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Fictions of the Irish Land War


Edited By Heidi Hansson and James H. Murphy

The eruption of rural distress in Ireland and the foundation of the Land League in 1879 sparked a number of novels, stories and plays forming an immediate response to what became known as the Irish Land war. These works form a literary genre of their own and illuminate both the historical events themselves and the material conditions of reading and writing in late nineteenth-century Ireland. Divisions into ‘us’ and ‘them’ were convenient for political reasons, but the fiction of the period frequently modifies this alignment and draws attention to the complexity of the land problem.
This collection includes studies of canonical land war novels, publication channels, collaborations between artists and authors, literary conventions and the interplay between personal experience and literary output. It also includes unique resources such as a reprinted letter by the author Mary Anne Sadlier and a reproduction of Rosa Mulholland’s little-known play Our Boycotting. The book concludes with a detailed bibliography of land war fiction between 1879 and 1916, which should inspire further reading and research into the genre.
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JULIE ANNE STEVENS, The Irish Land War and Children’s Literature: Padraic Colum’s A Boy in Eirinn (1913) illustrated by Jack B. Yeats



The fight [against English rule] I heard most about as a child happened before I was born and was not a rising but a land war. Between the eighties and the rising of 1916 the land war was the shape the Irish rebellion against England took. The signs of it were still on the landscape, the remains of burnt houses, with roofless walls.

— MARY COLUM (Life and the Dream)

For the generation of writers born in the aftermath of the Irish land war, certain signs on the landscape spoke of rebellion. Mary Maguire Colum, wife of the children’s writer, Abbey playwright, and poet, Padraic Colum, speaks not only of the countryside’s visible markers, but also of the impact of agrarian outrage and eviction upon the people and the vagrancy to which it gave rise in the countryside.1 Of course, not all of the homeless figures or roadsters, as called by some, suffered from landlord oppression. Tenant financial consolidation or ‘land-grabbing’ also affected the vulnerable in Irish society. Whatever the case, these wandering balladeers and storytellers epitomized for Mary Colum and her husband the fragmentation of the landscape. Their poignant stories and old songs haunted the boreens and by-ways; they were the left-overs of the Irish land wars.

Padraic Colum’s first children’s book, A Boy in Eirinn (1913), illustrated by his friend, Jack B. Yeats, gathers together these stories and songs ← 81 | 82 → so that the novel presents...

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