, still going on. I should also like to call attention to the illogical
position of men who drop their language to speak English, of men who
translate their euphonious Irish names in English monosyllables, of men who
read English books, and know nothing about Gaelic literature, nevertheless
protesting as a matter of sentiment that they hate the country which at every
hands turn they rush to imitate.(..)
What we must endeavour to never forget is this, that the Ireland of
today is the descendant of the Ireland of the seventh century, then the school
of Europe and the torch of learning.(. . .) What the battleaxe of the Dane, the
sword of the Norman, the wile of the Saxon were unable to perform, we have
accomplished ourselves. We have at last broken the continuity of Irish life,
and just at the moment when the Celtic race is presumably about to largely
recover possession of its own country, it finds itself deprived and striped of
its Celtic characteristics, cut off from the past, yet scarcely in touch with the
present. It has lost since the beginning of this century almost all that
connected it with the era of Cuchullain and of Ossian, that connected it with
the Christianisers of Europe, that connected it with Brian Boru and the
heroes of Clontarf, with the ONeills and ODonnells, with Rory OMoore,
with the Wild Geese, and even to some extent with the men of 98. It has lost
all that they had - language, traditions, music, genius and ideas.

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1. 7. J.M. Synge (1871 1909)

Dramatist, poet, prose writer, and collector of folklore, Synge was a key figure in
the Irish Literary Revival and was one of the cofounders of the Abbey Theatre.
Although he came from a middle-class Protestant background, Synge's writings are
mainly concerned with the world of the Irish-speaking peasants of rural Ireland
(Gaeltacht) and with what he saw as the essential paganism of their world view.
He suffered from Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer that was untreatable at the
time and died just weeks short of his 38th birthday.
from the Preface to The Tinkers Wedding:
Of the things which nourish the imagination humour is one of the most needful,
and it is dangerous to limit or destroy it. Baudelaire calls laughter the greatest sign
of the Satanic element in man; and where a country loses its humour, as some towns
in Ireland are doing, there will be morbidity of mind, as Baudelaires mind was
In the greater part of Ireland, however, the whole people, from the tinkers to the
clergy, have still a life, and a view of life that are rich and genial and humorous. I do
not think that these country people, who have so much humour themselves, will
mind being laughed at without malice, as the people in every country have been
laughed at in their own comedies.


In the Shadow of the Glen (1902): Nora Burke is married to Dan, a sheep
farmer many years her elder, and they live in the last cottage at the head
of a long glen in County Wicklow. Dan shams his death because he
suspects Nora to be a bad wife. A passing Tramp begs shelter from the
wet night and the woman lets him in, but then she leaves the Tramp
alone in order to call to a young neighbouring sheep farmer, Michael
Dara. Once she is gone, Dan Burke sits up. He shares his suspicions and
his schemes with the Tramp and assumes his sham death-pose before
Nora and Michael enter. Michael is hatching plans for Dans legacy and
Noras thoughts are taking on an unexpected dark complexion, when the
old man rises up and banishes his wife from the house. The Tramp takes
up her cause, soothing her with fine words to win her over to a life on the
road. They leave together, while Dan and Michael compliment each other
over whiskey.

Riders to the Sea (1904): a one-act play which tells of an old woman,
Maurya, who has lost her husband and five of her six fishermen sons to
the sea, and who earnestly begs the last Bartley not to undertake a
treacherous crossing to sell a pig on the mainland. When Bartleys body
is returned, dripping in a sailcloth, the old woman transcends her agony
by accepting her loss.

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CHARACTERS: MAURYA (an old woman); BARTLEY (her son); CATHLEEN
(her daughter);NORA (a younger daughter);MEN and WOMEN.
SCENE. An island off the West of Ireland. (Cottage kitchen, with nets, oil-skins,
spinning wheel, some new boards standing by the wall, etc. Cathleen, a girl
of about twenty, finishes kneading cake, and puts it down in the pot-oven
by the fire; then wipes her hands, and begins to spin at the wheel. Nora, a
young girl, puts her head in at the door.)
NORA (in a low voice): Where is she?
CATHLEEN: Shes lying down, God help her, and may be sleeping, if shes
(NORA comes in softly, and takes a bundle from under her shawl.)
CATHLEEN (spinning the wheel rapidly): What is it you have?
NORA: The young priest is after bringing them. Its a shirt and a plain
stocking were got off a drowned man in Donegal.
(CATHLEEN stops her wheel with a sudden movement, and leans out to listen.)
NORA: Were to find out if its Michaels they are, some time herself will be
looking by the sea.
CATHLEEN: How would they be Michaels, Nora. How would he go the
length of that way to the far north?
NORA: The young priest says hes known the like of it. If its Michaels they
are says he, you can tell herself hes got a clean burial by the grace
of God, and if theyre not his, let no one say a word about them, for
shell be getting her death, says he, with crying and lamenting.(The
door which NORA half closed is blown open by a gust of wind.)
CATHLEEN (looking out anxiously): Did you ask him would he stop Bartley
going this day with the horses to the Galway fair?
NORA: I wont stop him, says he, but let you not be afraid. Herself does
say prayers half through the night, and the Almighty God wont
leave her destitute, says he, with no son living.
CATHLEEN: Is the sea bad by the white rocks, Nora?
NORA: Middling bad, God help us. Theres a great roaring in the west, and
its worse itll be getting when the tides turned to the wind. (She goes
ever to the table with the bundle.) Shall I open it now?
CATHLEEN: Maybe shed wake up on us, and come in before wed done.
(Coming to the table.) Its a long time well be, and the two of us
NORA (goes to the inner door and listens): Shes moving about on the bed.
Shell be coming in a minute.
CATHLEEN: Give me the ladder, and Ill put them up in the turf-loft, the
way she wont know of them at all, and maybe when the tide turns
shell be going down to see would he be floating from the east.(They
put the ladder against the gable of the chimney; CATHLEEN goes up a few
steps and hides the bundle in the turf-loft. MAURYA comes from the inner

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MARYA (looking up at CATHLEEN and speaking querulously): Isnt it turf

enough you have for this day and evening?
CATHLEEN: Theres a cake baking at the fire for a short space (throwing
down the turf) and Bartley will want it when the tide turns if he goes
to Connemara.
(NORA picks up the turf and puts it round the pot-oven.)
MAURYA: I went down to the spring well, and I stood there saying a prayer
to myself. Then Bartley came along, and he riding on the red mare
with the grey pony behind him. (She puts up her hands, as if to hide
something from her eyes.) The Son of God spare us, Nora!
CATHLEEN: What is it you seen.
MAURYA: I seen Michael himself.
CATHLEEN (speaking softly): You did not, mother; It wasnt Michael you
seen, for his body is after being found in the far north, and hes got a
clean burial by the grace of God.
MAURYA (a little defiantly): Im after seeing him this day, and he riding and
galloping. Bartley came first on the red mare; and I tried to say God
speed you, but something choked the words in my throat. He went
by quickly; and the blessing of God on you, says he, and I could say
nothing. I looked up the, and I crying, at the grey pony, and there
was Michael upon it - with fine clothes on him, and new shoes on his
CATHLEEN (begins to keen): Its destroyed we are from this day. Its
destroyed, surely.
NORA: Didnt the young priest say the Almighty God wouldnt leave her
destitute with no son living?
MAURYA (in a low voice, but clearly): Its little the like of him knows of the
sea . . . . Bartley will be lost now, and let you call in Eamon and make
me a good coffin out of the white boards, for I wont live after them.
Ive had a husband, and a husbands father, and six sons in this
house - six fine men, though it was a hard birth I had with every one
of them and they coming to the world - and some of them were
found and some of them were not found, but theyre gone now the
lot of them. . . . There were Stephen, and Shawn, were lost in the
great wind, and found after in the Bay of Gregory of the Golden
Mouth, and carried up the two of them on the one plank, and in by
that door.(She pauses for a moment, the girls start as if they heard
something through the door that is half open behind them.)
NORA (in a whisper): Did you hear that, Cathleen? Did you hear a noise in
the north-east?
CATHLEEN (in a whisper): Theres some one after crying out by the
MAURYA (continues without hearing anything): There was Sheamus and his
father, and his own father again, were lost in a dark night, and not a
stick or sign was seen of them when the sun went up. There was
Patch after was drowned out of a curagh that turned over. I was
sitting here with Bartley, and he a baby, lying on my two knees, and
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I seen two women, and three women, and four women coming in,
and they crossing themselves, and not saying a word. I looked out
then, and there were men coming after them, and they holding a
thing in the half of a red sail, and water dripping out of it - it was a
dry day, Nora - and leaving a track to the door. (She pauses again with
her hand stretched out towards the door. It opens softly and old women
begin to come in, crossing themselves on the threshold, and kneeling down
in front of the stage with red petticoats over their heads.)
MAURYA (half in a dream, to CATHLEEN): Is it Patch, or Michael, or what is
it at all?
CATHLEEN: Michael is after being found in the far north, and when he is
found there how could he be here in this place?
MAURYA: There does be a power of young men floating round in the sea,
and what way would they know if it was Michael they had, or
another man like him, for when a man is nine days in the sea, and
the wind blowing, its hard set his own mother would be to say what
man was it.
CATHLEEN: It is Michael, God spare him, for theyre after sending us a bit
of his clothes from the far north. (She reaches out and hands MAURYA
the clothes that belonged to Michael. MAURYA stands up slowly and takes
them in her hands. NORA looks out.)
NORA: Theyre carrying a thing among them and theres water dripping
out of it and leaving a track by the big stones.
CATHLEEN (in a whisper to the women who have come in): Is it Bartley it is?
ONE OF THE WOMEN: It is surely, God rest his soul. (Two younger
WOMEN come in and pull out the table. Then men carry in the body of
Bartley, laid on a plank, with a bit of sail over it, and lay it on the table.)
CATHLEEN (to the women, as they are doing so): What way was he drowned?
ONE OF THE WOMEN: The grey pony knocked him into the sea, and he
was washed out . . . . .

The Well of the Saints ( 1905): Martin and Mary Doul, two blind beggars
have been led to believe that they are beautiful by the lies of the
townsfolk, when in fact they are old and ugly. A saint restores their sight
with water drawn from a well in a place across a bit of the sea, where
there is an island. They are now able-bodied, and must hire themselves
out for manual labour to survive. Martin goes to work for Timmy the
smith and tries to seduce his betrothed, Molly, but she viciously rejects
him, and Timmy sends him away. Blindness descends on them once
more, the saint goes to restore their sight a second time. The couple
refuse the cure this time, decided to embrace a life on the roads, having
seen the ill-will of those around them.

The Tinkers Wedding (1906)

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The Playboy of the Western World (1907): it tells how Christy Mahon
arrives in a Co. Mayo village and wins the hearts of the local women by
boasting that he has killed his father. His prowess at the local sports
confirms him in the role of a hero and as fitting mate for Pegeen Mike,
daughter of Michael James (Flaherty), a widower who owns the country
pub where Christy stays. Christy woos Pegeen Mike away from her
cousin, Shawn Keogh, a pathetic, priest-fearing peasant, by his fine talk
and athletic feats. When the supposedly murdered father enters the
scene, the community turn upon their hero, despite his offer to slay his
da a second time. Escaping from their clutches, he tames his father, and
the two leave the stage, disdainful of the gullible Mayo peasants. Christy,
the servile son, has been transformed into a figure of power and dignity
by this rite of passage, and Pegeen Mike is left to lament her loss of the
only playboy of the western world. The play was condemned by
nationalists as a travesty of western Irish life which evoked a peasantry
of alcoholics and ineffectual fantasists rather than a people ready to
assume the responsibilities of self-government.
. . . not a play with a purpose in the modern sense of the world, but although
parts of it are, or are meant to be extravagant comedy, still a great deal
more that is behind it is perfectly serious when looked at in a certain light.
. . There are, it may be hinted, several sides to The Playboy.
1) Christie [twisting round on her with a sharp cry of horror]: Dont
strike me. I killed my poor father, Tuesday was a week, for doing
the like of that.
Pegeen [with blank amazement]: Is it killed your father?
Christie [subsiding] With the help of God I did, surely, and that the
Holy Immaculate Mother may intercede for his soul.
Philly [retreating with Jimmy]: Theres a daring fellow.
Jimmy: Oh. Glory be to God!
Michael [with great respect] That was a hanging crime, mister honey.
You should have had good reasons for doing the like of that.
Christie [in a very reasonable tone]: He was a dirty man, God forgive
him, and he getting old and crusty, the way I couldnt put up with
him at all.
Pegeen: And you shot him dead? [. . .]
Christie: I did not, then. I just riz the loy and let fall the edge of it on the
ridge of his skull, and he went down at my feet like an empty sack,
and never let a grunt or groan from him at all.
2) Christie: . . .Well, thisd be a fine place to be my whole life talking out
with swearing Christians, in place of my old dogs and cats; and I
stalking around, smoking my pipe and drinking my fill, and never
a days work but drawing a cork an odd time, or wiping a glass, or
rinsing out a shiny tumbler for a decent man. [He takes the

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looking-glass from the wall and puts it on the back of a chair; then
sits down in front of it and begins washing his face]. Didnt I know
rightly, I was handsome, though it was the divils own mirror we
had beyond, would twist a squint across an angels brow; and Ill
be growing fine from this day, the way Ill have a soft lovely skin
on me and wont be the like of the clumsy young fellows do be
ploughing all times in the earth and dung. [. . .]

3) Christie [impressively]: With that sun came out between the cloud
and the hill, and it shining green on my face. God have mercy on
your soul, says he, lifting a scythe. Or on your own, says I, raising
the loy.
Susan: Thats a grand story.
Honor: He tells it lovely.
Christie [flattered and confident, waving bone]: He gave a drive with
the scythe, and I gave a lep to the east. Then I turned around with
back to the north, and I hit a blow on the ridge of his skull, laid him
stretched out, and he split to the knob of his gullet. [He raises the
chicken bone to his Adams apple.]
Girls [together]: Well, youre a marvel! Oh, God bless you! Youre the
lad, surely!
4) Christie [to Pegeen]: And what is it youll say to me, and I after doing
it this time in the face of all?
Pegeen: Ill say, a strange man is a marvel, with his mighty talk; but
whats a squabble in your back yard, and the blow of a loy, have
taught me that theres a gap between a gallous story and a dirty
deed. [. . .]
Christie: Youre blowing for to torture me. [His voice rising and
growing stronger]. Thats your kind, is it? Then let the lot of you be
wary, for, if Ive had to face the gallows, Ill have a gay march
down, I tell you, and shed the blood of some of you before I die.[. .
.]If I can wring a neck among you, Ill have a royal judgement
looking on the trembling jury in the courts of law. And wont there
be crying out in Mayo the day Ill stretch upon the rope, with ladies
in their silks and satins snivelling in their lacy kerchiefs, and they
rhyming songs and ballads on the terror of my fate?
5) Christie: Ten thousand blessings upon all thats here, for youve
turned me a likely gaffer in the end of all, the way Ill go romancing
through a romping lifetime from this hour to the dawning of the
Judgement Day.

Deirdre (1910)

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o A dramatic subgenre established during the 20th century on the
Abbey stage;
o A play focusing on peasant characters, depicting their lives, habits
and customs in a manner true to life;
o Characteristic features: peasant cottage setting; peasant life themes
(rural marriage, habits and ownership of lands, emigration.)

Rural Ireland started to display gloomier contours once Padraic Colum, Lennox
Robinson and T. C. Murray changed the peasant plays focus on the seamy side of
the farmers lives: agrarian disputes, the fight for landownership, conflicts between
fathers and sons, the unhappiness of matches made to conform to the dictates of
familism. Where Synge exploited the image of the Irish tramp as a symbol of
imagination and freedom, Colums Broken Soil (1903), revised as The Fiddlers
House (1907) showed his audiences the real cost involved in having one in the
family. Con Hourican, an instinctive artist and wanderer brings his daughters
endless worry, shame and poverty, driving Mairie into a loveless marriage in order
to save her family. The Land (1905), set at the end of the Land Wars, dealt with the
generational conflicts between Murtagh Cosgar and his son, Mat, over the value of
the old rural way of life. Pressed by the ambitious school-teacher Ellen Douras to
seek his fortune by emigrating to America such as all of his elder brothers had
attempted, Mat left behind the land for which his father had fought so hard to keep
intact. Like the previous play, The Land embodied a theme of intimate and
recognisable social significance in its real setting, and though love was presented as
a disruptive force, it was not improper. Moreover, it raised the question of the
worth of the fields won after the Land War in the changing conditions of the
countryside where the fittest chose emigration, while the relatively dull and
unenterprising Sally Cosgar and Cornelius Duras remained behind to marry and
succeed their parents.
It was this latter version of the peasant play which became the popular genre
of the Irish theatre after the Independence. Theatre as a means for the selfexpression of a rural society had followed the social changes underwent by the
class representing it. If, in the beginning of the dramatic movement, the peasants
had been discovered as a kind of primordial rural society, untouched by modern
forms of life, as landowners and citizens of an independent nation they could no
longer play this role. While the pastoral idyll became the focus of satire in plays
such as Denis Johnstons The Moon in the Yellow River (1931), the traditional
subjects and style of the peasant play remained in the limelight of the Abbey stage
helped by successive playwrights like George Shiels, Bryan MacMahon, Tom
Coffey, John Murphy, or John B Keane. Shiels The Rugged Path (1940) introduced
the audience into a peasant cottage setting provided with electric light and a radio,
a metaphor for progress which is set into violent contrast to the traditional notions
of law and order based on colonialist conditions marked by the Irish tolerance for
lawlessness and contempt for the informer. The members of the Tansey family
become the microcosm within which the play explores the two contrasting
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attitudes related to rural violence, exemplified by the wild Dolises from the
mountains who terrorise the local farmers and kill an old man for two pounds.
While the older generation are afraid to accuse them partly because of their fear of
retribution and partly because of the old prejudice against informing, the younger
ones decide to give evidence against the Dolis, embarking thus on the rugged
path of change and confrontation. John Murphys The Country Boy (1959) picked
up the thread of the story from where The Land had left it by focussing on the
figure of the returned emigrant, the homecomer who, having left his parents farm
and established himself in a non-farming society could be contrasted to the
peasants. Where Colums play looked at the causes leading to the rural exodus,
Murphys The Country Boy treats emigration as an individual and not a social
problem. Eddie Maher, having left fifteen years ago for America, returns home for
a vacation with his American wife Julia to find his younger brother Curly planning
to emigrate for much the same reasons like his own: their father, the voice of an
unyielding past is obstinate in his intention not to turn over the control of the farm
to his son. Nevertheless, the old Maher does not stand for the abuse of patriarchy,
but for the values of rural existence and even the flaw in his character, his
contrariness, is finally revealed as a virtue: it is the test of Curlys resolution, for he
must prove mature and self-willed enough not to be afraid of his fathers anger
before he can take over the farm. Moreover, the simple rural virtues of the native
place are set in contrast to the flimsiness of Eddies and Julias make-believe: the
first trying to hide his story of failure under an air of snobbery and a trunk filled
with the American homecomers symbols of prosperity, the latter disguising her
lower-class origin and proletarian status under the mask of the tourist, always
comparing Ireland to America in a condescending manner. The plays nostalgic
stance towards rurality as an embodiment of what T.K. Whitaker calls a sort of
Paradise Lost 16 ensures the happy ending whereby exposure to his forsaken roots in
the country prompt Eddie undergo a recognition crises with a purging effect that
enables him to reconcile with his situation and admit its truth in front of his family,
helping thus Curly learn the lesson and remain by the farm. Keanes Many Young
Men of Twenty (1961) is an angry response to the same phenomenon which
reached some of its highest rates at the end of the fifties. The play, set in a country
pub where the emigrants gather for a last drink before their departure, one of the
characters protests against the political establishment for their neglect of this
human tragedy. The Field (1965) treats a similar theme like that of Shiels The
Rugged Path, with the action being set in motion by a dispute over land and
money, followed by The Bull McCabes murder of his rival and his terrorising of
his neighbours against informing. But, unlike in Shield where the farmers
eventually testify against the murderer, in The Field the villagers do not inform,
justice is not done, and the picture of the rural world is harsh and joyless. In other
plays like The Year of the Hiker (1963) and Big Maggie (1969) Keane addressed the
theme of the sexual repression with deep roots in the cultural and religious
definitions of rurality, making a strong case for the joys of sex and the evil of its
T.K. Whitaker, Economic Development 1958-1985 in Kieran A. Kennedy (ed.), Ireland in
Transition, Cork and Dublin: Mercier, 1986, p. 10.

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Black pastoral: works which self-consciously invert the earlier idealizations of life
in the west of Ireland by presenting it as brutal and unidyllic (Nicholas Grene)

1.9.1. Patrick McCabe (1950 - )

Patrick McCabe is a writer of mostly dark and violent novels of contemporary,
often small-town, Ireland.
His novels include The Butcher Boy (1992) and Breakfast onPluto (1998), both
shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and adapted into films by the Irish director Neil
He has also written a children's book (The Adventures of Shay Mouse) and several
radio plays broadcast by the RT and the BBC Radio 4. The Butcher Boy (1992)

Written in a hybrid of first-person narrative and stream of consciousness,

with little punctuation and no separation of dialogue and thought, the novel
is set in a small town in Ireland in the late 1950s.

It tells the story of Francis 'Francie' Brady, a schoolboy who retreats into a
violent fantasy world as his troubled home life (with a suicidal mother,
frequently abused both verbally and physically by the husband, and a bitter
alcoholic father) collapses. Becoming obsessed with the sanctimonious Mrs.
Nudgent who once claimed that the Brady family were a bunch of pigs,
Francie eventually kills her, with the butchers bolt gun he has taken from
the abattoir where he works.

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2.1. Political context:

1905 Sinn Fein ("ourselves alone"), a radical nationalist group, is formed

by Arthur Griffith
1912-1913 The Home Rule bill is passed in the House of Commons. In
response, the Ulster Volunteers (Protestant military force) and then the
Irish Volunteers (Catholic military force--soon to become the Irish
Republican Army) form; Civil War seems imminent, when World War I
begins, and both Nationalists and Unionists agree to suspend the
1913 The labor movement, led by James Connolly, stage a series of
effective strikes in the cities; the strikes are violently put down, but
Connolly had managed to connect the plight of urban workers with that
of the rural tenants in opposition to British rule.
1916 The Easter Rising: Catholic insurgents seize central areas of Dublin,
and proclaim a provisional government; fighting lasts for one week
before insurgents are forced to surrender; all but one of the leaders
(Eamon de Valera) are executed, to increasing public and international
1918 Sinn Fein wins the parliamentary elections. De Valera takes over
presidency of Sinn Fein from Griffith, establishes new provisional
government; the Irish Republican Army forms, begins guerilla warfare
campaign against British soldiers; most Irish police resign, replaced by
British recruits referred to as the Black and Tans. The fighting is fierce,
covert, bitter, and cruel on all sides.
1919-1921 Anglo-Irish War: armed conflict between British forces and
Irish Nationalists
1921 The Anglo-Irish treaty establishes two self-governing areas,
Northern Ireland (the six counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down,
Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone) and Southern Ireland (called the
Irish Free State)
1922-23 Civil War in Irish Free State between supporters of the treaty
(Nationals or Free State troops), led by Griffith and Michael Collins,
and opposition, led by de Valera (Irregulars). Armed struggle ends in
1923, and the Irish Free State begins its rule.
In Northern Ireland, the Protestant majority succeeds in suppressing the
armed rebellions of the Catholic minority; they institute legal, political,
and police restrictions assuring Protestant control of virtually every level
of government. A bitter hatred and pattern of violence is established in
the North that remains to this day.

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(The Declaration of Independence drafted by Patrick Pearse in 1916)

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Perceptions of the urban space:

The definition of Irishness, as it was concocted both at the political and

cultural level at the end of the 19th century, may be seen as an attempt to fix the two
categories of rural versus urban Ireland into a taxonomic relationship assigning
priority to the countryside over the city. While rural Ireland was discursively used
to represent the national essence, an oppositional un-Irishness became
crystallised in the materialist, modern, industrialist and party-biased values of
England and the city alike. With independence and the division of the country at
the birth of the state, the antithesis was internalised in the opposing stances
towards the two different political territories, metonymically represented through
the same space of the city. On the one hand, republican Dublin, stamped in public
memory as an exemplar of heroic nationalism associated with the 1916 Easter
Rising, was perceived as intrinsic to Irishness. On the other hand, the northern
Belfast, the only large industrial centre in the island and the home of a large ScotsIrish Presbyterian minority stern in displaying its Unionist sense of identity,
became fatally marked off as Irelands Other.

















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2.3. The heroic city

2.3.1. W.B. Yeatss Easter 1916.

I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking take or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
That womans days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school,
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

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Hearts with one purpose alone

Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stones in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heavens part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

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2.3.2. Post-Revolutionary Revisionism

Playwrights like Sean OCasey, Denis Johnston and Brendan Behan engaged in a
postrevolutionary theatrical revisionism (Grene: 2002, 137) aimed at redrawing the
nationalist map of the heroic Dublin. With the one notable exception provided by
OCaseys Dublin trilogy (staged at the Abbey), such plays were also to find
alternative venues of production, provided by the small art-house theatres of
Dublin. Sean OCasey (1880-1964), The Dublin Trilogy

o The Shadow of A Gunman (1923)
o Juno and the Paycock (1924)
o The Plough and the Stars (1926)
OCaseys Dublin trilogy engages with the episodes of recent nationalist history
(the 1916 Easter Rising, the 1919-21 War of Independence and the Civil War of
1922-23) with the aim of revising cherished loci of the republican tradition,
especially its much revered myth of the hero-martyr. On his stage such heroes will
no longer hold the lime-light, but, by contrary, they will be either peripheral to the
action or cast as mere shadows, emphasising thus their imaginary status. In their
place, the ordinary, unimportant people will be shown struggling to steer the
course of their lives through the chaotic and violent background of the national
struggle. Most of these characters will be eventually drawn into the maelstrom and
crushed by the impersonal forces of international hatred (Edwards: 1979, 231),
though they too are responsible for their fate: due to their own pettiness,
selfishness, cowardice, or vanity, but mostly by allowing themselves to be
governed by illusion. Once shadows are believed in they are no longer
insubstantial but acquire an ominous physicality which will prove fatal for the
o In The Shadow of A Gunman Minnie Powell is attracted to the idea of a
gunman, the hero of the nationalist myth, so Donal Davoren accepts the
persona of a gunman in hiding in order to secure her admiration. Once he
becomes a shadow of a gunman the engine of the play is set in motion:
Minnie falls in love with an imaginary hero and not a real person, and lets
herself be governed by an illusion which will eventually destroy her. Trying
to save her heros life when a suitcase full of bombs, planted by the real
gunman, are discovered in Davorens room, Minnie removes it, but is herself
arrested by the Black and Tans, and killed when trying to escape. Minnie has
glorified the gun and the gun finally kills her. Hero-worshipping has proved
a dangerous illusion: Minnie has died for a shadow, which makes her
sacrifice futile. Moreover, her death was not only pointless, but also
unnecessary because Minnie is killed by mistake, when the lorry taking her
away for questioning is ambushed by the IRA, and, trying to jump off, she is
shot in the confusion.
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Seumas: I wish to God it was all over. The country is gone

mad. Instead of counting their beads now theyre countin
bullets; their Hail Marys and Paternosters are burstin bombs burstin bombs, an the rattle of machine guns; petrol is their
holy water; their Mass is a burnin building; their De
Profundis is The Soldiers Son, an their Creed is, I believe in
the gun almighty, maker of heaven an earth - an its all for
the glory o God an the honour o Ireland.
Davoren: I remember the time when you yourself believed in
nothing but the gun.
Seumas: Ay, when there wasnt a gun in the country; Ive a
different opinion now when theres nothin but guns in the
o In Juno and the Paycock The Boyles also believe in a shadow: the legacy
which they are to inherit is actually an illusion, arising from the
misinterpretation of a relatives will. But this legacy is also a metaphor for
the newly won national sovereignty (Innes: 1990, 83), with the imagined rise
and real fall of the Boyles paralleling the disparity between revolutionary
ideal and embittering actuality. In the same way in which the material
expectations aroused by the will be contrasted to the familys being
irrevocably reduced into debt and poverty, nationalist idealism will be
juxtaposed against the fate of the Boyles children: Johnny, the son crippled
by a bullet during the Easter Rising, will be executed by his former
comrades; Mary, left pregnant and deserted by her lover, as well as by her
morally-outraged father, will be forced to leave the home. Nevertheless,
while Junos departure at the end of the play may be seen to carry with it,
despite Johnnys death, the promise of new life in her unborn grandchild, no
such emblematic hope will be afforded to Jack Boyle, left to face the terrible
reality that, in fact, th whole whorls in a terr ible state of chassis
(OCasey: 1985, 101).
Juno: . . . What was the pain I suffered, Johnny, bringin you
into the world to carry you to your craddle, to the pains Ill
suffer carryin you out o the world to bring you to you grave!
Mother o God, Mother o God, have pity on us all! Blessed
Virgin, where were you when me darlin son was riddled with
bullets? Sacred Heart o Jesus, take away our hearts o stone,
and give us hearts o flesh! Take away this murdherin hate,
an give us Thine own eternal love!
o In The Plough and the Stars the shadow is the Speaker, who, in the second
act, is silhouetted outside the window of the public house where most of his
tenement dwellers are gathered. The voice preaches the sanctity of hate and
the redemption of bloodshed, the words being culled by OCasey from a
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number of Pearses actual writings. Against these awesome, rousing words

is juxtaposed the informal life of the pub, engaged in comical, mundane
activities, which, nevertheless, concretise the dialectic between vibrant life
and the heroic death preached by the Speaker. As shadow, the voice is
insubstantial for the existence of the pub-denizens, but once believed in, its
voluptuous vision of death turns into terrifying actuality. The real deaths
which occur onstage, both of the warriors like Clitheroe, Brennan and
Langan, and of the by-standers like Bessie Burgess and Noras unborn child
exhibit the distance between the emotive rhetoric of nationalism and what it
leads to in terms of its human cost.
VOICE: Bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing, and the
nation that regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood. .
.There are many things more horrible that bloodshed and
slavery is one of them! . . . The old heart of the earth needed to
be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields. Heroism has
come back to the earth. . . When war comes to Ireland she must
welcome it as she would welcome the Angel of God!
CAPT. BRENNAN [catching up The Plough and the Stars]
Imprisonment for th independence of Ireland!
LIEUT. LANGDON [catching up the Tri-colour]. Wounds for
th Independence of Ireland!
CLITHEROE: Death for th Independence of Ireland!
THE THREE [together]: So help us God! Denis Johnston (1901-1984)

The Old Lady Says 'No!' (1929)

The Moon in the Yellow River (1931)
A Bride for the Unicorn (1933)
Storm Song (1934)
Blind Man's Buff (1936) (with Ernst Toller)
The Golden Cuckoo (1939)
The Dreaming Dust (1940)
A Fourth for Bridge (1948)
The Scythe and the Sunset (1958)

The same gap between illusion and reality lies at the centre of Denis Johnstons The
Old Lady Says No!, a play written in 1926, but first produced in 1929 at the Gate
Theatre, following its rejection by the Abbey. Using an expressionistic technique of
collage, the play aims to juxtapose the complexities and complacencies of the Irish
Free State, metonymically rendered through the urban experience of his
contemporary Dublin, against the revolutionary imaginings of a Robert Emmet.
The play begins thus as a sentimental re-creation of Irelands heroic past with a
playlet staging Robert Emmets unsuccessful rising of 1803 and his love for Sarah
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Curran. But the actor in the play is knocked out and has a nightmare about being
the real Emmet wandering round 1920s Dublin, and struggling to give coherence to
the bewildering scenes he encounters. At one point the crowd becomes menacing,
questioning his identity and threatening him. Emmet, excited, gets hold of a
revolver which goes off and a young man whom he has shot apparently dies
interminably. The other death Emmet has to confront in the play is the historical
gratuitous slaughter of Lord Kilwarden for which the bitter figure of Grattan
blames the heros followers. Grattan accuses Emmet of prolonging the cult of
bloodshed endemic in Irish history: Oh, it is an easy thing to draw a sword and
raise a barricade. It saves working, it saves waiting. It saves everything but blood.
And blood is the cheapest thing the good god has made (Johnston: 1988, 375). As
with the murder of the young man, Emmet is forced to face the unintended
violent consequences of his romantic ideals. Johnstons image of the mythical heromartyr is emblematically that of a somnambulist and an actor, a two-fold shadow
facing a de-glorified society achieved with so much human blood. But,
significantly, towards the end of the play, Emmet comes to see that he is but a playactor, free to rebel and repudiate the tradition of violence that history has assigned
to him. Flinging away his sword, he forgives the strumpet city Dublin, metonymy
for Ireland (Murray: 2000, 124), and, instead of delivering the famous historical
speech from the dock, he adds: There now. Let my epitaph be written (Johnston:
1988, 421), before lying down in his previous state of concussion. This is a
recognition that words can alter the shape of history and a plea to abandon
traditional pieties in favour of new, revised and enabling alternatives. Brendan Behan (Breandn Beachin) (1923 - 1964)

The Quare Fellow (1954)

An Giall (1958), The Hostage (1958)
Richard's Cork Leg (1972)

Brendan Behans The Hostage, performed in 1958 as An Giall at the Pike Theatre, is
written in the context of the renewed IRA border campaigns in the 1950s,
questioning the revolution for what its history did to make Irish politics a muddle.
The song which celebrates Michael Collins sums up the political dilemma entailed
in the split between the Laughing Boys ideal of a free Ireland and the reality of the
partially fulfilled republican project, the legacy of which materialised in the
obstinate movement to continue the quixotic struggle for Irelands total liberation
from English control (Murray: 2000, 150). The Hostage is set in an old house, once
a Republican sanctuary, now a brothel, which is owned by Monsewer, a Gaelicspeaking English aristocrat and also a convert to Irish nationalism. As Pat, a former
IRA member who runs the place, says: He was born an Englishman, remained one
for years . . .He had every class of comfort until one day he discovered he was an
Irishman..(Behan: 1962, 14-5) The absurdity of this situation sets the note for
Behans mockery of the Irish political fanaticism. The new I.R.A campaign is seen
as part of Monsewers lunacy which makes him plan battles fought long ago
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against enemies long since dead (Behan: 1962, 6), while he also engineers a scheme
to get hold of a British hostage in order to forestall the execution of an IRA man in
Belfast. Leslie, the English soldier who ends up in the brothel, gradually gets the
affection of its occupiers and develops a romantic relationship with Teresa, the
Irish servant-girl. Nevertheless, since the IRA youth has been hanged, Leslies fate
seems sealed, but his death comes accidentally, at the end of the play, being shot in
the confusion of a police raid. As in Minnies case, nobody knows who has killed
Leslie: probably the IRA, as Minnie was probably shot by the Auxiliaries, but in
both cases the odds speak also for the other side, and Behan leaves the question
open to any of the two alternatives: Its no ones fault. Nobody meant to kill
him.(Behan: 1962, 108)


The Troubles and the Northern City

2.4.1. Political Context

1968 Riots in Londonderry in October between Catholics demanding increased

civil rights and Protestants seeking to maintain their political superiority.
1969 Great Britain pushes for reform in Northern Ireland; extremists of both
sides (Unionist and Republican) intensify fighting in August, and British troops
are deployed to restore order.
1970-71 The I.R.A. resumes activities with renewed vigor, firmly establishing
itself in the Catholic districts of Londonderry and Belfast and titling itself the
"Provisional I.R.A." They conduct a guerilla war against the Ulster police (Royal
Ulster Constabulary), the Ulster volunteer army (UVA), and the British army.
1972 British soldiers kill 13 Catholic civilians on 30 January (Bloody Sunday) in
Londonderry; the Northern Ireland constitution is suspended, and government
transferred directly to London; Provisional I.R.A. kills 19 and wounds 130 in
Belfast bombings on 21 July (Bloody Friday).
1979 Provisional I.R.A. kill 18 British soldiers in Co. Down, and assassinate Lord
Mountbatten in the Republic.
1981 Series of hunger strikes in Maze prison by Catholic prisoners to protest
living conditions, culminating in death of Bobby Sands after a 66-day strike.
1983 Provisional I.R.A. kill 5 and injure 80 in Christmas bombing in London.
1985 The Anglo-Irish agreement is signed between Great Britain and Eire in
effort to work out Northern Ireland conflict.
1998 Easter Agreement signed on April 10, setting up provisions for cease-fire
and joint government of Northern Ireland among Protestants, Catholics, and the
Irish Republic. Three months after the Agreement is ratified, bombs erupt in
Omagh, Northern Ireland, killing 29 and injuring hundreds more - the single
greatest loss of life since "the troubles" began.

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2.4.2. Staging the Troubles

Since 1970 dozens of plays dealing with various aspects of the troubles in Ulster
have been written, developing into what D. S. Maxwell considers to represent a
subgenre of modern Irish drama (Maxwell: 1990). With the actuality of violence, an
insoluble conflict emerged once the sense of difference translated now on one side
into a sense of superiority and on the other into a sense of grievance (Murray:
2000, 187). This inevitably led to a revival of Irish nationalism in ways which
harked back to the early decades of the century in its persistent belief in the
unfinished nature of the Irish revolution. As such, both Protestant and Catholic
playwrights often find a common ground in aligning themselves to the postrevolutionary theatrical revisionism of OCasey, Johnston or Behan as one dramatic
option through which the present turmoil may be artistically framed.

(Belfast murals: Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Red Hand of Ulster vs.
Bobby Sands, IRA martyr)

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Although set in 1979, the play recalls Bloody Sunday in Derry, 1972, and the
ensuing Widgery Report that exonerated the British soldiers of guilt. When an
unauthorised civil-rights march is dispersed by CS gas, three demonstrators take
refuge in the Mayors Parlour in Derrys Guildhall. Lily, Skinner, and Michael
represent a cross-section of the Catholic population of Derry. In the public world
outside, rumour and romantic nationalism inflate the trio into armed terrorists and
freedom fighters, and when they try to leave the building with hands above their
heads they are shot dead by British soldiers. Parallel to this, a tribunal examines the
events and exonerates the security forces. In another strand, Dr Dodds, a
sociologist, lectures the audience directly on the subculture of poverty, while
intermittent scenes provide brief comment on the influence of the media and the
clergy. . In opposition to the abstract and inflexible figures which represent the
official world, Friel turns to the naturalist mode to delineate his central trio in
fundamentally humanistic terms, as confused, frightened but also high-spirited
human beings, who, like OCasey humble innocents, are caught in the crossfire of
powerful partisan forces.
LILY: At this minute Mickey Teague, the milkman, is shouting up from the
road, I know youre there, lily Doherty. Come down and pay me for the six
weeks you owe me. And the chairmans sitting at the fire, like a wee thin
saint with his finger in his mouth and the comics up to his nose and hoping
to God Ill remember to bring him home five fags. And below us Celia
Cunninghams about half-full now and crying about the sweepstake ticket
she bought and lost when she was fifteen. And above us Dickie Devines
groping under the bed for his trombone and he doesnt know that Annie
pawned it on Wednesday for the wanes bus fares and hes going to beat the
tar out of her when she tells him. And down the passage aul Andy Boyles
lying in bed because he has no coat.
[ . . . ] I was at the back of the crowd, beside wee Johnny Duffy - you know the window cleaner - Johnny the Tumbler - and Im telling him what the
speakers is saying cos he hears hardly anything now since he fell off the
ladder last time. And Im just after telling him The streets is ours and
nobodys going to move us when I turn round and Jesus, Mary and Joseph
theres this big Saracen right behind me. Of course, I took to my heels. And
when I look back theres Johnny the Tumbler standing there with his fists in
the air and him shouting, The streets is ours and nobodys going to move
MICHAEL: It was a good, disciplined, responsible march. And thats what
we must show them - that were responsible and respectable; and theyll
come to respect what were campaigning for. [. . .] a decent job, a decent
place to live, a decent town to bring up your children in, [. . .] fair play. . .so

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that no matter what our religion is, no matter what our politics is, we have
the same chances and the same opportunities as the next fella.
SKINNER: . . .Because you live with eleven kids and a sick husband in two
rooms that arent fit for animals. Because you exist on a state subsistence
thats about enough to keep you alive but too small to fire your guts.
Because you know your children are caught in the same morass. Because for
the first time in your life you grumbled and someone else grumbled and
someone else, and you heard each other, and became aware that there were
hundreds, thousands, millions of us all over the world, and in a vague
groping way you were outraged. Thats all its all about, Lilly. It has nothing
to do with doctors and accountants and teachers and dignity and boy scout
honour. Its about us - the poor - the majority - stirring in our sleep.
LILY: . . .its for him I go all the civil rights marches. Isnt that stupid? You
and him [Michael] and everybody else marching and protesting about
sensible things like politics and stuff and me in the middle of you all,
marching for Declan. Isnt that the stupidest thing you ever heard?
MICHAEL: I knew they werent going to shoot. Shooting belonged to a
totally different order of things. And then the Guildhall Square exploded
and I knew a terrible mistake had been made. And I became very agitated,
not because I was dying, but that this terrible mistake be recognized and
acknowledged. . .
LILY: And in the silence before my body disintegrated in a purple
convulsion, I thought I glimpsed a tiny truth: that life had eluded me
because never once in my forty-three years had an experience, an event,
even a small unimportant happening been isolated, and assessed and
articulated. . .
SKINNER: And as we stood on the Guildhall steps, two thoughts raced
through my mind: how seriously they took us and how unpardonably
casual we were about them; and that to match their seriousness would
demand a total dedication, a solemnity as formal as theirs.

2.4.3. Writing the Troubles Bernard MacLaverty (1942-)
Novelist and short-story writer, Bernard MacLaverty was born and lived in Belfast
until 1975 when he moved to Scotland, where, for some years, he became writer-inresidence at the University of Aberdeen. He has published extensively and has also
adapted his fiction for other media (radio, television, cinema.)
Published works:

Secrets & Other Stories (1977)

Lamb (1980)

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A Time to Dance & Other Stories (1982)

Cal (1983)
The Great Profundo & Other Stories (1987)
Walking the Dog & Other Stories (1994)
Grace Notes (1997)
The Anatomy School (2001)
Matters of Life & Death & Other Stories (2006)

Cal (1983) focuses on the psychological torment and political victimhood of Cal
McCluskey, a young working-class Catholic living in a Protestant housing estate in
Northern Ireland during the Troubles. He is drawn into the Provisional IRA by
Crilly, a former school friend, who pressurises him into being the getaway driver in
the assassination of Robert Morton, a reserve policeman in the mainly Protestant
Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Cals feelings of guilt and self-loathing which stem from this event are
intensified by his romantic attraction to Mortons Catholic widow, Marcella, with
whom he develops a doomed relationship. Unable to confess his crime to Marcella
or extricate himself from the clutches of Crilly and the local IRA commander,
Skeffington, Cal broods relentlessly on his shame and abjection.
His torment deepens when he and his father are burned out of their home by
Loyalist paramilitaries, after which Cal moves to an abandoned cottage on the
Morton farm, where he is employed as a labourer. Here his tortured affair with
Marcella develops in secret, though any hope of them building a new life together
is soon shattered when Cal sees Crilly planting a bomb in the library where
Marcella works.
The novels climax is swift and sudden. After Crilly and Skeffington are
apprehended by the police, Cal informs the authorities about the bomb and then
returns to Marcella to await passively his own arrest on Christmas Eve.
MacLaverty adapted Cal for the screen in 1984. The film starred Helen
Mirren and John Lynch.

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Minimal Bibliography
Bradshaw, Brenna, Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley (eds.), REPRESENTING
Cambridge UP, 1993.

Ciaran, Mary ODowd and Brian Walker (eds.), ULSTER: AN

ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, foreword by J. C. Beckett, London: B .T. Batsford,

Brophy, James D. and Raymond J. Porter, CONTEMPORARY IRISH WRITING,

Boston: Iona College Press, Twayne Publishers, 1983.
Brown, Terence IRELANDS LITERATURE, Mercier Press, 1992.
Cairns, David and Shaun Richards, WRITING IRELAND: COLONIALISM,
NATIONALISM AND CULTURE, Manchester, Manchester UP, 1988.
Crotty, Patrick (ed.) MODERN IRISH POETRY. AN ANTHOLOGY, Lagan Press,
Deane, Seamus, A SHORT HISTORY OF IRISH LITERATURE, London et al.:
Hutchinson; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986.
1880-1980, London: Faber and Faber, 1985.


LITERATURE AND CULTURE, Mullingar: The Lilliput Press, 1991.


Gibbons, Luke, TRANSFORMATIONS IN IRISH CULTURE, Cork: Cork University

Press; Field Day, 1996.
BOUCICAULT TO FRIEL, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.
Kenneally, Michael (ed.), IRISH LITERATURE AND CULTURE, Gerrards Cross:
Colin Smythe, 1992
Kiberd, Declan INVENTING IRELAND: The Literature of the Modern Nation,
Vintage, 1998.
Moody, T.W. (ed.) THE COURSE OF IRISH HISTORY, Mercier Press, 1994.
Seamus Deane, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.
Blackwell, 1990.
UP, 1996.
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(Recommended for individual research)
1. J.M. Synge, In the Shadow of the Glen, Riders to the Sea, The Well of
the Saints, The Playboy of the Western World
2. The Field (film)
3. Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy
4. The Butcher Boy (film, directed by Neil Jordan)
5. W.B.Yeats, Easter 1916
6. Sean OCasey, The Dublin Trilogy (In the Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and
the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars)
7. Denis Johnston, The Old Lady Says No!
8. Brian Friel, The Freedom of the City
9. Bernard MacLaverty, Cal

10. Cal (film)

11. Martin McDonagh, In Bruges (film)
12. Rody Doyle, The Commitments (novel + film)
13. Rody Doyle, When Brendan Met Trudy (novel + film)

Part 3. Irish Spaces and Ideologies of Representation