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Irish Identities and the Great War in Drama and Fiction


Martin Decker

The era of the First World War represents one of the most turbulent and divisive periods in twentieth-century Irish history. The war is closely connected to the violent path to Irish independence from Britain and, for more than a century, it has brought the complexity of the issue of Irish identity into sharp focus. This study shows how the disparate literary responses of Irish authors to the war and its problematic legacy offer intriguing insights into different concepts of Irish identity, specifically those long buried within Irish national and historical consciousness. The late re-discovery of these identities in Irish writing reveals a modern nation trying to come to terms with its polarised past, seeking a more integrative sense of national self for the twenty-first century.

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III. Readings


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III.  Readings

In this section, aspects of identity in Irish and Northern Irish dramatic and prose representations of the Great War will be investigated based on the theoretical framework outlined earlier and against the historical and cultural backdrop defined in the preceding chapters. The readings are arranged roughly chronologically, tracing the development and transformation of the subject of Irish identities and the Great War and its literary treatment.

I will begin with two plays by two prominent but – considering their ideological orientation as socialists – fairly atypical Irish writers, G. B. Shaw’s O’Flaherty V. C. (1915) and Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie (1928), which are essential for the understanding of Ireland’s Great War experience and of the conflicting discourses and identity politics that have characterised the event and its aftermath. Although very different in form, mood and style, and although the two plays were created in different historical situations, they share much in themes and authorial outlook (cf. Kosok 2008, 165). Both works centrally focus on the Irish home front during the war, introducing key themes of the subject: class contradictions magnified by the war, the complications and ambiguity of male heroism and the sense of female wartime domestic disorder. By means of the Great War, both plays challenge, in different degrees of directness, the identity constructions of Irish nationalism and the respective conditions of Irish society in the 1910s and 1920s that have been outlined in the contextual sections.


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