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Irish Autobiography

Stories of Self in the Narrative of a Nation

Series:

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 Four ‘Hireland’: Marketing the Irish Life Story 137

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Chapter Four ‘Hireland’: Marketing the Irish Life Story Among those who are also owed an enormous debt of thanks are the countless emigrants whose letters home with dollars and pound notes, earned in grinding loneliness thousands of miles from home, bridged the gap between the Ireland they’d left and the Ireland which greets them today when they return as tourists and return to stay. They are a crucial part of our global Irish family. In every continent they have put their ingenuity and hard work at the service of new homelands. They have kept their love of Ireland, its traditions and its culture deep in their hearts so that wherever we travel in the world there is always a part of Ireland of which we can be proud and which in turn takes pride in us. — Inauguration speech by President Mary McAleese, 11 November 1997, Dublin Castle.1 As Frank O’Connor’s remark at the close of the previous chapter makes clear, the mid- to late-twentieth century in Ireland was to become increas- ingly defined by the theme of emigration. Historically characterized as a place to leave rather than a place to live, emigration is often emphasized to an extent which implies it is Irish in its very nature. D.H. Akenson draws attention to this sense of emigration as ‘a singularly Irish phe- nomenon’, a concept which fails to acknowledge that emigration is ‘part of a larger process which, in fact, affected all of Western Europe during the same period’.2 This view...

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