Studies in Literature and Culture
Bryce Evans - The Shadow of a Gunman: Seán Lemass and National Artistic Expression
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The Shadow of a Gunman: Seán Lemass and National Artistic Expression
In Irish collective memory, few historical figures are as acclaimed as Seán Lemass. The most fondly remembered Taoiseach in Irish history, Lemass led Ireland from 1959 to 1966. In popular discourse, the ‘Age of Lemass’ refers to pre-Troubles, swinging sixties Ireland. It was in this period that the country is said to have ‘opened up’ both culturally and economically as a result of Lemass’s fabled ‘turn’ away from protectionism and towards foreign investment.
Lemass (1899–1971) has been the subject of six published biographical studies (Farrell, 1983; O’Sullivan, 1994; Horgan, 1997; Savage, 1999; Garvin, 2009; Evans, 2011) reflecting his prominence as the key economic policy maker in every Fianna Fáil government from 1932 onwards. The sparkling allure of Lemass as an economic moderniser ensured he was much feted during Ireland’s Celtic Tiger boom as the archetypal economic ‘pragmatist’ who dispensed with the sentimentalism of twee auld Ireland. Celtic Tiger Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said of his fellow Dubliner: ‘I never miss a chance to state my belief that Lemass was in the vanguard of almost every great event and decision that shapes the Ireland in which we live’. Ahern’s successor, Brian Cowen, not only used Lemass’s name to encourage support for his government’s bail-out of the banks, but initiated a ‘Seán Lemass Award for Enterprise’ (Ahern 2009: 19). During the Celtic Tiger boom, then, Lemass...
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