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France and Ireland in the Public Imagination

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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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‘On the barricades’: John Montague’s Imaginary Representation of May ’68 in The Pear is Ripe

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It is undeniable that what became known as the ‘events of May ’68’, or even ‘May ’68’, captured public imagination in France and in other countries. Forty years later, it seems more than a little interesting to see how subsequent representations of the events in Paris are refracted through the recollections of an Irish poet. That poet is John Montague, who published the second volume of his memoirs, The Pear is Ripe, in 2007. His first foray into autobiography, Company: A Chosen Life (2001) had dealt with his reminiscences of the fifties and the early sixties, covering his first literary associations in Dublin, Paris and California. The sequel, The Pear is Ripe, refers to ‘idyllic Berkeley’1 in the mid-sixties and then to Montague’s return to Paris at the very moment when those May ’68 events occurred. As he says, he was just in time to witness the student rebellion and to find ‘a France that seemed on the verge of revolution’.2

There is one chapter in The Pear is Ripe which Montague devotes to his experience of the social movement in Paris. Rather than resorting to the conventional modalities of an autobiography that would purport to recount whole stretches of an individual’s private life, the poet opts for a more flexible and selective form of a memoir in which to construct a personal representation of May ’68. In terms of literary genre, this is a remarkable piece of life-writing, one wherein Montague tends to challenge the...

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