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Irish Autobiography

Stories of Self in the Narrative of a Nation


Claire Lynch

Ireland has passed through numerous identity crises in the last century, keeping the meaning of Irishness in constant flux. This book explores how diverse writers have positioned their life stories within the wider narrative of the nation’s development. Examining the wealth of autobiographical texts written by Irish writers in the twentieth century, including W.B. Yeats, Tomás O’Crohan, Frank O’Connor, Brendan Behan, Frank McCourt and Nuala O’Faolain, the study highlights the plurality of Irish identity and the main characteristics which typify the genre of Irish autobiography.
In charting the social and cultural history of Ireland through the first-hand accounts of the country’s most celebrated writers, the author also identifies important overlaps between fiction and memory, finds intersections with folklore and the short story, and draws out relationships within and between texts. The book repositions the important and often overlooked genre of Irish autobiography by highlighting its importance within both Irish Studies and the field of Autobiography and by opening up the ways in which lives can be written and read.


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Chapter Two ‘Ourland’: An Identity Shared is a Problem Halved 51


Chapter Two ‘Ourland’: An Identity Shared is a Problem Halved IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nation- hood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. — Poblacht Na h Éireann (1916)1 On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, the supreme council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood led by Thomas Clarke and Sean MacDermott, in collaboration with Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh and Eamon Ceannt of the Irish Volunteers, led around a thousand Volunteers and two hundred members of the Citizen Army in an occu- pation of the General Post Office and other strategic sites in Dublin. The Proclamation read on behalf of the provisional government of the Irish Republic under which they laboured claimed the ‘allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman’, asking them to prove their loyalty to Ireland. In declaring ‘the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies’, the provisional govern- ment wrote a new chapter in the nation’s autobiography. The Rising made a public statement of all-inclusive Irish identity that had personal as well as national connotations, and was to lead to an era of political unrest and personal conflict. The casual use of the term ‘Irish’ in the Proclamation threatened to exclude numerous people who found the definition more problematic, a predicament many came to explore through autobio- graphical writing. The success of...

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