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Breaking the Mould

Literary Representations of Irish Catholicism

Series:

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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PETER GUY ‘Earth’s Crammed with Heaven, and every Common Bush Afire with God’: Religion in the Fiction of John McGahern 141

Extract

Peter Guy ‘Earth’s Crammed with Heaven, and every Common Bush Afire with God’1: Religion in the Fiction of John McGahern Back home in Connemara, a copy of Old Moore’s Almanac was as much a staple of our household as Ireland’s Own or The Connaught Tribune. It was purchased in January, had a patriotic De Valera-like green cover which hinted at perpetual rainfall, comely maidens, the mail boat to England and Glenroe on a Sunday evening. It was a compendium of bad astrology, the dates for the major cattle marts and weather predictions which were uniformly deranged – ‘I have to tell you that the average temperature in January was 6.2 degrees. In July it was 25 degrees. At this rate of increase, by December it will be 58 degrees and human life will be unsustainable.’ I bring this up because Old Moore’s Almanac will go some way towards explaining the religious instinct in the fiction of John McGahern. I do not think anyone actually believed that a tsunami was going to wipe out the Aran Islands and drive the people of Spiddal to take to living in trees – the whole premise is absurd. But sure enough, the Almanac would reappear on the kitchen table year in, year out and for the life of me I could not understand why – supernaturalism departed from the country cottage with the advent of electricity so I could not understand why Old Moore did not go the same way as the Puca, Dagda’s Harp and Oliver...

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