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Sons of Ulster

Masculinities in the Contemporary Northern Irish Novel


Caroline Magennis

Both masculinity and the Northern Irish conflict have been the subjects of a great deal of recent scholarship, yet there is a dearth of material on Northern Irish masculinity. Northern Ireland has a remarkable literary output relative to its population, but the focus of critical attention has been on poetry rather than the fine novels that have been written in and about Ulster. This book goes some way towards remedying the deficiency in critical attention to the Northern Irish novel and the lack of gendered approaches to Northern Irish literature and society.
Sons of Ulster explores the representation of masculinity within a number of Northern Irish novels written since the mid-1990s, focusing on works by Eoin McNamee, Glenn Patterson and Robert McLiam Wilson. One of the key aims of the book is to disrupt notions of a hegemonic Northern Irish masculinity based on violent conflict and hyper-masculine sectarian rhetoric. The author uses the three sections of the text to represent the three key facets of Northern Irish masculinity: bodies, performances and subjectivity bound up with violence.


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Introduction 1


1 an ideology of struggle or resistance, and to stick one’s head above the parapet was ill-advised at the height of the Troubles. Wilson notes in The Dispossessed (1992), a non-fiction book about living in poverty in Britain, that: ‘Chauvinism and oppression of women in Ulster is quite exceptional in some ways’ (144). He compares the angry reaction of women he knew in England to misogynist comments with the silence of Northern Irish women: ‘I watched countless intelligent confident women listening without complaint to the old clichés of female inferiority being rehearsed without embarrassment’ (145). While feminists elsewhere argued over whether they were pro- or anti- sex or porn, and over when the third wave began and the second wave ended, these ideas were almost foreign to Northern Irish women. However, Sales notes that feminist discourses were slightly more likely to flourish in Republican politics due to their alignment with the rhetoric of oppression and emphasis on radical rethinking of political structures. However, this was tempered by the aggressive masculine rhetoric of Republican paramilitaries.6 Similarly, Pelan notes that ‘unionist ideol- ogy is most often represented as masculinist – women being either absent or complicit by their silence’ (93). Despite this culture of masculine dominance, being a man during the last forty years in Northern Ireland has not been easy. In their important article ‘Cinderfella (Finally) Goes to the Ball’, Colin Fowler and Paula Devine discuss the Men’s Life and Times Module within the Life and Times Survey (2000) and comment...

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