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France and Ireland in the Public Imagination


Edited By Benjamin Keatinge and Mary Pierse

This engaging collection of essays considers the cultural complexities of the Franco-Irish relationship in song and story, image and cuisine, novels, paintings and poetry. It casts a fresh eye on public perceptions of the historic bonds between Ireland and France, revealing a rich variety of contact and influence. Controversy is not shirked, whether on the subject of Irish economic decline or reflecting on prominent, contentious personalities such as Ian Paisley and Michel Houellebecq. Contrasting ideas of the popular and the intellectual emerge in a study of Brendan Kennelly; recent Irish tribunals are analysed in the light of French cultural theory; and familiar renditions of Franco-Irish links are re-evaluated against the evidence of newspaper and journal accounts.
Drawing on the disciplines of history, art, economics and literature, and dipping into the good wines of France and Ireland, the book paints a fascinating picture of the relationship between the two countries over three dramatic centuries.
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Consideration of France and Ireland ‘in the public imagination’ demands some brief reflection on what might be considered as belonging to ‘the public sphere’, as opposed to a putative ‘private’ or ‘personal’ space. However, both public and personal may be viewed as irrevocably interlinked and that fusion is admirably illustrated by the Francophile Irishman, James Joyce; as has been suggested by Declan Kiberd, Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses can be read as a modern-day, quasi-Biblical guide to the moral and practical problems of life, which might assist in everyday routines of Learning, Thinking, Walking, Praying, Dying, Eating, Drinking, Reading, Wandering, Singing, Birthing, Parenting, Teaching and Loving.1 Clearly, as Joyce’s text richly exemplifies, the public sphere is far more than simply a discursive space for political, religious or cultural ideas and debates; rather, it is an integrated, universal realm in which all daily practices are performed. For example, the acts of eating and drinking are, in every culture, imbued with social customs relating to the nature and manner of consumption; even private prayer may take place in a public space of worship. Reading can have varying contexts, from the solitary reader at home to public performance readings of many kinds. Walking or wandering, especially through urban spaces, can be seen as culturally and socially significant actions in which the individual traverses public space and the public sphere. In sum, it can be said that most activities one could name have a social, not to say public, dimension.

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