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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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VICTOR MERRIMAN ‘To sleep is safe, to dream is dangerous’: Catholicism on Stage in Independent Ireland 193


Victor Merriman ‘To sleep is safe, to dream is dangerous’: Catholicism on Stage in Independent Ireland1 Because we cannot go back, we are forced to go on. The counter-revolution is forced upon us because the spiritual and moral are real. They insist upon being in spite of all denials whether implicit or explicit.2 For most of the twentieth century the accumulation of religious capital was central to the creation and maintenance of an Irish Catholic social elite that permeated the fields of commerce, government, the civil service, the professions and the semi-state sector. The history of this linkage and how it operated has yet to be written.3 In March 2003, Gerard Mannix Flynn presented James X, an account of a childhood and adolescence stolen by Church and State, at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin.4 James X is a solo performance, set in the ante room of a state tribunal inquiring into the abuse of young people in church-run state institutions. At the play’s end, James X makes the decision not to participate in the tribunal, and explicitly confronts Inglis’s ‘Irish Catholic social elite’: 1 Paul Vincent Carroll, Shadow and Substance (London: Samuel French Limited, 1944), p. 43. 2 Desmond FitzGerald, 1932, cited in John M. Regan, The Irish Counter-Revolution 1921–1936 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 2001), p. vi. 3 Tom Inglis, ‘The Religious Field in Contemporary Ireland: Identity, Being Religious and Symbolic Domination’, in Liam Harte and Yvonne Whelan, Ireland Beyond Boundaries: Mapping Irish Studies in the Twenty-first Century (London,...

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