Irish Literature

Feminist Perspectives

by Patricia Coughlan (Volume editor) Tina O'Toole (Volume editor)
©2008 Edited Collection XIV, 300 Pages
Series: Carysfort Press Ltd., Volume 219


International in scope and based on primary research, this book gathers twelve new essays by critics including both well-established and newer voices. It aims to stimulate further enquiry, research and critical reflection, in sceptical, analytic or celebratory modes, on the riches of Irish literary texts and traditions. The collection discusses texts from the early 18th century to the present. It also addresses those meta-narratives by which we understand and mediate these riches for contemporary and future use. The cumulative effect is to call into question, often in new contexts, master narratives of Irish studies. Some essays focus on the aesthetic - a vital category of discussion about a national literature - and its interweaving with ideological purposes. Others concentrate on different phases of the retrieval of women's texts previously occluded by gender bias in canon formation. A central theme is the need to renegotiate the relations of feminism with nationalism and to transact the potential contest of these two important narratives, each possessing powerful emancipatory force. Irish Literature: Feminist Perspectives contributes incisively to contemporary debates about Irish culture, gender and ideology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • Contents
  • Contributors
  • Acknowledgements
  • 1 | Introduction
  • 2 | Foreign Tyrants and Domestic Tyrants: the Public, the Private and Eighteenth-Century Irish Women’s Writing
  • 3 | ‘Keening the Nation: The Bean Chaointe, the Sean Bhean Bhocht, and Women’s Lament in Irish Nationalist Narrative’
  • 4 | Selina Bunbury, the Pope and the Question of Location
  • 5 | ‘Nomadic Subjects’ in Katherine Cecil Thurston’s Max
  • 6 | ‘Almost Forgotten Names’: Irish Women Poets of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s
  • 7 | The Love Poetry of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
  • 8 | ‘‘‘I am the Place in Which Things Happen’’: Invisible Immigrant Women Poets of Ireland’
  • 9 | Past, Present and Future. Patterns of Otherness in Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s Fiction
  • 10 | Reclaiming Feminine Identities: Anne Enright’s The Wig My Father Wore
  • 11 | ‘A Greedy Girl’ and a ‘National Thing’: Gender and History in Anne Enright’s The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch
  • 12 | Becoming-Mother-Machine: The Event of Field Day Vols IV & V
  • 13 | Raising the Veil: Mystery, Myth, and Melancholia in Irish Studies
  • Index


Claire Bracken is a lecturer in the English Department at Union College, Schenectady, New York, where she teaches Irish Studies. Her research considers the meanings of Irish feminist theory in the specific context of contemporary social and cultural change in Ireland. She is particularly interested in the fiction of Anne Enright and Claire Kilroy and the experimental poetry of Catherine Walsh, as well as Kirsten Sheridan’s and Pat Murphy’s film-making. She has published on Irish women's writing and contemporary Irish popular culture.

Kathryn Conrad is Associate Professor of English at the University of Kansas. Her book, Locked in the Family Cell: Gender, Sexuality, and Political Agency in Irish National Discourse (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), addresses the centrality of gender and sexuality to national identity and nationalist discourses in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Her current research is focused on visual culture, surveillance, and space in Northern Ireland.

Patricia Coughlan is a professor in the Department of English at University College, Cork. Editor of Spenser and Ireland (1989) and co-editor (with Alex Davis) of Modernism and Ireland: The Poets of the 1930s (1995), she has published widely on various topics in Irish literature. Her recent research focus has been on gender representations in Irish twentieth-century literature and on women's writing. She is at present engaged in a monograph on gender and social change in Irish literature 1960-2006.

Kathy D'Arcy is currently conducting doctoral research in the English Department at University College, Cork on the lives, works and reception of Irish women poets of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

Elke D’hoker is a postdoctoral researcher with the Fund for Scientific Research, Flanders and she teaches at the University of Leuven, Belgium. She has written a critical study on John Banville, Visions of Alterity (Rodopi, 2004), and has published articles about Irish fiction in Irish University Review, Critique, Modern Fiction Studies and Contemporary Literature. Her current research project investigates the modern short story by women writers.

Borbála Faragó is an IRCHSS Post-Doctoral fellow at University College Dublin. She is the author of a number of articles on contemporary Irish poetry and is preparing a monograph on Medbh McGuckian’s work. A collection of essays, co-edited with Moynagh Sullivan, entitled Facing the Other: Interdisciplinary Studies on Race, Gender and Social Justice in Ireland, will be published by Cambridge Scholars in 2008.

Heidi Hansson is Professor of English Literature at Umeå University, Sweden. Her main research interest is women’s literature, and she has previously published in the fields of postmodern romance, nineteenth-century women’s cross-gendered writing, and Irish women’s literature. She has recently completed a full-length examination of the nineteenth-century writer Emily Lawless, Emily Lawless 1845-1913: Writing the Interspace (Cork University Press, 2007) and the edited collection Irish Nineteenth-Century Women’s Prose: New Contexts and Readings (Cork University Press, 2008). She is also the leader of an interdisciplinary project about foreign travellers to northern Scandinavia in the nineteenth century, and is working on a study of gendered writing about the region.

Bríona Nic Dhiarmada is the Notre Dame Chair of Irish and Concurrent Professor of Film, Television, and Theatre, where she was previously Senior Fulbright Scholar in Irish Language and Literature (2007-2008) and Naughton Fellow and Distinguished Visiting Professor (2006). Her full length study of the poetry of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Téacs Baineann, Téacs Mná, her critical book on the poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, was awarded the Merriman Prize for Irish Language Academic Book of the Year. Among her other publications are Téacs agus Comhthéacs (with M. Ní Annracháin), Cork University Press 1998, as well as various articles on Irish cultural studies and contemporary Irish-language writing. She was a contributing editor to The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing Vols. IV & V and is a contributor to the Cambridge History of Irish Literature (Kellegher, O’Leary eds, 2006). She is also the author of over thirty-five screen plays and ten documentaries and in 2007 she won the Media Award for Best Television Program in Ireland

Clíona Ó Gallchoir is a lecturer in the English Department at University College, Cork. She is the author of Maria Edgeworth: Women, Enlightenment and Nation (2005). She has contributed to three volumes in the Pickering and Chatto series Novels and Selected Works of Maria Edgeworth, and has published articles on nineteenth-century Irish and women's writing.

Tina O’Toole is a lecturer in English at the Department of Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Limerick. Her work includes Documenting Irish Feminisms (with Linda Connolly) (Woodfield Press, 2005), and The Dictionary of Munster Women Writers (Cork University Press, 2005; also available as an online searchable database at www.munsterwomen.ie). She has published on the ‘New Woman’ writers of the fin de siècle, on gender and sexual identities and on issues of regionality and migration in Irish literature.

Moynagh Sullivan is a lecturer in the School of English, Theatre and Media Studies, NUI, Maynooth. Her research interests are in critical theory and Irish Studies, modernism and postmodernism, and popular culture. She has recently edited (with Wanda Balzano) a special issue of the Irish Review on ‘Irish Feminisms’, and (with Wanda Balzano and Anne Mulhall) Irish Postmodernisms and Popular Culture, and (with Borbála Faragó) the forthcoming Facing the Other: Essays on Interculturalism and the ‘New Ireland’. She is writing a monograph about psychoanalysis and Irish Studies.

Giovanna Tallone is a graduate in Modern Languages from Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, and holds a PhD in English Studies form the University of Florence. An EFL teacher, she is currently attached to the Department of English at Università Cattolica, Milan. She has presented papers at several IASIL conferences and has published articles and critical reviews on Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Lady Augusta Gregory, Mary Lavin, Angela Bourke, Brian Friel, James Stephens, and Seamus Heaney. Her research interests include Irish women writers, contemporary Irish drama, and the remakes of Old Irish legends.


This collection was inspired by a set of feminist panels we co-convened at the 2004 IASIL Conference at NUI Galway on ‘Irish Writing and Contemporary Feminist Scholarship’. We would like to acknowledge all the participants in those original panels: the innovative scholarly research and critical vitality of the sessions drew a large audience during the conference itself, and has provoked collaborative work since, including this collection. We would like to thank the conference organizers Riana O’Dwyer and Patrick Lonergan for their ready support, both in facilitating these panels and in the publication of this collection. We thank the National University of Ireland for a grant in aid of publication. We are very grateful to all the contributors for their cheerful and flexible co-operation in the protracted process of production, but especially, of course for the high standard of their essays. We are privileged to have had the benefit of their scholarship and professionalism in compiling the volume.

We express our warm thanks also to the anonymous peer reviewers who responded promptly and perceptively to our requests, and in particular, to the two readers of the whole volume at its penultimate stage, who were so generous with their time and energy. We thank Eamonn Jordan, Lilian Chambers, and Barbara Brown at Carysfort Press, and everyone who has worked on the book: it has also been greatly enhanced by the artist Gwen O’Dowd’s generous permission to use one of the pieces from her ‘Uaimh’ series as part of the cover design.

Our colleagues at the University of Limerick and University College, Cork, and our friends and families, also deserve our appreciation for their support, and we would like to say a special word of thanks to Piaras and Siobhán.

←xiv | 1→

1 | Introduction

Patricia Coughlan

Recent feminist research on Irish material has focused critical attention on the gendered production of knowledge. Projects such as Field Day Vols IV & V (Cork, 2002), the joint University College, Dublin and University of Warwick ‘Database of Irish Women’s Writing, 1800-2005’, and the database and Dictionary of Munster Women Writers 1800-2000 (Cork, 2005), all covering both Irish- and English-language material, have focused critical attention on the importance of feminist recovery work for the field of Irish studies.1 There remains, however, a need for persistent intervention in the canon to redress the occlusion, omission and marginalization of women writers by those male-focused metanarratives which still dominate perceptions of Irish literary tradition. Despite these reshaping initiatives, and many other individual and group interventions, an underlying masculinism persists, at least within Ireland, within cultural, academic and literary practice and institutions at all levels, and visibly within practices of reading and writing, both more generally and in the academy.2 Margaret Kelleher observed in 2003 that ‘Irish studies as a discipline remains singularly ill-informed of (and by) the debates and concerns that have occupied Irish feminist criticism in the past decade’ [my emphasis].3 Specifically, within Irish literary scholarship it is vital to maintain a focus on feminist aims, both in order to stimulate theoretical and ideological diversity and to redress the structure dividing ←1 | 2→‘writing’ (i.e. mainstream, men’s, work) from ‘women’s writing’ (received as a kind of supplement). Furthermore, the harvests of canon expansion must be continually reaped by active work specifically within criticism, if the writers and texts which research recovers are to be integrated into the literary-historical narrative.

Patricia Boyle Haberstroh and Christine St Peter’s Opening the Field. Irish Women: Texts and Contexts (Cork, 2007) has recently gathered essays, mainly by well-established critics, in an important volume aimed to consolidate and continue the major progress recorded by the Field Day women’s volumes: it offers ten chapters each discussing one important Irish woman writer. The present book shares the general aims of Opening the Field, in seeking further to advance the current state of feminist scholarship within the field of Irish literary research and criticism. While it originates in the three challenging and well-attended feminist panels organised at the 2004 IASIL Conference at National University of Ireland, Galway, it has been developed into a larger-scale collection. It differs somewhat from Opening the Field in making available work by later generations of feminist critics, alongside some established voices; in ranging somewhat more widely beyond canonical authors and material; and in offering poststructuralist and psychoanalytic perspectives alongside a range of critical and literary-historical approaches. The contributors, all literary scholars, write from widely-dispersed places, including Italy, the US, Sweden and Belgium, as well as various Irish universities.

The collection as a whole aims to stimulate further enquiry, research and critical reflection, whether in sceptical, analytic or celebratory modes, into the riches of Irish literary texts and traditions. It also addresses, both implicitly and explicitly, those meta-narratives by which we understand and mediate these riches for contemporary and future use; the cumulative effect is to call into question, often in new contexts, the master narratives of Irish literary history and thereby more widely of Irish studies. Some essays focus more on the aesthetic, which is a vital category of any enquiry into a national literature, in its inextricable interweaving with ideological effects and purposes. ←2 | 3→Others concentrate on different phases of the retrieval of women’s texts which have previously been occluded by gender bias in canon formation. A common thread running through the volume is the need to renegotiate the relations of feminism and nationalism and to transact the potential contest of these two important narratives, each of which has strong emancipatory aims.


XIV, 300
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (April)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2008. XIV, 300 pp.

Biographical notes

Patricia Coughlan (Volume editor) Tina O'Toole (Volume editor)


Title: Irish Literature
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316 pages