The Reimagining Ireland Reader

Examining Our Past, Shaping Our Future

by Eamon Maher (Volume editor)
Others XIV, 308 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 0


To mark the fact that the Reimagining Ireland series will soon have one hundred volumes in print, this book brings together a selection of essays from the first fifty volumes, carefully chosen to give a flavour of the diversity and multidisciplinary nature of the series. Following a chronological order, it begins with an essay by Luke Gibbons tracing the roots of modernity from the middle decades of the nineteenth century and concludes with Michael Cronin’s discussion of time and place in global Ireland. In between, the reader will find a rich variety of essays on literary criticism, poetry, drama, photography, modernity, advertising, visual culture, immigration and feminism.
This is a collection that will appeal to anyone with a scholarly or personal interest in the cultural forces that have shaped modern Ireland. It is also a testament to the rude good health of contemporary Irish studies, showcasing the work of a talented array of established and emerging scholars currently working in the area.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Note on the Cover Artist
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Examining Our Past and Shaping Our Future
  • 1 Roots of Modernity: Primitivism and Primitive Accumulation in Nineteenth-Century Ireland (Luke Gibbons)
  • Primitivism and ‘Primitive Accumulation’
  • The Politics of the Potato
  • 2 Reimagining Ireland through Early Twentieth-Century French Eyes (Catherine Maignant)
  • Discovery and the Process of Distanciation from the Past
  • The Assertion of Contemporary Identities and the Re-mythification of the Past
  • Ireland through French Eyes
  • 3 Unregenerate Spirits: George Egerton and Elizabeth Bowen’s Radical Irish Fiction (Tina O’Toole)
  • 4 Dublin, 1913: Irish Modernism and International Modernism (Jean-Michel Rabaté)
  • 5 ‘To Sleep is Safe, To Dream is Dangerous’: Catholicism on Stage in Independent Ireland (Victor Merriman)
  • 6 From Borstal Boy and Ginger Man to Kitty Stobling: A Brief Look Back at the 1950s (Gerald Dawe)
  • 7 Sexual Dissidents and Queer Space in Northern Irish Fiction (Caroline Magennis)
  • 8 ‘Kicking Bishop Brennan up the Arse’: Catholicism, Deconstruction and Postmodernity in Contemporary Irish Culture (Eugene O’Brien)
  • 9 Irish Multicultural Fiction: Metaphors of Miscegenation and Interracial Romance (Jason King)
  • 10 Advertising, Media and Irish Identity: Reflections on the Celtic Tiger Period (Neil O’Boyle)
  • Introduction
  • Irishness and the Celtic Tiger
  • Media, Advertising and the Celtic Tiger
  • Conclusion
  • 11 O’Connell Street as the ‘Nation’s Main Street’: The Image of Ireland’s Modernity and Irelantis (Jennifer Way)
  • Modernity and Political History on the ‘[N]ation’s Main Street’ During the 1950s
  • Belonging to Ireland through Place
  • ‘[T]he [N]ation’s Main Street’ and Pastoralism
  • Conclusion
  • 12 Clearing the Air: Irish Women Poets and Environmental Change (Lucy Collins)
  • 13 Nomadic Artists, Smooth Spaces and Lines of Flight: Reading Colum McCann through Joyce, and Deleuze and Guattari (Sylvie Mikowski)
  • 14 Multiculturalism and the Dark Underbelly of the Celtic Tiger: Redefinitions of Irishness in Contemporary Ireland (Carmen Zamorano Llena)
  • 15 Inside Out: Time and Place in Global Ireland (Michael Cronin)
  • Muintir
  • Progeneration
  • Altericide
  • Dwelling
  • Time
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series index

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Note on the Cover Artist

Paul Butler is a photographer living in Farnaght, Co. Leitrim. For the last sixteen years he has been recording this unique landscape, which was also the home place of the writer John McGahern. He has hosted exhibitions and contributed imagery and articles to various publications with specific emphasis on visualising McGahern’s landscapes and rituals. This work is now part of a Research Masters.

To view more images from this project please visit: <http://www.paulbutler.me>.

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The editor of the series Reimagining Ireland is to be congratulated not only on the remarkable success of the venture but moreover on what, as an intellectual project, it has meant for Irish studies as a whole. This selection of essays stands as a testimony to the vitality of Irish thinking and thinking about Ireland over the past few decades, a period that has seen a flourishing of diverse and multiple projects unprecedented since the all too often maligned Revival. A glance at the contents page reveals what Irish matter has yielded to new approaches, from postcolonialism to feminist and queer theory, from political economy to media theory. Some of the yield has to do with adjusting one’s sense of Ireland’s contribution to familiar areas of culture globally as well as ‘on the island’. That Ireland made a contribution to international modernism beyond what its small and supposedly provincial population would have seemed likely to sustain is well known. That Ireland also generated so much of the New Woman fiction of the early twentieth century or that Northern Ireland, despite its homophobic official cultures, would give rise nonetheless to a rich literature of queerness are critical openings onto the actual diversity of Irish cultures that is reflected throughout the essays in this volume. This achievement is further evidence, if such is still needed, not only of the ways in which new material gives rise to new theoretical approaches but also of those in which the angle of a given theory brings to light materials formerly overlooked or neglected. To reimagine Ireland is at one and the same time to bring forward what was always already there but occluded by the official narratives in play at any moment.

To say that this makes of Reimagining Ireland a profoundly postcolonial project is not to foreground postcolonial theory at the expense of other no less crucial modes of thought. It is to suggest that the work of reimagining Ireland involves opening up once more the trajectories and survival of modes of thinking and living that had been occluded for all too long both by the narrow nationalism that came to dominate in the wake ← xi | xii → of the civil war and by the no less narrow historiography that has seen its project as one of demythologisation of the Irish past. If the former captured the energies of the Irish revolution for a conservative state in the South and for a reactionary settler colony in the North, the latter found itself projecting its own myths onto those phenomena in Irish culture that it found recalcitrant to a single-minded modernising and state-building project inevitably associated with British colonial institutions. If, then, it is possible to compare the work of Reimagining Ireland to that of the Revival, it is because that work has, along with many related projects, helped us to see the great diversity and continuing appositeness of the ferment of thinking that characterised the early years of the last century. Far from mere narrow nationalism, it involved its own reimagination of Ireland’s possibilities, from the suffrage and syndicalist labour movements to environmental concerns that seem all too prescient now.

That reimagination of the Revival over the past couple of decades, evidenced in several of the essays reprinted here, recognises as a constant thread in Irish cultural history its capacity to think the alternative and in particular, to live modernity differently. Historicism – to borrow Walter Benjamin’s ever-apt phrasing – is wedded to a view of modernisation as a single track of ‘progress and development’ and considers alternative imaginations as lagging behind in premodernity, subjected to myth rather than agents of rationality. To reimagine Ireland is to release into the present the diverse possibilities that various narratives of progress and their institutions have blocked and occluded. If the Revival undertook such a task in the face of British colonial hegemony and its self-assured common sense, reimagining Ireland now takes place in face of a no less hegemonic and single-minded devotion of our complacent and complicit elites to the belief that there are no alternatives: for them, it is self-evident that the neoliberal dispensation of global capitalism is the baleful future that awaits every province of the planet, environmental catastrophe and savage inequality notwithstanding.

More is at stake, then, in a volume like this than simply the provision of new materials for Irish studies, important as that task remains. It has often enough been remarked that Ireland had a great capacity to supply the works that others would theorise: it is our lot to create, so disposed – as Matthew Arnold long ago argued – by our very incapacity for modernity. ← xii | xiii → It is for others to reflect. Nothing more surely relegates Ireland to the colonial periphery than this assumption: as Husserl once claimed, it is Europe’s capacity for theory – for self-reflection or Selbstbesinnung – that makes it the unique avant-garde of humanity. That assertion places Ireland, along with every other colonial culture, outside the European core of which it is the ragged western edge. It has been the work of the last decades, however, and the work of Reimagining Ireland as a series, to theorise Ireland from our own location. To do so is to displace the dogmas of modernity and to rethink the constitutive place of Ireland and other colonised cultures in the formation of and not as mere objects of modernity. But it is no less to imagine athwart the direction in which hitherto modernisation has directed us, towards catastrophe and mounting injustice, and to seek again in the experience of our recalcitrant cultures the possibility of living otherwise. In this respect, Reimagining Ireland has proven a profoundly ethical as well as an invaluable scholarly project.

David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside

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Introduction: Examining Our Past and Shaping Our Future

It is hard to believe that it is ten years since Reimagining Ireland started inviting book proposals in an attempt to map the important and rapidly evolving field of Irish studies. Our objective was to make the series as interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary as possible in order to underline the fact that there is no one way to approach issues of identity, culture, history, literature and politics.

Certain books have had the capacity to change the way people perceive Irish studies. To name but a few, Terence Brown’s Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922–2002 (1981), Joe Cleary’s Outrageous Fortune: Capital and Culture in Modern Ireland (2007), Diarmaid Ferriter’s The Transformation of Ireland 1900–2000 (2004), Louise Fuller’s Irish Catholicism since 1950: The Undoing of a Culture (2002), Luke Gibbons’ Transformations in Irish Culture (1996), Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland (1996), Joe Lee’s The Modernisation of Irish Society 1848–1918 (1973) and David Lloyd’s Ireland after History (1999) all fall into this category. These are works that have left an indelible mark. They can be challenged, certainly, but never ignored by those coming in their wake. They stand the test of time and are cited over and over again by scholars and general readers alike. Like canonical figures in literature, they are touchstones to which one returns again and again in search of illumination and understanding.

The initial idea behind Reimagining Ireland was to produce a series that might emulate and expand upon what individual monographs such as the ones just mentioned have achieved. A series is, of course, substantially different from a single-authored book because of its scope and its capacity to supply a repository whereby important issues and emerging developments can be analysed through several different lenses. When one considers some of the seismic events that have occurred in Ireland during the past few decades – peace in Northern Ireland; the massive decline of ← 1 | 2 → the heretofore dominant Catholic Church in the wake of the clerical abuse scandals; the huge prosperity and brutal austerity that characterised the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger; the death of four of Ireland’s most iconic twentieth-century writers, John McGahern, Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel and William Trevor – it becomes clear that there is a need like never before for an outlet where such developments can be parsed and analysed in an objective and scholarly manner.

With eighty-five volumes in print, the breadth of topics covered and the number of scholars who have contributed to Reimagining Ireland are most impressive. It therefore seemed like the right time to put together a Reader which will give people a flavour of the areas explored in the first fifty volumes. Following a chronological order, the book begins with an essay by Luke Gibbons, tracing the roots of modernity from the middle decades of the nineteenth century, and concludes with Michael Cronin’s discussion of time and place in global Ireland. Between these bookends, there are essays on poetry, drama, literary criticism, photography, advertising, visual culture, modernity, immigration and feminism – a rich panoply of subjects. We do not deem it necessary to summarise the chapters here, as the relevance and significance of what is covered should be clear from the list of titles.

This is a collection to whet the appetite of anyone with a scholarly or personal interest in the forces that have shaped Ireland’s evolution. It also underlines the fact that Irish studies is in rude good health, thanks to the highly talented array of scholars currently working in the field.

Our sincere thanks go to all the contributors, many of whom have substantially reworked their original essays. All have been models of efficiency and courtesy. The ease with which we were able to compile the Reader is a tribute to their professionalism and dedication. We would also like to acknowledge all those who have contributed, as authors and editors, to making Reimagining Ireland such a resounding success. Without your talent and energy, there would be no series in the first instance, let alone one that will soon reach the milestone of 100 volumes in print.

Finally, our deep gratitude to Professor David Lloyd for agreeing to write such a wonderful Foreword in spite of the huge demands on his time.

Eamon Maher and Christabel Scaife, General Editor and Commissioning Editor for Reimagining Ireland

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1 Roots of Modernity: Primitivism and Primitive Accumulation in Nineteenth-Century Ireland

It is not a potato-fed face that will ever lead the way in arts, arms or commerce.1


Travelling immediately after the Famine on one of the first transatlantic steamships to sail from Galway, the Indian Empire, a journalist noted a passenger with an unusual piece of luggage:

Near the capstan we observed lying on the deck a box filled with Irish earth and in it were planted three shamrocks. We had the curiosity to enquire whose property it was and was told by the owner, a woman from Longford, that she was going out with her daughter to join her people who had sent for her, and in sweet and pathetic accents added ‘It was all I had to bring.’2

Still rooted in the soil, the poor woman was bringing her locality with her on the crossing to modernity. The fact that transatlantic steamships were already leaving Galway suggests, moreover, that for all the remoteness of the western seaboard, modernity had already come to the romantic periphery of Ireland. As Kerby Miller has noted, Western peasants often knew more about Boston or New York than about Dublin, Cork, or even their ← 3 | 4 → own counties: ‘when Horace Plunkett asked a girl from County Galway why she refused to join relatives on a farm thirty miles distant and instead preferred emigrating to New York City, she replied, in so many words, “because it is nearer”’.3

The image of a migrant travelling with a piece of home ground has a resonance in Irish culture, if only because it calls to mind Count Dracula carrying his coffin of soil on the boat to England. Landscape already was of a restless disposition in Bram Stoker’s work, most notably his novel The Snake’s Pass (1890), set on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, which features a moving bog that eludes the attempts of Ordnance Survey cartographers to map its shifting contours. Though located in the fastnesses of the west, the landscape reveals its own international ties when, having slipped its moorings, the bog uncovers a treasure chest of bullion left behind by the invading French republican force during the 1798 rebellion. For the most part, however, the emigrant Irish brought little with them on the emigrant boat other than the habits and political allegiances – including republicanism – that clung to them like their native soil. As Frederick Engels noted of the chronic poverty of the Irish in mid-nineteenth-century Manchester, in the midst of the industrial heartlands of Britain:


XIV, 308
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
Irish Studies Cultural Studies Multidisciplinary readings of Ireland and Irishness
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2018. XIV, 308 pp., 1 coloured ill., 6 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Eamon Maher (Volume editor)

Eamon Maher is Director of the National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies in IT Tallaght. His main areas of interest are the twentieth-century novel in Ireland and France, representations of Catholicism in literature and Franco-Irish relations. He has written, edited and co-edited a number of books, the most recent of which are Tracing the Cultural Legacy of Irish Catholicism: From Galway to Cloyne and Beyond (with Eugene O’Brien, 2017) and Assessing a Literary Legacy: Essays on John McGahern (1934–2006) (with Derek Hand, forthcoming). He is currently working on a pictorial exploration of image and text in John McGahern’s representation of Leitrim with photographer Paul Butler.


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323 pages