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No Country for Old Men

Fresh Perspectives on Irish Literature

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Edited By Paddy Lyons and Alison O'Malley-Younger

Once a country of emigration and diaspora, in the 1990s Ireland began to attract immigration from other parts of the world: a new citizenry. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, the ratio between GDP and population placed Ireland among the wealthiest nations in the world. The Peace Agreements of the mid-1990s and the advent of power-sharing in Northern Ireland have enabled Ireland’s story to change still further. No longer locked into troubles from the past, the Celtic Tiger can now leap in new directions.
These shifts in culture have given Irish literature the opportunity to look afresh at its own past and, thereby, new perspectives have also opened for Irish Studies. The contributors to this volume explore these new openings; the essays examine writings from both now and the past in the new frames afforded by new times.

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Alison O’Malley-Younger ‘Dressing Up In Ascendancy Robes’: The Big House and Brian Friel’s Aristocrats 247

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‘Dressing Up In Ascendancy Robes’: The Big House and Brian Friel’s Aristocrats Alison O’Malley-Younger A greater, more gracious time has gone; For painted forms or boxes of make-up In ancient tombs I sighed; but not again What matter? — W.B. Yeats, The Gyres It is a critical given that the Big House belongs to a predominantly Anglo- Irish, novelistic genre, in which it is a repository of traditional values, its decline evoking a contrast between golden, glory days in the past and the deprivations of the present. According to critics such as Seamus Deane and Vera Kreilkamp, the decaying Big House symbolises a failing Protestant hegemony beset with fears of genealogical extinction, usurpation, and miscegenation: shabby gentility threatened by what is perceived as the barbarism of the natives who reside beyond the walled demesnes. The inhabitants of such houses await death, listening to the ancestral voices of ghosts, in a state of suspended animation as the edifice crumbles, while what Yeats termed ‘the filthy modern tide’ of modernity threatens to engulf them. Isolated, world-weary, and interred in the decomposing remains of a past world of gentility and affluence, the largely Protestant inhabitants of these feudal edifices fixate on what once was, endure what is, and fear what will be. Thus, the Big House has a symbolic function, metonymically rep- resenting the Protestant Ascendancy class. However, as the American academic Tom Hoffnung points out in Brian Friel’s play Aristocrats, there 248 Alison O’Malley-Younger also existed in Ireland ‘a Roman Catholic big house...

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