Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape 1995)

Introduction, ‘Nationalism evoked an idea of homecoming, a return from exile or captivity, or what Benedict Anderson elegantly calls a “positive printed from the negative in the dark-room of political struggle. The same might be said of the literary artists.’ [3]

No generation before or since lived with such conscious national intensity or left such a inspiring (and, in some sways, intimidating) legacy. Though they could be fractious, its membes et themselves the highest standards of imaginative integrity and personal generosity. Imbued with republican and democratic ideals, they committed themselves in no spirit of chauvinism, but in the conviction that the Irish risorgimento might expand the expressive freedoms of all individuals: that is the link between thinkers as disparate as Douglas Hyde and James Connolly, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and James Joyce. [3]

recognising that any age is always “constructed” my another. [3]

Nobody who has lived through the denial and distortion of so much of the Irish past in recent years - as various groups sought to colonise it for their own short-term purposes - could be unaware of the ways in which an act of criticism may be at the mercy of the present moment. [4]

The imagination of these art-works has always been notable for its engagement with society and for its prophetic reading of the forces at work in their time. … What makes the Irish Renaissance such a fascinating case is the knowledge that the cultural revival preceded and in many ways enable the political revolution that followed. [4]

Because Ireland, unlike most other colonies, was positioned so closely to the occupying power, and because the relationship between the two countries was one of prolonged if forced intimacy, the study of Irish writing and thought in the English language may allow for a more truly contrapuntal analysis. In my judgement, postcolonial writing does not begin only when the occupier withdraws [but]… the very moment when a native writer formulates a text committed to cultural resistance. By this reckoning, Seathrun Ceitinn and W. B. Yeats are postcolonial artists, as surely as Brendan Behan. [5-6]

Struggling against the American sphere, or responsibility within?

A corollary was the notion of the self-invented man or woman. Nietzsche had said that those who haven’t had [6] a good father are compelled to go out and invent one: taking him at his word, their generation of Irishmen and Irishwomen fathered and mothered themselves, reinventing parents in much the same way as they were reinventing the Irish past. [7]

The century which is about to end is once again dominated by the debate with which it began: how to distinguish what is good in nationalism from what is bad, and how to use the positive potentials to assist peoples to modernise in a humane fashion. [7]

Chap. 1: A New England Called Ireland
With the mission to impose a central administration went the attempt to define a unitary Irish character … From the later sixteenth century, when Edmund Spenser walked the plantations of Munster, the English have presented themselvcs to the world as controlled, refined and rooted: and so it suited them to find the Irish hot-hearded, rude and nomadic, the perfect foil to set off their own virtues. No sooner had the stereotypes taken their initial shape than they were challenged by poets and intellectuals writing in the Irish [9] language. [e.g., Keating].

”What ish my nation?” In other words, the captain sas that there is no Irish nation.’ [12]

‘If colonialism is a system, so also is resistance. Postcolonial writing, in a strict sense, began in Ireland when an artist like Séathrun Céitinn took pen in hand to rebut the occupier’s claims. He had been reading those texts which misrepresented him, and he resolved to answer back. He represented the Old English, those Gaelicised Normans who were especially demonised as hybrids in Spenser’s View: but his ambition was to clear the reputation of the native Irish as well. This gives his comments a certain objectivity: and he is honest enough to tell much that is not flattering. His scholarly scruple is dear in the tentative title which he appended to his text Foras Feasa ar Eirinn (A Basis for the Knowledge of Ireland) [ital. sic.], which was assembled mainly after the publication of Spenser’s View in 1633. A Tipperary man who was born in 1570 and educated at Bordeaux, Céitinn returned in 1610 to witness Gaelic Ireland dying on its feet after the crushing defeat of O’Neill at Kinsale a decade earlier and the subsequent Flight of the Earls. He might properly be seen as one of the first counter-imperial historians, in that his object was not only to reply to Spenser, Stanyhurst and the English writers, but more particularly to save the lore of ancient Ireland from passing into oblivion. Like the revivalists of three centuries later, Ceitinn feared that the national archive had been irretrievably disrupted and that his country, to all intents and purposes, was about to disappear. He mocked the ambitious young English historians who had endlessly recycled the same clichés current since the time of Camnbrensis, in a tyranny of texts over human encounters: [Kiberd here quotes Díonbrollach, as infra]. […/] In his Díonbrollach or introduction, Céitinn (sounding at times like the Edward Said of his era) laments the fact that “truth” has now become a function of learned judgement rather than the sum of a whole people’s wisdom. “Ireland”, he complains, is never to be seen in itself, but as a flawed version of England, as a coutnry still entrapped in the conditions from which England liberated itself in 1066./ With devastating wit, Céitinn proceeds to show how, even on a purely textual level, the English writers have been amazingly selective in wha they have culled from one another, and he unsparingly exposes the contradictions which mar their testimonies.’ (&c.; Kiberd, p.13-14); ‘A major part of Céitinn’s project was his demonstation that the Irish were not foils to the English so much as mirrors.’ (Kiberd, p.15.)

Native poets writing in Irish show a penchant for covert statements. They praise the beauty of Cathleen Ni Houlihan when they reall meant to celebrate Ireland. In what seemed like harmless love songs they besought girls to shelter gallants from the storm, gallants who turned out on inspection to be rebels on the run from English guns. [p.16.]

‘[Burke] contended that what happened to the native aristocracy of Ireland under Cromwell and the Penal Laws befell the nobility of France in the revolution of 1789: an overturning of a decent moral order. … Burke’s empathy with India under occupation was also expressed in terms which vividly recalled the extirpation of Gaelic traditions by adventurers and planters … Burke complained [,] “The first men of that country”, “eminent in situation” were insulted and humiliated by “obscure young men” pushing upstarts ho “tore to pieces the most established rights, and the most ancient and most revered institutions of ages and nations” (Works, Boston, 1869, Vol. 2, 222; Kiberd p.17)

[Kiberd here quotes the passage on Marie Antoinette (”ten thousand swords …”), and explicitly compares it with the trope of the spéirbhean in Gaelic (i.e. Jacobite) poetry.

Burke, ‘Like Ireland, India appeared to him as a theatre of the unconscious, a place where unbridled instincts ran riot, while the contraints of civilisation were abandoned by those very people who pretended to sponsor them./In his later years, Burke chose to imagine the return of the repressed in the figure of an animal from the colonies now unleashed on the mother of parliaments: “I can contemplate without dread a royal or national tiger on the borders of Pegu … But if, by habeas corpus or otherwise, he was to come into the lobby of the House of Commons … who would not gladly make escpae out of the back windows. [… &c.] (Works, Vol. 5, 225; Kiberd, p.19)

‘Burke was of course no separatist. He believed that the link with England, though the cause of many woes, would be Ireland’s only salvation. Nevertheless, as the product of an Irish hedge-school he had a natural sympathy., if not for revolution, then at least for those caught up in the stresses of a revolutionary situation. Conor Cruise O’Brien has inferred from this a conflict at the centre of Burke’s writings between the outer Whig and inner Jacobite …’ (p.19); Taking up where Céitinn had left off, he attecked misrepresentations by more recent English historians: ‘But there is an interior History of Ireland - the genuine voice of its records and monuments -, which speaks a very different language from these histories from Temple and from Clarendon ... [and says] that these rebellions were not produced by toleration but by persecution.’ (Corr., 1, 202; Kiberd, p.19.)

[The remainder of this chapter introduction is written with a stream of generalities which would serve very well for a summer school.]

Throughout the 19thc Ireland functioned as a sort of political and social laboratory in which, parabolically, the English could test their most new-fangled ideas - about the proper relation between religion and the state, about the changing role of the aristocracy, above all about the holding and use of land. ... adopting the models after they were seen to thrive and prosper .. Inevitably, the arriving Irish, in their tens of thousands, occupied and used England as a laboratory in which to solve many of their own domestic problems at a certain useful remove.’ [23-24]

Bibl. Kiberd, The fall of the Stage Irishman, in R. Schliefer, ed., The Genres of the Irish Literary Revival (Norman Oklahoma 1979), pp.39-60.

the image of Ireland as not England [30]

ARNOLD (here Kiberd uses the same ironic technique that he attributes to Keating on Spenser): ‘the celtic genius had sentiment for its main basis ... with love of beauty, charm and spirituality for its excellence, ineffectualness and self-will for its defect.’ (Study of Celtic Literature., 1891 Edn., p.115); with attendant remarks that such a genius flourishes in short lyric bursts, but not in ‘the steady, deep-searching survey’ (Arnold, p.104). Arnold showed remarkably little patience for the steady, deep-searching survey himself, basing most of his ideas on ... Ernest Renan ... of actual Irish-language texts themselves, ... Arnold was almost entirely ignorant [31] ‘[I]n 1886 Arnold proclaim himself a stauch critic of Gladstone’s proposal, arguing that the ‘idle and imprudent’ Irish could never properly govern themselves (Arnold, op.cit., p.92; Kiberd, 31); ‘[Arnold] was the consummate surveyor, the Celt the consummately surveyed.’ [31] NOTE: this surely gives the impression that a speech of 1886 is being cited whereas the passage used is once again from the lectures of 1865.

revivalist Cuchulain little more than an English public schoolboy in drag [31]

Seamus O’Sheel: ‘they went out to battle and they always fell’ (Jealous of the Dead Leaves, NY 1928). The danger was that, under the guise of freedom, a racist slur might be sanitised and worn with pride by its very victims [32]

‘Wilde was, however, the first intellectual from Ireland who proceeded to London with the aim of dismantling its imperial mythology from within its own structures. He saw that those who wanted to invent Ireland might first have to reinvent England’ [32]

His famous parents were probably too busy to offer the one commodity that is signally lacking in all his plays, that continuous tenderness and intimacy which might have given him a sense of himself. [34]

Kiberd regards Wilde’s jilting by Florence Balcombe (‘just seventeen and the most perfectly beautiful face I ever saw and not a sixpence of money’) as a massive disappointment, whereon Wilde vowed to leave Ireland ‘probably for good’ (Letters, Hart-Davies, 20-21). Says that Oscar installed her in London.

The ease with which Wilde effected the transition from stage Irishman to stage Englishman was his ultimate comment on the shallowness of such categories. [36]

baptised at Glencree by Catholic priest for Lady Wilde; had Dublin Passionist Father at bedside before he died.

‘I am Irish by race, but the English have condemned me to speak the language of Shakespeare’ (letter to de Goncourt, Letters, p.100.)

‘It is only by contact with the art of foreign nations that the art of a country gains that individual and separate life that we call nationality ...’ (Artist as Critic, 373)

‘It is the Celt who leads in art ... there is no reason why in future years this strange Renaissance should not be almost as mighty in its way as that new birth of art that woke many centuries in the cities of Italy’ (ibid., 396; Kiberd, 48)

Ireland in the nineteenth century was a confused and devastated place, suspended between two languages (Kiberd, 48)

OW on Croker and Lover: ‘a humorist’s Arcadia ... they came from a class that did not - mainly for political reasons - take the populace seriously ... of its passion, its gloom, its tragedy, they knew nothing.’ (Artist as Critic, 130; Kiberd, 49)

‘England will never be civilised till she has added Utopia to her dominions ... there is more than one of her colonies that she might with advantage surrender for so fair a land.’ [50]

John Bull’s Other Island, Peter Keegan, unfrocked priest in Oxford; Tom Broadbent, mock-villain; Larry Doyle.

John Bull’s Other Islander - Bernard Shaw
a sceptical Shaw was not convinced that the fall of feudalism was so complete. … a suspect new pastoralism took hold on the popular mentality. … The social revolution, imagined by Davitt, was already being aborted by an arriviste Catholic middle class. … the wrong kind of revivalism might produce exactly what the British now wanted, a tourist landscape of colourful, non-threatening characters, who mark off their “interesting” cultural differences from the London visitor, even as they become ever more tractable to his economic designs. [31]

The Woman’s PartAscendancy women, employing kitchen maids and domestic staff, often enjoyed rather developed relationships with a whole network of families in the wider community: the shared in the joys of christenings and weddings, the sadness of sickbeds and wakes. [67]

Lady Gregory and the Empire Boys
(On her involvement with Blunt in the Arabi affair), ‘That was the end of my essay in politics, for though Ireland is always with me, and I first feared and then became reconciled to, and now hope to see an even greater independence than, Home Rule, my saying has been long, “I am fighting for it, but preparing for it.” And that has been my purpose in my work for establishing a national Theatre, and for the revival of the language, and in making better known the heroic tales of Ireland. For whatever political indination or energy was born with me may have run its course in that Egyptian year and worn itself out; or it may be that I saw too mudh of the inside, the tangled webs of diplomacy, the driving forces behind politicians.’ (Augusta Gregory, Seventy Years 1852-1922, ed. Colin Smythe, Gerrards Cross 1974, p.54; cited in Kiberd, pp.86-87.)

Somerville and Ross: - Tragedies of Manners
Refused to be recruited to Abbey movement; remarks on Synge: ‘This is cast in a form so simple as to be at times too simple, as far as mere reading goes. I suppose that the dialect is of the nature of a literal translation of Irish, but it seems to me to lack fire and spontaneity - you [Lady Gregory] know, and no one better, what the power of repartee and argument is among such as these. It is inimitable, in my opinion, I mean that no one who is not of themselves can invent it - and it is so much a part of themselves that to present them without it makes an artificial and an unreal picture [...]’ (Quoted Gifford Lewis, 252; cited Kiberd 70).

Brother Robert abandoned family home as economically unviable, 1872.

Charles Lever, Tom Burke of Ours, char. Dary-the-Blast: ‘The quality has ne’er a bit of fun in them at all, but does be always coming to us to make them laugh’ (cited in Kiberd, p.73.)

‘There is a real sense in which the literature of the Irish revival arose out of the ironies of such a master-servant relationship. Francie Fitzpatrick is simply the final consummation of this tradition, where an exhausted upper-class seems not just humour, but also sexual release, in a vibrant underclass.’ [73]

Kiberd pinpoints Edith Somerville’s attitudes to womens role in their own class, and more generally, their support of sufferage.

What fascinates in The Real Charlotte is the author’s [sic] refusal to privilege any one consciousness at all. ... Intending to criticize a society which they yet wished to remain within, Somerville and Ross choose to express their ultimate values by technique, with irony as a prevailing narrative point of view. Like other novels of manners, this is designed not just to be read but re-read, and its art is a strategy of preparations.’ [77]

This is an ominous image [the collapse of the newsbearing servant Norry] of a landless class left rudderless in a new Ireland, whose putative inheritors are quite unequal to the challenges with which they have confronted themselves. .. It is such persons who act as a choric voice within the plot for the author’s overall design.’ [79]

Somerville and Ross ... implicitly conceded that theirs has been an unconscionably jaunting book about a hopeless situation. [79]

account of the Arabi rebellion, and Lady Gregory’s relation to Blunt; also her article on the Times, 23 Sept. 1882, ‘Arabi and His Household’.

Blunt wrote to Lady Gregory (who disparaged his joining the Land League) that it was ‘curious that she, who could see so clearly in Egypt, when it was a case between the Circassian Pashas and the Arab felleheen, should be blind now that the case is between English landlords and Irish tenants in Galway .. it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an Irish landlord to enter the kingdom of Home Rule’ (Kohlfeld, p.75, 80; Kiberd 88)

Blunt arrested for breaking ban on proscribed meeting held in oppposition to evictions carried out by Lord Clanrickarde in Galway; sentenced to 2 months.

‘A Woman’s Sonnets’ put into his hand after their last night of love [89]

Lady Gregory’s tenants instructed to boycott her after production of the Playboy. [88]

This confederation of personalities [Michael Collins, Desmond Fitzgerald, Pádraic Ó Conaire, W. P. Ryan, was one of the very first groups of decolonising intellectuals to forulate a vision of their native country during a youthful sojourn in an impperial capital - then then return to implement it. … Yeats was perhaps the most gifted and charismatic member of that group of exiles. In the fate of Wilde and Shaw - great artists reduced to the staus of mere entertainers by a public too scared to confront their radical ideas with full seriousness - he found a warning for himself and his friends. (p.100.)

There has been an unintended but undeniable effect of infantilising the native culture. With British writing, ther had long been a link between children’s writing and the colonial enterprise, which lead to the identification of the new world with the infantile state of man. [Cites Capt. Marryat on this ‘parallel’]

The National Longing for Form
Cites Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Style was the thing to be seized, the zone in which the battle of two civilisations would eb fought out; and Yeats hope that form his style a full man might eventually be inferred and, in due course - such was the enormity of his ambition - a nation. / The attempt, at a purely personal level, well familiar to students of the romantic Iyric, which is predicted on three selves: a past self, a reporting selfwhich writes, and the selfwhich the author will become by the very act of writing. In such a transaction, the “I” is necessarily precarious or inchoate, disappearing or scarcely born; but it is the identity towards which the Iyric moves that is its rvison d’être, and this by definition cannot be established until expression has ceased. It was such a model which Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari had in mind when they defined a minor literature, which is to say, a literature written in a maior language by a minority group in revolt against its oppressors: “[…] A major or established (i.e., imperial) literature follows a vector that goes from content to expression. Since content is presented in a given form of content, one must find, or discover, or see the form of expression that goes with it. That which conceptualizes well expresses itself But a minor, or revolutionary literature begins by expressing itself and doesn’t conceptualize until afterward.” [Deleuze Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Minneapolis 1986, p.286] / This explains why in Ireland the cultural renaissance preceded by many years the declaration of political independence (unlike the United States, which waited for over sixty years for its literary revival). It would also account for the preponderance of creative over critical texts in every phase of modern Irish literature. “Expression must break forms, encourage ruptures and new sproutings”, wrote Deleuze and Guattari: When a form is broken, one must reconstruct the context that will necessarily be a part of the rupture in the order of things.” Those national authors, like Yeats and Whitman, who effect such breakages thereby become the first artists of the decolonizing world, prime exponents of the emergent literatures of modernity, which are formed around a single question: how to express life which had never yet found full expression in written literature? (pp.117-18).

Style was the thing to be seized, the zone in which the battle of two civilisations would eb fought out; and Yeats hope that form his style a full man might eventually be inferred and, in due course - such was the enormity of his ambition - a nation. / The attempt, at a purley personal level, well familiar to students of the romantic Iyric, which is predicted on three selves: a past self, a reporting selfwhich writes, and the selfwhich the author will become by the very act of writing. In such a transaction, the “I” is necessarily precarious or inchoate, disappearing or scarcely born; but it is the identity towards which the Iyric moves that is its raison d’être, and this by definition cannot be established until expression has ceased. It was such a model which Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari had in mind when they defined a minor literature, which is to say, a literature written in a maior language by a minority group in revolt against its oppressors: “[…] A major or established (i.e., imperial) literature follows a vector that goes from content to expression. Since content is presented in a given form of content, one must find, or discover, or see the form of expression that goes with it. That which conceptualizes well expresses itself But a minor, or revolutionary literature begins by expressing itself and doesn’t conceptualize until afterward.” [Deleuze Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Minneapolis 1986, p.286] / This explains why in Ireland the cultural renaissance preceded by many years the declaration of political independence (unlike the United States, which waited for over sixty years for its literary revival). It would also account for the preponderance of creative over critical texts in every phase of modern Irish literature. “Expression must break forms, encourage ruptures and new sproutings”, wrote Deleuze and Guattari: When a form is broken, one must reconstruct the context that will necessarily be a part of the rupture in the order of things.” Those national authors, like Yeats and Whitman, who effect such breakages thereby become the first artists of the decolonizing world, prime exponents of the emergent literatures of modernity, which are formed around a single question: how to express life which had never yet found fulle xpression in written literature? (pp.117-18).

Emphasises ‘self-conquest’ in Wilde’s remark, ‘Men are dominated by self-conquest’

What Yeats meant by style, therefore, is something much more expansive, muscular and demanding than the usual inferences drawn from that word. “Is not style born out of the shock of new material”, Synge had asked him … [120]

Cites Deleuze: ‘because collective national consciousness is often inactive in external life and always in the process of breakdown, literature finds itself charged with throle of collective enunciation. Especially if a wrier is on the margins, this allows him all the more scope to explore the community consciousness.’ (Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, p.17.

Return to the Source? - Interchapter
Modernity, after all, was not a state which the Irish could choose or reject at will: to be Irish was to be modern in the sense that the Irish were seeking to find a home for themselves after a period of chaos and disruption. … Patrick Pearse’s call for Gaelic artists to get in simultaneous touch with Old Irish literature and with the mind of contempoary Europe would be one instance and his conflation of ancient Gaelic systems of fosterage with the educational theoriesof Maria Montessori would be another. [134]

In some respects, the invention of modern Ireland had far more in common with the state-formation of other European couontries such as Italy or France [than with England]. In other ways the analogies - especially in the domain of culture - would be with the emerging peoples of the decolonising world. … One abiding difference, however … was the sheer proximity to the imperial power, as a not-always-appreciated model, a source of ideas, and as a market for surplus theory and labour. [135]

Nationality or Cosmopolitanism?Russell acutely foresaw how mass communications would homogenize the whole of Europe into a dreary imitative provincialism. [157]

For material on Eglinton, see RX.

Quotes ‘All literature in every country is derived from models, and as often as not these are foreign models, and it is the presence of a personal element alone that can give it nationality in a fine sense, the nationality of its maker. [&c.; Samhain, 1908, p.7), and comments that Yeats here transcends the diagnosis of Hyde and Moran by offering a subtle account of how so many who dream of liberation become blocked at the mimic stage.’ (p.165.)

J. M. Synge - Remembering the Future
In the opening act of the Playboy, Synge describes a people who only rise to intensity of feeling when they are recounting deeds of violence. .. So obsessively are poetry and violence interwoven in the mental fabric of the Mayoites that the women seen incapable of describing [169] poetry except in terms of violence, and unable to imagine violence except as a kind of poetry. [170]

The mortal charm of Synge’s dialect is the beauty that inheres in all precarious or dying things. Much of it is traceable to the Gaelic substratum, those elements of syntax and imagery carried over from the native tradition by a people who continue to think in Irish even as they speak in English. The famous “jawbreakers” - words like “bedizened” or “potentate” - are in the tradition of the hedge-schoolmasters nervously advertising their new mastery of English polysyllabic effects to impress the parents of their putative pupils, in the absence of a more forma diploma. the tradition was at least as old as Goldsmiths village schoolmaster. …’ [173]

Hiberno-English, like Christy Mahon, owes its force to the apparent murder of its parent: and the Playboy of the Western World may thus be read as a critical reflection upon its own linguistic parasitism. [sic; 174]

Seamus Deane has added a subtler inflection to that analysis [viz., D. P. Moran’s] describing Synge as one who creamed off the Gaelic culture in the a few remaining areas where his class had failed to exterminate it, but where he could now appropriate its energies on the eve of their extinction. (Seamus Deane, “Synge and Heroism”, Celtic Revivals, London 1985, pp.51-62; Kiberd 174)

It is this very emptiness of personality and in his contexts which has allowed generations of critics to read so many different meanings into the character of Christy […; 180] The cause for his own heroism is not made by him, but for him./Chief among the claimants if Pegeen, whose invention Christy really is, her animus returned after centuries of Anglicisation to the level of female consciousness. Her lament in the play’s final lines is less for the physical man just gone off stage than for lost possibilities of her own womanhood. (181)

The spark that lit the Playboy riots is well known, recorded in the famous telegram sent by Lady Gregory summoning Yeats to return at once from Scotland: “Audience broke up in disorder at use of the word ‘shift”’. […] It is hard, at the same time, not to feel some sympathy for the protesting audiences in the play’s first week. Most were nationalist males who frequented the theatre for political reasons, since the Abbey was one of the few national institutions in occupied Ireland. Few men anywhere in the Europe of 1907 could have coped with Synge’s subversive gender-benders, least of all a group committed to the social construction of precisely the kind of Cuchulanoid heroism which the playwright was so mischievously debunking. Irishmen had been told that when they protested their voices rose to an unflattering female screech: and so they were off-loading the vestigial femininity of the Celtic male onto icons like Cathleen ni Houlihan or Mother Ireland.

These were the men who accused Synge of “betraying the forces of virile nationalism” (David H. Greene and Edward M. Stephens, J. M. Synge 1871-1909, New York 1961, p.148) to a movement of decadence. They were hardening themselves into hypermasculinity, in preparation for an uprising, rather than adopting the more complex strategy of celebrating their own androgyny. That Synge preferred the latter option is clear from the tripartite structure of his play, which corresponds very neatly with Frantz Fanon’s dialectic of decolonisation, from occupation, though nationalism, to liberation. (Kiberd, p.184; going on to read the play as an allegory of liberation from the ‘false image’ that entails ‘Irish self-disgust under colonial misrule’.)

Synge’s Playboy … was a sort of blue-print for a new species of Irish artist. In his hands the meaning of Gaelic tradition changed from something museumised to something modifiable, endless open. He sensed that the revivalists’ worship of the past was based on their questionable desire to colonise and control it: but his deepest desire was to demonstrate the continuing power of the radical Gaelic past to disrupt the revivalist present. [187]

Standish James O’Grady, ‘I desire to make this heroic period once again a portion of the imagination of the country, and its chief characters as familiar in the minds of our people as they once were.’ (History of Ireland, Heroic Period, 1878, p.v.)

‘What was in Patrick Pearse’s soul when he fought in Easter Week but an imagination, and the chief imagination which inspired him was that of a hero who stood against a host [...] I who knew how deep was Pearse’s love for the Cuchulain whom O’Grady had discovered or invented, remembered Easter Week that he had been solitary against a great host in imagination with Cuchulain, long before circumstance permitted him to stand for his nation with so few companions against so great a power.’ (AE, The Living Torch, ed. Gibbon, pp.134-44) [196-97]

AE: Empire brings out ‘the substitution of a culture which has value mainly for the people who created it, but is as alien to our race as the mood of the scientist is to the artist or poet.’ (Thoughts for A Convention, p.7) [198]

MacDonagh’s last class at UCD on Jane Austen.

GBS: ‘An Irishman resorting to arms to achieve the independence of his country is doing only what Englishmen will do if it be their misfortune to be invaded and conquered by the Germans.’ (The Matter with Ireland, p.122; Kiberd 199).

You say that we should still the land/Till Germany’s overcome/But who is there to argue that/Now Pearse is deaf and dumb?/And is their logic to outweigh/MacDonagh’s bony thumb?’

MacDonagh on ‘the mystic who has to express in terms of sense and wit the things of God that are made known to him in no language’ (‘Language and Literature in Ireland, Irish Review, IV, Mar-Apr. 1914, pp.176-82; Kiberd .200).

Pearse, ‘O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?/What if the dream come true? and millions unborn shall dwell/In the house that I shaped with my heart, the noble house of my thought?’ (Plays, Stories, and Poems, p.336).

Pearse, ‘One man can free a people as one man redeemed the world. I will take no pike. I will go into battle with bare hands. I will stand up before the Gall as Christ hung naked before men on a tree.’ (‘The Singer’; Plays, &c.; p.44)

MacDonagh, ‘The Little Black Rose Shall be Red at Last’: ‘... Praise God, if this my blood fulfil the doom/When you, dark rose, shall redden into bloom’ (Poems, 1916, pp.59-60)

Yeats: ‘The greatest art symbolises not those things that we have experienced, and when the imaginary saint or lover or hero moves us most deeply, it is the moment when he awakens within us our own heroism, our own sanctity, our own desire.’ (Plays and Controversies, p.161)

Kiberd notes that Pearse and others address their own ‘generation’.

Michael Collins on the 1916 Proclamation: ‘I do not think the Rising week was an appropriate time for the issue of memoranda couched in poetic phrases, not of actions worked out in a similar fashion’ (Quoted in T. P. Coogan, Michael Collins, 53-54; Kiberd 207)

Pearse, ‘Mise Éire’: ‘I have turned my face ... &c. [Thugas mo ghnúis/ar an ród seo romham,/ar an gníomh,/is ar an mbás a gheobhad].’

Rousseau: ‘the voice of the people is, in fact, the voice of God.’

J.J. Horgan, lawyer, declared that the Rising was a sin and Pearse a heretic. (From Parnell to Pearse, 1948, p.285; Kiberd 211)

Fr. Francis Shaw: ‘Objectively the equation of the patriot with Christ is in conflict with the whole Christian tradition, and, indeed, with the explicit teaching of Christ.’ (Studies, Summer 1971, p.123.)

There is a real sense in with The Plough and the Stars (1926) derives more from On Baile’s Strand (1903, 1906) than from the Dublin streets: the notorious scene where Pearse’s speechifying is juxtaposed against the prostitute Rosie Redmond plying her trade in a pub seems a deliberate reworking of Yeats’s play, in which a posturing Cuchulain, at war with the waves, proves utterly irrelevant to the needs of the hungry fool and blind beggar. [Kiberd, 212]

The power of the poem derives from the honesty with which he debates the issue [viz., growing scruples about such heroism], in the process postponing until the very last moment his dutiful naming of the dead warriors ... Yeats’s entire lyric is a sequence of strategies for delaying such naming: and the expectations deliberation aroused by the title, which suggests unqualified encomium, are sharply contested, and disappointed, and then finally honoured in the text. [213] The public bard is still trying to complete a poem which will please Maud Gonne, while the private lover is still hoping to cure her of political rigidity, urging her to forget the stone for the call of the moorcock. [216]

Yeats: ‘The characters on the stage, let us say, greaten until they are humanity itself’ (‘The Tragic Theatre’, Essays and Intro., 245.)

Yeats, dining with society personages in London when the news of 1916 broke ...

The Plebeians Revise the Rising
Not the least of O’Casey’s achievements in The Shadow of a Gunman was to remind sentimental nationalists of just how wasteful and unheroic any war - even a war of national liberation - can be. [218]

SOC resigned from Citizen Army in response to merging of interests with nationalists of Irish Volunteers.

the stock melodramatic device of a legacy which turns out to be false would be taken as a sarcastic metaphor for what he derided as the fake inheritance of Irish republicanism. Equally the melodramatic device of the rapacious Englishman who leaves a decent Irish girl pregnant could be read as his indictment of a dishonest and over-hasty British withdrawal, which seemed to create more problems than it solved [...] the sudden pretensions to respectability among republican families [...] O’Casey had foreseen it all. [219]

infant mortality 44/1000; tenement evictions running at 1/3 p.a.

Many of O’Casey’s poetic speeches are attempts by characters to create a more spacious world in the imagination than the drab, constricted place in which they are expected to live. [He was] an heir to Synge, who had fond in the rich idiom of the peasantry an implicit critique of a monochromatic world. [219]

Beckett: ‘Mr O’Casey is a master of knockabout in this very serious and honourable sense - that he discerns the principle of disintegration in even the most complacent solidities. This is the energy of his theatre, the triumph of the principle of knockabout in situation, in all its elements and on all its planes, from the furniture to the highest centres.’ (Sean O’Casey’, in Disjecta, NY 1984, p.82; Kiberd 220)

saved Abbey from financial ruin by wooing large numbers from Queen’s Th.

‘confused the fight for Irish with the fight for collars and ties’ (Drums under the Windows, p.73)

Extended his critique to the sacred entity of socialism itself: ‘Self realisation is more important than class-consciousness. Trade Unionism may give the worker a large dinner-plate - which he badly needs - but it will never give him a broader mind, which he needs more badly still.’ (Quoted in Ayling, ed., Mod. Judgements, 1969, p.50; Kiberd 220.)

Seamus Shields: ‘I believe in the freedom of Ireland and that England has no right to be here, but I draw the line when I hear the gunmen blowin’ about dyn’ for the people, when it’s the people that are dyin’ for the gunmen! With all due respects for the gunmen, I don’t want them to die for me!’ ... ‘It’s the civilians that suffer, when here’s an ambush, they don’t know where to run. Shot in the back to save the British Empire, and shot in the breast to save the soul of Ireland.’ (Shadow)

Kiberd: A vital question remained: was this diagnosis that of a cynical nihilist or did O’Casey offer it from some alternative point of vantage? [222]

Mrs Boyle (Shadow): ‘When the employers sacrifice wan victim, the Trade Unions go wan betther be sacrificin’ a hundred.’ ‘Ah, what can God do agen the stupidity of men?’ ‘You lost your best principle when you lost your arm: them’s the only sort o’ principles that’s any good to a workin’ man.’

Kiberd: [T]he play (Shadow of a Gunman) ... amounts to little more than an attack on all -isms and a celebration of those wives who picked up the pieces left in idealism’s wake./O’Casey’s code scarcely moved beyond a sentimentalisation of victims, and this in turn led him to a profound distrust of anyone who makes an idea the basis for an action. ... As a dramatist (if not as a prose-writer) O’Casey proves no more capable than any of his characters of developing or analysing an idea.’ ... he told people that they had the power to shape their own lives, to be the subjects as well as the objects of history: but he aborted the dialectic at that point in a play which resolutely mocks anyone who takes an idea seriously. [223]

Kiberd postulates that O’Casey faced the same challenge as Yeats, ‘how to represent on-stage a revolution in all its nobility, its baseness, and its unprecedented turbulence.’ [223]

Nic Shubhlaigh called Pearse - without defection or animus - ‘a bit of a poseur’ [Splendid Years, p.145]

Pearse insisted on handing a sword to the officer to whom he surrendered.

The Cuchulain cult seemed less a spur to battle than a confession of impotence [224]

Mrs Tancred: ‘Sacred Heart of the Crucified Jesus, take away our hearts o’ stone an’ give us hearts o’ flesh!’

Kiberd calls Juno ‘a retrospective attempt to justify his absence from the Rising and to question the motives of those who fought.

Covey: ‘When I think of all th’ problems o’ the workers, it makes me sick to be lookin’ at oul’ codgers goin’ about dhressed up like green accoutred figures gone ashtray out of a toy shop!’

O’Casey faced with the same problem [how to render a turbulence that has eluded previous framing devices] refused to attempt a solution at all. This is scarcely the radical ploy it has sometimes been made to seem. Rather than admit the powerful disruption of both Christian and Celtic codes by their subversive combination in the rhetoric of Pearse, O’Casey opted for the much safer, traditional repetition of Christian moralism: his Bessie Burgess, the loyalist alcoholic, is centralised. While the rebels are portrayed as prating of blood-sacrifice, she is extolled as the one personality on-stage who actually honours that code. The gunmen are depicted by O’Casey, and by later revisionist historians, as Catholic bigots rather than as men who my rising risked damnation by official Catholicism. The Pearse on O’Casey’s stage does not die ... [227]

Kiberd concurs with, or follows, Deane’s view that in O’Casey’s plays all the gunmen are shadows. (see Celtic Revivals, p.109; Kiberd 228]

Pearse: No private right to property is good against the public right of the nation. But the nation is under a moral obligation so to exercise its public right as to secure strictly equal rights and liberties to every man and woman within the nation.’ (Pol. Writings, 1924, 376.)

An urge to self justification mars the artistic balance of O’Casey’s play, an urge probably had roots in his survivor-guilt of a former Citizen Army man. .. a natural aggression that remained unpurged was finally vented on the rebels in his text. [228] ... portrayed the rebels using dum-dum bullets [229]

Kiberd offers an analysis of the imagination of the rising according to which the poets and revolutionaries had to use conventional and sentimental forms - the symbols of Christianity and the literary revival - in order to foreshadow the ‘new thing’ that they envisaged. In the light of this ‘existentialist’ appraisal of the period, he frames an indictment of O’Casey that concentrates upon his failure to see the necessity for such rhetorical strategies:

Kiberd: ‘When Cuchulain is used to underwrite the welfare state, or Christ to validation the process of decolonisation, then the donning of historical garb may not be quite as conservative as O’Casey thought’ [...] He is unable ... to allow for any complexity of motive. There can be no suggestion that the Rising might have been Clitheroe’s way of seeking to advance the fortunes of his family and install a government that would dismantle the tenements in an independent Ireland. O’Casey, instead, has him return to the Citizen Army because he is bored with his recently married wife and anxious for the social acclaim [of] captain’ [230]

Kiberd argues the Connolly was right in seeing nationalism as a necessary preface to socialism in Ireland (along with Marx and Engels), and regards the delay of socialism as a consequence of the continuance of the national agenda under conditions of all-Ireland partition: ‘social revolution was prevented by a fixation upon the politics of partition.’ [see p.23]

Bibl. Declan Kiberd, ‘Inventing Irelands’, Crane Bag, 8.1, 1984, pp.11-25

Pearse’s sanguinary rhetoric is divorced from its context in order to heighten its ferocity, but it was all too typical of its time [230]

Sheehy Skeffington’s open letter to MacDonagh asserted that the proposed war against England could be nothing but ‘organised militarism’ (Irish Citizen, May 1915; printed in Edwards and Pyle, The Easter Rising, p.150.

‘... failure of political imagination leads to dramatic weakness as well’ [232] [his slum] populated by urban leprechauns and sloganeering caricatures, forever jabbering in a sub-language of their own which owes more to the texts of Synge than to the idiom of the Dublin tenements ... the loveable peasant has thereby been introjected into the native Irish psyche to reappear as a 20th c. slum-dweller’ [232]

C. S. Andrews cited in evidence that the populace who went to see O’Casey’s plays were the new elite, not the poor (Man of No Property, 53-55)

[...] handling of the dramatic form: the author so incurious, so derivative in this that one can only wonder if he ever suspected that his art might be complicit with the counter-revolution. // In the Plough and the Stars, the tradition of the strong woman and hesitant male which lent so much excitement to the plays of Wilde, Synge, Shaw, and Yeats, is degraded to the level of a dead formula. [233]

O’Casey gave the appearance of challenging a triumphalist nationalism in his audience: but the truth is that he outraged only the radical republicans in it. Covertly his plays exercised a powerful appeal over the new elite ... [233] Somewhere along the line, the young O’Casey’s project had inverted itself: he who had glimpsed the future at a moment when it could be fully realised in history seemed to fall back, exhausted, upon the available forms. [234]

Kiberd finds it excessive to call O’Casey a satirist ‘for satire presupposes some norm by whose criteria other ways of living are found wanting’, whereas O’Casey ‘uses socialism to denounce nationalism, and then finds socialism inadequate anyway.’

for him all -isms are wasms [235] the strangest modern phenomena: an autodidact who becomes fiercely anti-intellectual [235]

T. R. Henn, The Harvest of Tragedy, 1956, considers that the P&S offers a defence mechanism against the rawness of recent memories of the Troubles (p.212; Kiberd 233]

Lady Gregory gives an account of the Plough and the Stars riot in Journals, ed., Lennox Robinson, 1946, p.47.

a young doctor told Synge that he could hardly resist, during the Playboy riot, standing on a chair pointing out those protesters whom he had treated for venereal disease. [n. ftn.; Kiberd 237]

Bessie (dying): ‘I got this through you ... you bitch’

... to little recognition that O’Casey say himself as writing out of the tragedy of an entire social class; [237]

The Great War and Irish Memory
The trouble is that O’Casey himself became a party to that acquiescence, in his political denial of all hopefulnes and in his artistic acceptance of outmoded forms. [238]

AE, poem, ‘The Memory of Some I Knew who are Dead and who Loved Ireland’, Irish Times, Dec. 1917: ‘I listened to high from you,/Thomas MacDonagh, and it seemed,/The words were idle, but they grew/To nobleness by death redeemed’; also, ‘Equal the sacrifice may weigh/Dear Kettle of the generous heart’. (Printed in Edwards and Pyle, Easter Rising, p.220. [COPIED TO KETTLE and Russell]

‘Was Shakespeare at Actium or Philippi? Was G. B. Shaw present when St. Joan made the attack that relieve Orléans? And someone, I think, wrote a poem about Tír na nÓg, who never took a header into the Land of Youth.’ ‘Now, is a dominating character more important than a play, or a play more important than a dominating character? In the Silver Tassie you have a unique work that dominates all the characters of the play.’ (See ‘The Silver Tassie; Letters’, in Sean O’Casey: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Thomas Kilroy, New Jersey 1975, pp.113-17. [COPIED TO SOC RX]

Shaw helped O’Casey mount a production of ST in London.

Kiberd: ST maintains ‘a near miraculous balance between the real and the symbolic [241]

in creating a sporting hero, O’Casey deliberately establishes an ideal of physical excellence which will be shattered in the war; and he mocks my implication the links between sport and empire ... [242] Harry Heegan has to cure himself of his own bitterness, because the others have learned nothing from the war [244]

Kiberd airs the suspicion that Yeats might have banned Silver Tassie from the Abbey ‘because of subconscious resentment that O’Casey had invaded his staked-out territory and made it his own too.’ [245]

[...] search for a sort of protestant self-election explains the visionary quality of Purple Dust and Red Roses for Me, in which he develops a fully-fledged Christian socialism of a kind lacking in the Dublin trilogy. In Red Roses for Me he finally summons up the courage to imagine Dublin not as the city is but as he would want it to be: the inference is that man will only transform the world through socialism after he has been first transformed by religious belief. Neither religion nor socialism alone was enough for O’Casey ... Only a vision encompassing both could satisfy him in the end, and that vision was achieved for the first time in his portrayal of the battle-fields of Europe in the Silver Tassie.//That achievement is of a rare order in modern European writing, and almost unexampled in the dramatic form. it may have seemed churlish to criticise him for evasions, when he also confronted so much that other artists passed swiftly by.’ [245]

Sexual Politics

[ back ]
[ top ]