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Breaking the Mould

Literary Representations of Irish Catholicism


Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

Catholicism has played a central role in Irish society for centuries. It is sometimes perceived in a negative light, being associated with repression, antiquated morality and a warped view of sexuality. However, there are also the positive aspects that Catholicism brought to bear on Irish culture, such as the beauty of its rituals, education and health care, or concern for the poor and the underprivileged. Whatever their experience of Catholicism, writers of a certain generation could not escape its impact on their lives, an impact which is pervasive in the literature they produced.
This study, containing twelve chapters written by a range of distinguished literary experts and emerging scholars, explores in a systematic manner the cross-fertilisation between Catholicism and Irish/Irish-American literature written in English. The figures addressed in the book include James Joyce, Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz, Kate O’Brien, Edwin O’Connor, Brian Moore, John McGahern, Seamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Vincent Carroll and Brian Friel. This book will serve to underline the complex relationship between creative writers and the once all-powerful religious Establishment.


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SHARON TIGHE-MOONEY Exploring the Irish Catholic Mother in Kate O’Brien’s Pray for the Wanderer 69


Sharon Tighe-Mooney Exploring the Irish Catholic Mother in Kate O’Brien’s Pray for the Wanderer In order to orientate the reader to the discussion that follows, a brief introduction to Kate O’Brien’s novel, Pray for the Wanderer, published in 1938, will serve to sketch the key characters and relationships in the plot. In addition, the historical context to the composition of the novel is also pertinent, as it was written during the unveiling of the 1937 Irish Constitution. Significantly, too, the novel was written after the banning of O’Brien’s previous novel, Mary Lavelle, and the fact that the main character in Pray for the Wanderer, Matt Costello, acts as a mouthpiece for O’Brien is attested to by her friends, the critics Vivian Mercier and Lorna Reynolds. Mercier wrote: ‘Miss O’Brien has clearly made her hero an author – and a banned one at that – so that through his mouth she may register her pro- test against modern Ireland’s love of censorship’.1 In a similar vein, Lorna Reynolds in Kate O’Brien: A Literary Portrait, remarked: ‘The author herself is present … as a man, a famous author back in Ireland on a visit to his brother and sister-in-law’.2 Matt Costello, a successful writer, retreats to his ancestral home in Mellick, O’Brien’s fictional Limerick, after the ending of a passionate af fair with a married actress in London. Weir House is now occupied by his brother, Will, who is married to Una, and their five children. Much to Matt’s surprise, he becomes involved in the...

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