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New Voices, Inherited Lines

Literary and Cultural Representations of the Irish Family


Edited By Yvonne O'Keeffe and Claudia Reese

Irish writers have always been fascinated by the family, sometimes depicting it as a traditional space under threat from external influences, sometimes highlighting the dangers lurking within. More recently, families have been represented as a type of safe haven from a bewildering postmodern world. At the heart of these constructions are questions of power and agency, as well as issues of class, gender, ethnicities and sexualities.
This collection of essays explores literary and cultural representations of the Irish family, questioning the validity of traditional familial structures as well as exploring newer versions of the Irish family emerging in more recent cultural representations. In addition to redefinitions of the nuclear family, the book also considers aspects of family constructions in Irish nationalist discourse, such as the symbolic use of the family and the interaction and conflict between private and public roles. The works and authors discussed range from Famine fiction, Samuel Beckett, Mary Lavin and John McGahern to Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín and Hugo Hamilton.


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Louise Sheridan Escaping the Role of the ‘Irish Mammy’


: Motherhood and Migration in Kate O’Riordan’s The Memory Stones In his 1997 text The Novel and the Nation, Gerry Smyth observes that the trope of the family, defined in terms of generation and gender, ‘is a crucial concept for both colonizing and decolonizing discourse’.1 In Ireland, post- colonial reaction against British colonisation with the establishment of the Irish Free State (1922) included the strict delineation of Irish gender roles and familial expectations. The ideal Irish mother, or the ‘Irish Mammy’, was the heart of the family unit, willing to sacrifice her own desires, dreams and independence for the sake of her children, husband and nation. As has been previously argued by scholars such as Anne Fogarty and Gerardine Meaney,2 symbolic representations of Ireland-as-woman, and the idealisation of the Irish woman as maternal and self-sacrificing, meant that the everyday realities and oppressions of individual Irish women’s lives were rendered invisible and obsolete in political, social and historical discourses. Writings by migrant women novelists such as Edna O’Brien, who left Ireland for personal and artistic independence, react against such social oppression by exposing it and subverting ideas of gender and the Irish family. Their migrant narratives refuse the roles available to women in Ireland. In these novels, as Smyth notes, 1 Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in the New Irish Fiction (London: Pluto Press, 1997), 55. 2 Anne Fogarty, ‘“The Horror of the Unlived Life”: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Contemporary Irish Women’s Fiction’ in Adalgisa Giorgio, ed., Writing Mothers...

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