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Breaking the Mould

Literary Representations of Irish Catholicism

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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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JOHN MCDONAGH ‘Hopping Round Knock Shrine in the Falling Rain’: Revision and Catholicism in the Poetry of Paul Durcan 179

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John McDonagh ‘Hopping Round Knock Shrine in the Falling Rain’: Revision and Catholicism in the Poetry of Paul Durcan Paul Durcan broke his leg in 1958. His Aunt Sarah informed her thirteen- year-old nephew that fifteen circumambulations of the Knock Shrine would do the ‘trick’. The stricken Durcan proceeded to fulfil the request, enduring torrential downpours, dodging wavering pilgrims and avoid- ing the temptations of sticks of ‘Knock Rock’. His broken leg, however, remained stubbornly broken, but for the young poet this experience was to act as a form of hegira: The trick did not work But that was scarcely the point: That day was a crucial day In my hedge school of belief In the Potential of Miracle In the Actuality of Vision.1 In these lines Durcan of fers an early glimpse of the source of his extraor- dinarily visionary poetry, a conf lation of everyday observation with a pas- sionate faith in the transformative power of the imagination. The ‘Potential of Miracle’ is an acknowledgement of the constantly mysterious nature of everyday life and is a testament to Durcan’s unfailing ability to eke out the extraordinary in the ordinary. His fervent belief in the ‘Actuality of Vision’ prevents any sentimental romanticisation of life and provides his poetry with its contrapuntal strength. As a serial commentator on the slippery 1 All quotes taken from ‘Hopping Round Knock Shrine in the Falling Rain: 1958’, in Jesus, Break His Fall by Paul Durcan (Dublin: Raven Arts Press, 1980), p. 25. 180...

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