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Revolution and Evolution


Edited By John Strachan and Alison O'Malley-Younger

The essays in this collection all revolve around the notion of change in Ireland, whether by revolution or by evolution. Developments in the shared histories of Ireland and Great Britain are an important theme throughout the book. The volume begins by examining two remarkable Irishmen on the make in Georgian London: the boxing historian Pierce Egan and the extraordinary Charles Macklin, eighteenth-century actor, playwright and manslaughterer. The focus then moves to aspects of Hibernian influence and the presence of the Irish Diaspora in Great Britain from the medieval period up to the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century celebrations of St Patrick’s Day in Manchester. The book also considers the very different attitudes to the British Empire evident in the career of the 1916 rebel Sir Roger Casement and the Victorian philologist and colonial servant Whitley Stokes. Further essays look at writings by Scottish Marxists on the state of Ireland in the 1920s and the pronouncements on the Troubles by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The book also examines change in the culture of the island of Ireland, from the development of the Irish historical novel in the nineteenth century, to ecology in contemporary Irish women’s poetry, to the present state of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Contemporary Irish authors examined include Roddy Doyle, Joseph O’Connor and Martin McDonagh.


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Foreword Michael O’Neill Yeats, who dominates memory the more that writers seek to disengage from his influence, was much possessed by wheels and deeply preoccupied by change. Whether wheelings imply change is a matter on which his poems, like the essays in this scintillating collection, have a great deal to say. In ‘The Wheel’ he is decidedly negative: the more we wheel, the more we appear to reiterate an absolute ‘longing’. The poem attaches a mordantly entropic value to our urge to pursue the revolvings of the seasons, observing ‘that what disturbs our blood / Is but its longing for the tomb’. Elsewhere, more famously, he can imagine how ‘All’s changed, changed utterly’, his repeated use of ‘changed’ itself hinting at the paradox that change is itself only thinkable of as the uncanny double of fixity. Sacri- fice as a means to regeneration, dying to the old self so as to bring about the new: these resonant, fraught topoi trail their clouds of revolutionary fervour through Irish culture. So, too, do the cool dousings of revisionist scepticism and it is a remarkable feature of Irish writing generally, as well as of Yeats’s in particular, that it can be both extreme and self-qualifying, unbridled and reined-in, passionate and cunning. ‘Propaganda has rarely produced a fine poem’, writes Thomas MacDonagh in his Literature in Ireland, a work that sees the Irish stone in the midst of most of what is of permanent value, yet celebrates the fluid, changing shadows that sweep over...

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