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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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Conclusions: Interpretations of 1798 in Twentieth-Century Fiction and Drama


The general question that the present study aims to address concerns the possibilities of literary works to contribute to our understanding and interpretation of the past. In the theoretical discussion in Chapter One it was argued (in reference to Hayden White as well as Paul Ricoeur) that literature and historiography are similar in structure, as they inevitably contain a mixture of fact and fiction. Consequently, both historiographical works and literary reflections of the past contribute to the ‘invention’ of history, taken broadly as a narrative construct out of the traces of the past.

According to Hayden White, it is impossible to judge between conflicting interpretations of history according to purely epistemological criteria. Our sample confirms this statement with one important proviso – such judgements should be theoretically allowed when some crude mistake occurs on the basic factual level that clearly contradicts the historical evidence. The continuing importance of ‘simple’ facts can be seen in our sample mainly in connection to the Scullabogue massacre – both in the discussions between the post-revisionists and Tom Dunne and in the analysis of the distortions in Buckley’s Croppies Lie Down.

On the other hand, this should not be overestimated. As Michel Foucault has shown, historical facts are not real objects, but discursive entities, and historical documents, against which they should be verified, give us no direct access into the past.1 This gives the historian or novelist ample space to shape the narrative according to his/her aesthetic or political preferences without...

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