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Non-Violent Resistance

Irreverence in Irish Culture


Edited By Agnès Maillot, Jennifer Bruen and Jean-Philippe Imbert

Humour, by its very nature controversial, plays an important role in social interaction. With its power to question assumptions, it can be used a weapon of subversion, and its meaning and interpretation are embedded within the culture that generates them in complex ways. The scrutiny of Irish culture through the lens of humour is highly revealing, contributing to an alternative, and sometimes irreverent, reading of events. As John Updike wrote of Raymond Queneau’s witty re-imagining of the Easter Rising, humour can effectively expose «casual ambivalence».

This volume investigates the many ways in which writers, playwrights, politicians, historians, filmmakers, artists and activists have used irreverence and humour to look at aspects of Irish culture and explore the contradictions and shortcomings of the society in which they live.

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13 Mr Emmet will never have an Epitaph: Brian Friel’s The Mundy Scheme (Maria Gaviña Costero)


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13 Mr Emmet will never have an Epitaph: Brian Friel’s The Mundy Scheme

At the end of the 1960’s, Ireland had found its place in Europe and in the Western World, or so the country was eager to believe. Murray, in his influential study of Irish twentieth-century drama, mentions the ‘sudden and exciting set of changes (economic, social, cultural) which the country itself underwent after 1958’.1 It was in this decade, in 1969, that Brian Friel (Omagh 1929 – Greencastle 2015) offered his play The Mundy Scheme to the Abbey Theatre. In his opinion, the play was suitable for Ireland’s National Theatre because of its overtly political theme, as he proudly claimed: ‘This is an indictment on the general establishment. […] a savage satire on Irish politics’.2 Nonetheless, the Abbey’s Board of Directors thought differently: the play was rejected and had to be shifted to the Olympia Theatre, where it opened on 10 June 1969.

The opening in Dublin and on Broadway (in December of the same year) could be considered a fiasco. The play was dismissed as unsuccessful: its characters were described as simple caricatures and the driving idea was defined as tinted with the blackest of humour. Delaney qualifies its reception in Dublin as ‘tepid’.3 Yet, it fared worse in New York, where it closed after two days because, as Delaney explains, of the savage reviews it received:

In The New York Times, transplanted Englishman...

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