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Reimagining Irish Studies for the Twenty-First Century

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Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

This landmark collection marks the publication of the 100th book in the Reimagining Ireland series. It attempts to provide a «forward look» (as opposed to what Frank O’Connor once referred to as the « backward look») at what Irish Studies might look like in the third millennium. With a Foreword by Declan Kiberd, it also contains essays by several other leading Irish Studies experts on (among other areas) literature and critical theory, sport, the Irish language, food and beverage studies, cinema, women’s writing, Brexit, religion, Northern Ireland, the legacy of the Great Famine, Ireland in the French imagination, archival research, musicology, and Irish Studies in North America. The book is a tribute to Irish Studies’ foundational commitment to revealing and renewing Irishness within and beyond the national space.

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9 Irish Women’s Writing

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MAUREEN O’CONNOR

On the face of it the idea of doing any justice to the topic of ‘Irish Women Writers’ in a few thousand words is absurd. Would anyone dare attempt sum up the history of ‘Irish Men Writers’ so succinctly? Of course, the reason such an approach, however inadequate, is necessary lies in the long history in the West of women’s restricted social roles, limited access to education, and a general disbelief in their intellectual and artistic capabilities. While most of the writing done by Irish women up to the eighteenth century, and possibly much after, is lost to us, women had been writing religious tracts, cookery books, ‘poetry, nuns’ writing, petition-letters, depositions, biography, and autobiography’ for generations.1 Irish women who wrote in any genre at any time prior to the late nineteenth century had the rare privilege of literacy and access to books, if not formal education, which means that writing for women was even more closely linked to class– which in Ireland was almost always associated with confessional affiliation – than would have been true for their male peers. The literary canon has largely been determined by accidents of birth. Many of the Irish women whose writing has survived, even if no longer remembered in the twenty-first century, were the daughters or wives of established, successful men, often writers themselves.

However, some successful Irish writers were the mothers of famous men, such as Blanaid Salkeld (1880–1959), mother of artist Cecil; Jane Francesca Elgee...

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