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The Leaving of Ireland

Migration and Belonging in Irish Literature and Film


Edited By John Lynch and Katherina Dodou

The Leaving of Ireland brings together an international group of scholars to reflect critically on the unfolding nature of the experience of Irish cultural identity at a time when Ireland is struggling to adjust to the shattering impacts of globalization and religious scandals of recent decades. Looking back over the last two centuries, the volume considers a range of literary and filmic works that have sought to articulate something of this experience and its multiple locations. The essays revisit crucial constituents of Irish history and self-perception at the micro-level, exploring the representation of individual experiences of migration and identification and the definition of a sense of belonging. They also examine these issues at the macro-level, looking at larger politico-historical transformations, national affiliations and changed social and geographical landscapes. The book is organized around key themes including history, mobility, memory and place and addresses the works of a wide range of authors, including Emily Lawless, Frank McCourt, Sinéad Morrissey, Paul Muldoon, Joseph O’Connor, J.M. Synge and W.B. Yeats.
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Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea and the Travelling Memory of the Great Irish Famine


ABSTRACT This chapter looks at a contemporary Irish author, Joseph O’Connor, and his novelistic treatment of the themes of Irish memory and the Famine. The literary strategy of displacing the mediation of the Famine primarily through an American narrator and other documentary material in a self-reflective style shifts the experience from an account of misery and suffering that might uncritically support a simplistic notion of collective memory and, rather, points to what O’Connor describes as an authentic memory. In this way there is recognition of the mobile nature, or travelling, of the symbolism mobilized in different orientations on the Famine, where the movement and migration of people replicate the movement of the ‘real’ meaning in literary and political discourse.

At the heart of Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea (2002), a novel which addresses the Great Irish Famine of 1845–8, is the question of how to represent an emotionally and politically fraught memory of the past in novel form. O’Connor’s treatment of what has been called a ‘critical moment’ of Irish history for its formative role in defining Ireland’s sense of identity,1 as well as the thematization of the difficulties involved in novelistically rendering that moment, makes the novel particularly interesting to consider. Against ← 27 | 28 → the backdrop of recent debates in Ireland over the depiction of Irish cultural memory, in which the Irish are seen, on the one hand, as seeking to dissociate themselves from a traumatic past and, on the other, as...

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