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Echoes of the Rebellion

The Year 1798 in Twentieth-Century Irish Fiction and Drama

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Radvan Markus

The 1798 Rebellion, a watershed event in Irish history, has been a source of both inspiration and controversy over the last two centuries and continues to provoke debate up to the present day. The ongoing discussion about the meaning of the Rebellion has not been limited to history books, but has also found vivid expression in Irish fiction and theatre.
The product of extensive research, this study provides a comprehensive survey of historical novels and plays published on the topic throughout the twentieth century, comparing them with relevant historiography. It draws attention to a number of outstanding but often neglected literary works, bringing together materials written in both English and Irish. Employing important theoretical concepts such as Derrida’s ‘spectre’ and Hayden White’s tropological view of history, the book probes the relationship between historiography and fiction to shed light on their interplay in the Irish context, including the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. This investigation illuminates a number of broader questions, including the most pressing of all: in what way should we deal with the ‘spectres’ of the past and their complex legacies?
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CHAPTER FIVE: To Retain One’s Humanity Among War’s Horrors: The Mythical Method of Eoghan Ó Tuairisc’s L’Attaque

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CHAPTER FIVE

To Retain One’s Humanity Among War’s Horrors: The Mythical Method of Eoghan Ó Tuairisc’s L’Attaque

One of the most inspiring and innovative literary reflections of 1798 is Eoghan Ó Tuairisc’s Irish-language historical novel L’Attaque, published in 1962.1 Thematically, it deals with the Connacht episode of the 1798 Rebellion – the landing of a small French invasion force in County Mayo in August 1798 and the subsequent ill-fated campaign of the French and their Irish allies against the overwhelming English forces. Despite its lack of political and military importance in contrast to what happened in Wexford and Ulster (in Modern Ireland, Roy Foster has famously described the campaign ← 123 | 124 → as a ‘footnote to Irish history’),2 the Connacht episode has attracted the attention of novelists due to its unique combination of a remote, almost exotic, setting and the turbulent interaction of diverse social forces, with an added interest caused by the presence of the French. The topic emerged in historical novels already in the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth (we can mention, for example, The Race of Castlebar by Emily Lawless and Shan F. Bullock, published in 1914), was featured in W. B. Yeats’s and Lady Gregory’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan (1902) and was most famously treated by Thomas Flanagan later in The Year of the French (1979).

In contrast to Flanagan’s broad historical canvas, Ó Tuairisc’s novel is much more limited in space and focus. From the point of...

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