Dreaming of Home

Seven Irish Writers

by Gerald Dawe (Author)
©2022 Monographs XIV, 94 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 111


«Gerald Dawe observes in the concluding lines of Dreaming of Home that the writers he admires most are those who convey a sense of ‹the sheer joy in witnessing the world for its own sake.› Those same words could apply to Dawe himself. His readings of seven writers here – Sean O’Casey, W.B. Yeats, John Montague, Patrick Kavanagh, Derek Mahon, Colette Bryce, and Gail McConnell – are animated as much by the sheer joy of reading as by the need to analyse or explain. This is not just a wise book, but a joyous one.»
(Chris Morash, MRIA, FTCD
Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing, TCD)
In this vibrant and accessible sequence of readings, Gerald Dawe explores the meaning of home in the work of Irish writers, including W. B. Yeats, Sean O’Casey, Derek Mahon and Gail McConnell. Providing ample encouragement to think about literary questions in a fresh and engaging way, Dreaming of Home concludes with an afterword of praise for the example of the great American poet William Carlos Williams, who mattered greatly to Dawe’s own development as a poet. Scholarly and stylish in approach, Dreaming of Home is an invaluable study for the general reader and student alike.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1 Precarious Refuges: Sean O’Casey
  • Chapter 2 In the Mind’s Eye: W. B. Yeats
  • Chapter 3 Self-Portraits: Patrick Kavanagh
  • Chapter 4 The Cage: John Montague
  • Chapter 5 Dreaming of Home: Derek Mahon
  • Chapter 6 Our Words: Colette Bryce
  • Chapter 7 Without a City Wall: Gail McConnell
  • Afterword: Engaging Poems
  • Bibliography
  • Series Index

←x | xi→


Dreaming of Home is not a conventional academic study. There is no central thesis being set out, nor for that matter am I interested in proving an intellectual argument with a review of previous criticism, as is the case with most contemporary scholarly monographs. In keeping with the originals of these chapters, based on public lectures for a general audience which included hundreds of Irish Leaving Certificate students and their teachers, my intention is to convey as clearly and coherently as possible a ‘way in’ to the varied and, at times, complicated achievements of several Irish writers.

Ranging from the canonical status of Sean O’Casey and W. B. Yeats, the lectures – delivered over a span of fifteen and more years – were designed to encourage class participation, with discussion forming a lively and dynamic conclusion to the formal business of the lecture. So the reader should, to begin with, bear in mind the oral nature of these chapters, written as they were to be spoken. I have, however, tried to convert the sometimes repetitive shape of a lecture – rehearsing ground, privileging clarity, generalisation and conclusions – into the necessary priorities of interlinked chapters.

That said, I should point out that there is an underlying pattern in Dreaming of Home, though unforced and secondary to each of the individual studies. For the ‘home’ here is both an actual place, a physical house, a neighbourhood, a region as much as it is an imagined place, somewhere ‘dreamed’ about and either revered or contested and damaged as a result. What happens when these places – in this instance, a room in a Dublin tenement in the early decades of the twentieth century – is assailed by soldiers of an Irish revolutionary army? Fast forward fifty or sixty years and move to the north-west of the island, to Colette Bryce’s Derry, and another ‘conflict situation’ involving civilians under attack this time by a (British) state army. Or move east and the violation of a family porch as a young family witness the brutal murder of their father in Gail McConnell’s 1980s Belfast. These extremes of history bracket Dreaming of Home and ←xi | xii→within them life carries on as best it can. Yeats’s fantasy of Miltonic splendour in Thoor Ballylee; Patrick Kavanagh’s influential journey from the borderlands of Monaghan to Dublin in the early 1930s; John Montague’s painful return from his boyhood family in New York to Garvaghey in County Tyrone, Derek Mahon’s poems, these all muse on the very human desire for a place to call ‘home’.

In the afterword, I place a favourite poem ‘Asphodel, that greeny flower’ by the American poet William Carlos Williams as a paradigm and comparison of how the personal and the political can be married into a poem of powerful resonance for today – the USA under internal fire from McCarthyite extremism and an uncertain grasp on world politics. The long poem, driven by formal control and a perfect management of line, metaphor and tone, closes the book on what is, I hope, a sense of replenishment and an offering of hope for the future in spite of what the worst can do. Poets and poetry dominate Dreaming of Home because this was the subject I was most often asked to speak about. Others much better qualified than I could well take this basic model and connect it to other forms of literary and indeed visual art. These essays were written in the hope of showing how the imagination can withstand the tyrannies of history by creating spaces where we can all meet and discover one another.

←xii | xiii→


Earlier drafts of Chapters 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7 were delivered as public lectures in the Evening Lecture Series at Trinity College Dublin. Sections of Chapter 2 were included in a lecture given at ‘Maud Gonne: The Muse of W. B. Yeats’ Festival, Rossnaree, County Meath. Chapter 3 was given as an address at the Patrick Kavanagh Weekend in Inniskeen, County Monaghan and Chapters 6 and 7 were part of an extra-mural lecture series planned for 2020 but which did not take place due to the pandemic. All the material is unpublished and has been extensively rewritten for inclusion in Dreaming of Home.

The author would like to thank the organisers of the above lecture programmes, particularly Stephen Matterson, Lilian Foley, the late Ciaran Foley and Nicholas Grene (at TCD) and Brian Lynch (Patrick Kavanagh Weekend). A special thanks, too, to Conor Linnie for all his help with this and other publications.


XIV, 94
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (June)
Home Irish poetry political conflict Irish Studies Reimagining Ireland poetry in the modern world DREAMING OF HOME Gerald Dawe
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XIV, 94 pp.

Biographical notes

Gerald Dawe (Author)

Gerald Dawe taught literature and drama for forty years in universities in Ireland and the US. He is Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin. He has published over twenty books of poetry and non-fiction since his first collection Sheltering Places appeared in 1978. He lives in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin.


Title: Dreaming of Home
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110 pages