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Irish Literature and the First World War

Culture, Identity and Memory


Terry Phillips

This book analyses poetry and prose written by combatant and non-combatant Irish writers during the First World War, focusing on key works influenced by Irish, English and European literary traditions. It highlights the complex positions adopted by writers in relation to the international conflict and to Irish debates about nationhood, which resist reduction to the simple binaries of Unionist/pro-war and Nationalist/anti-war. The book goes on to discuss the literature of the decades following the war, looking at how the conflict was remembered in the two parts of the now divided island, both by individuals and collectively, and investigating the dynamic interrelationship between personal recollection and public memory. In conclusion, the author discusses contemporary literature about the war, which often examines family memory as well as collective memory, and explores its role in the narrative of nationhood, both north and south of the border.


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Afterword. The Significance of Irish First World War Writing


Afterword The Significance of Irish First World War Writing A consideration of Irish literature written about the First World War over a range of time, in a variety of traditions and genres demonstrates a wide range of responses, many of which are familiar from the literature of several combatant nations. The most obvious of these is the focus, not exclusively by combatants, on the experience of the serving soldier in the trenches of the Western Front. The fullest account of such experiences is to be found in the writing of Patrick MacGill. MacGill’s prose writing, much though not of all it autobiographical, is deserving of a wide readership, not only for its pow- erful evocation of trench life, sometimes influenced by the tradition of the romantic sublime, but for what it conveys to the reader about the attitudes of the ordinary soldier. An altogether darker view of trench life, very much in keeping with the international mood of disillusion in the late nineteen twenties, but exacerbated in Ireland by the memory of not one, but three conflicts, is conveyed by Liam O’Flaherty’s Return of the Brute. One of the major sources for recent writing about the First World War, in a number of countries, is earlier writers such as MacGill, and this can be seen in the writ- ing of Jennifer Johnston and Sebastian Barry, particularly the latter’s A Long Long Way, one of the most significant of such fictional accounts published in recent times. However, the writing of both...

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