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Echoes of the Rebellion

The Year 1798 in Twentieth-Century Irish Fiction and Drama


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 SEVEN: ‘The Half-Built, Half-Derelict Cottage’: Stewart Parker’s Northern Star


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‘The Half-Built, Half-Derelict Cottage’: Stewart Parker’s Northern Star1

The last of the outstanding literary treatments of 1798 to be discussed in this study is the history play Northern Star (first staged in 1984) by the Belfast playwright Stewart Parker.2 Along with Gary Mitchell’s Tearing the Loom, discussed in Chapter Four, it is one of the most present-oriented literary works about the Rebellion written in the twentieth century, using, to a degree, ‘the format of the history play in order to dramatise modern ← 179 | 180 → political issues in Northern Ireland’, as Eva Urban has argued.3 In contrast to Mitchell’s play, however, it incorporates many historical personages and events in its structure and engages profoundly with the interpretation of 1798 as a crucial issue for the solution of the Northern Irish conflict. In addition, it shares a very prominent metahistorical theme with the novel The Year of the French, again illustrating the high importance of questions related to the theory of history for the contemporary situation in Northern Ireland and for the solution of historical conflicts in general.

Similarly to other Northern Irish writers treated in this book, it is easy to see the reasons why Stewart Parker became attracted to the 1798 Rebellion – it was a logical choice because in the tumultuous decade of the 1790s lay many historical causes of the present societal divide, as well as a lasting inspiration for the future embodied in the first articulate attempt...

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