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Last week I spent a couple of days in Clare – visited Scarriff, Killaloe, Ennis and Shannon. This time of year always reminds me of the work being done in the libraries in Ireland – and always reinvigorates my hope that we do not go the way of Britain where public libraries are being closed. Hundreds closed so far I think. In the North as far as I know, one has already been closed and ten are under threat (See http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/closures-map/).
What always strikes me in the libraries is the variety of things that happen under their roofs! Storytelling, PC training, book clubs meeting, Leaving Cert and Junior Cert studying, Summer reading challenges, drama workshops, film clubs, creative writing workshops and more!
I took a look at some of the summer activities for children in the Clare libraries, outside of the reading challenge, and they included a Sculpture Trail, a visit to the Ennis Old Friary, Story Time, crafts, jewellery making and visit to the museum. And all free. All a public service. So … long live the libraries of Ireland and their energetic librarians !
The classes I met, from national schools and secondary schools, were great. In Ennis I had fifty girls from the secondary schools and we did some work together on the issue of child marriage. In a very short space of time they produced some beautiful poems written in the voice of a young girl who had been told she was to be married. Really excellent and empathetic writing, I am hoping they will send me copies so I can put them up on the site.
Off to Wexford and Carlow this week, then Cork next week!
Glossing the new book releases and early reviews, and finding a novel that gathers up far-flung place settings of nostalgic relevance to me, loaded with topics of special interest, and all in one tidy package, seemed like an invitation to further self-discovery. No Country, by Kalyan Ray, jumped out as promising. The novel is a family generational saga spanning about 150 years, beginning with the mid-nineteenth century famine years in colonial Ireland, and moving to India in the years of the British Raj, before independence from England, and finally to North America--Canada and the United States.
Over that great a span of time, there are more than a few generations to deal with. Throw in a complicating roster of intermarriage and trying to track family lines, and the average reader may feel challenged to fully appreciate the sweeping themes of a family's struggles, reversals, and successes, always at risk of being truncated into obscurity with the potential failure of any one generation. The book is only moderately long; nonetheless, Ray moves his characters through a number of epochal historic events: the famine that destroyed perhaps a quarter of the Irish population; the pestilent voyages of coffin ships that finished off a similar number fleeing the famine to North America; the years of pre-independence revolution and terror in India faced by an Irishman who fled there, and later by his Anglo-Indian descendants; and ultimately, their immigration to the New World and the tough decades following, with the inner tempering and annealing of spirit demanded for life in a new, industrial age unfolding there.
I enjoyed getting Ray's slant on some of the topics I felt somewhat familiar with, like the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mor. My Irish grandparents were born shortly after the worst of those years. and left when they reached their twenties. One can be disheartened reading about the callousness and politics that exacerbated The Great Hunger. And be no less shocked by the callousness and politics practiced by the authorities in attempting to smother the gathering storm of Indian rebellion against colonial rule by Britain. Ray uses the deliberate massacre of an unarmed civilian population at Jallianwala bagh to stunning effect. One has to remember we also had our own My Lai during the Vietnam war, lest we think modern humanity has relegated all such events to the past.
One of the topics I had been interested in was Ray's take on the life of Anglo-Indian residents living in India, which was his own life growing up there. I had worked in Pakistan (once northern India) as an engineer on a dam and had come in contact with a number of workers from the nearby mountains who stood out from their compatriots as fair-skinned, light-haired, Anglo types. I often thought of the large number of soldiers in the British Raj Army who had been recruited from Ireland. On holiday trips through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan I sometimes stopped to inspect the British Raj regimental crests chiseled into the sandstone along the Pass. Some of these seemed old enough to have been the crests of units that had participated in the British-Afghan Wars of the nineteenth century. Whole Raj armies had been swallowed up in Afghanistan, and I wondered how many of the present day Anglo-Indian, or perhaps more precisely, Hiberno-Indian, were descendants of those soldiers who fell there.
A reader can be repulsed reading of the oppressive use of police and intelligence services, paid or coerced informers, and repressive laws, in the dying period of the Raj, and in pre-independence Ireland, designed to contain perceived threats of public dissent to political and economic interests. That is perhaps not much different than what is practiced in many places today.
I think one difficulty with the structure of No Country is a blurring sweep of characters as the story moves through the generations. There's not much space to become acquainted with each character. The main progenitor, Padraig, both biological and adoptive to the cascading line of descendants, is aptly revealed in the beginning as a young man in Ireland, as well as is his best friend, Brendan. When Padraig is compelled to flee to India, the situation of Brendan and Padraig's daughter, Maeve, becomes desperate in the famine, and when there is no news of Padraig for over a year, they board one of the coffin ships for North America. We get to know young Maeve fairly well on the voyage, and it's an endearing characterization. After a harrowing ordeal they reach Canada, and that's about the last of expansive characterizations for any of the successive generations.
Another concern from a writer's viewpoint might be the introduction of startling coincidental material into an already ambitious plot. One of the young woman protagonists travels to New York to seek the young man she had known in Canada, and becomes employed in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory there, the locale of a historic fire tragedy. It was a dramatic episode in the telling, but it seems not entirely organic to the story thread. Another coincidental element was a chance crossing of paths with a psychopathic character when a Padraig-descendant's family purchases their home from the psychopath's family, which led to diabolical consequences.
All in all, No Country is an engrossing read and is well recommended.
This is the centenary year of the enactment of the third Home Rule Bill, as well (of course) as the year of the Scottish referendum on independence. Yet the centenary conversation in Ireland and the somewhat more vigorous debate upon Scots independence, have been conducted — for the most part — quite separately.
While it would be wrong to push the analogies too far, there are some striking similarities – and some differences – between the debate on Home Rule in 1912-14, and the current debate upon Scottish independence. These similarities (and indeed distinctions) might well give food for thought to the protagonists within the Scottish ‘Yes’ and ‘Better Together’ camps — and indeed there is evidence that both Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond have ruminated accordingly.
One critical difference between Ireland in 1914 and Scotland in 2014 is that of militancy — Ireland on the eve of the First World War being an armed camp comprising the Ulster and Irish Volunteer movements, opponents and proponents of Home Rule, as well as the British Army. The Scottish political debate has not been militarised, and there is no evidence that it will become so (the Scottish National Liberation Army, for example, has never posed a significant threat). Modern Scottish nationalism has developed as a wholly constitutional and pacific phenomenon.
Of course mainstream Scottish nationalism has only recently, through successive Holyrood elections, emerged as a majority phenomenon. But it has never had to encounter the challenge (faced by Irish nationalism a century ago) of returning a majority of elected representatives, while being lengthily resisted in London.
One aspect of the Irish experience in 1914 was that a fraught constitutional debate, heightened political expectations, and the delaying or disappointment of those expectations (with Unionist resistance and the onset of War), combined to make a highly volatile political chemistry. The hardening expectations of change across Scotland in 2014 mean that national (as well as social and economic) aspirations may need to be quickly and sensitively addressed, whatever the result of the referendum.
One critical dimension of this militancy in 1914 was the trenchant support given to Ulster Unionist paramilitarism by the British Conservative leadership — this in part a symptom of the profound divisions in British and Irish politics and society precipitated by the debate over Home Rule. It is striking that both the Home Rule issue in 1914 and the referendum in 2014 have each attracted an unusually broad range of declarations of allegiance from a complex array of interest groups and individuals. In 1914 there was a high level of ‘celebrity’ endorsement and intervention over Home Rule: taking literary figures alone, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came out as a Home Ruler, while Rudyard Kipling was a strong Unionist. In 2014 Irvine Welsh has declared in favour of independence, while J.K. Rowling is against. Ian Rankin provides a case-study in the complexity (and profundity) of division: he is an agnostic on the issue, but is clear that his characters would have strong opinions. So, Inspector Rebus joins the unionists of 2014 (though the actor Ken Stott, most recent of the TV Rebuses, is reportedly in the ‘yes’ camp).
The analogies between Home Rule and the debate on Scottish independence extend much further than the ‘A’ list, however. The substantial strength and challenge of Home Rule sentiment produced striking intellectual movement before and in 1914 — just as the strength of the movement for Scots independence has produced similar movement a century later.
In 1912-14 the constitutional impasse over Home Rule in fact helped to stimulate support for (what was then called) ‘federalism’ among some of the Unionist elite, including even Edward Carson. In terms of the (nearly) equally weighted forces fighting over Scottish independence, Gordon Brown has now moved to embrace the idea of a federal United Kingdom; and he has been joined or preceded by others, including (for example) the Scottish Conservative journalist, David Torrance. Discussion of a possible English parliament was broached prominently in 1911-1914 and again in 2014. Both in 1914 and in 2014 it appears that the constitutional shape of the ever-malleable United Kingdom is once again in transition — but because unionists are now shifting no less then nationalists.
And indeed some Scots Nationalists have moved towards embracing at least some of the symbols of the British connection. John Redmond, the Home Rule leader, emphasised monarchy and empire in his vision of Irish autonomy during the Home Rule era, partly through personal conviction, and partly in terms of subverting unionist arguments. In similar vein, Alex Salmond (despite a strong tradition of republican sentiment within the SNP), has embraced the ‘union of the crowns’ as SNP strategy, and has in recent years referred deferentially to the Queen (‘of Scots’), and her central place in an independent nation.
Here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s century-old debate on Home Rule speaks to the current condition of Scotland. Indeed here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s wider experience of Union chimes with that of the Scots.
Everyone knows about Saint Patrick — the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland, defeated fierce Druids in contests of magic, and used the shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity to the pagan Irish. It’s a great story, but none of it is true. The shamrock legend came along centuries after Patrick’s death, as did the miraculous battles against the Druids. Forget about the snakes — Ireland never had any to begin with. No snakes, no shamrocks, and he wasn’t even Irish.
The real story of St. Patrick is much more interesting than the myths. What we know of Patrick’s life comes only through the chance survival of two remarkable letters which he wrote in Latin in his old age. In them, Patrick tells the story of his tumultuous life and allows us to look intimately inside the mind and soul of a man who lived over fifteen hundred years ago. We may know more biographical details about Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, but nothing else from ancient times opens the door into the heart of a man more than Patrick’s letters. They tell the story of an amazing life of pain and suffering, self-doubt and struggle, but ultimately of faith and hope in a world which was falling apart around him.
The historical Patrick was not Irish at all, but a spoiled and rebellious young Roman citizen living a life of luxury in fifth-century Britain when he was suddenly kidnapped from his family’s estate as a teenager and sold into slavery across the sea in Ireland. For six years he endured brutal conditions as he watched over his master’s sheep on a lonely mountain in a strange land. He went to Ireland an atheist, but there heard what he believed was the voice of God. One day he escaped and risked his life to make a perilous journey across Ireland, finding passage back to Britain on a ship of reluctant pirates. His family welcomed back their long-lost son and assumed he would take up his life of privilege, but Patrick heard a different call. He returned to Ireland to bring a new way of life to a people who had once enslaved him. He constantly faced opposition, threats of violence, kidnapping, and even criticism from jealous church officials, while his Irish followers faced abuse, murder, and enslavement themselves by mercenary raiders. But through all the difficulties Patrick maintained his faith and persevered in his Irish mission.
The Ireland that Patrick lived and worked in was utterly unlike the Roman province of Britain in which he was born and raised. Dozens of petty Irish kings ruled the countryside with the help of head-hunting warriors while Druids guided their followers in a religion filled with countless gods and perhaps an occasional human sacrifice. Irish women were nothing like those Patrick knew at home. Early Ireland was not a world of perfect equality by any means, but an Irish wife could at least control her own property and divorce her husband for any number of reasons, including if he became too fat for sexual intercourse. But Irish women who were slaves faced a cruel life. Again and again in his letters, Patrick writes of his concern for the many enslaved women of Ireland who faced beatings and abuse on a daily basis.
Patrick wasn’t the first Christian to reach Ireland; he wasn’t even the first bishop. What made Patrick successful was his dogged determination and the courage to face whatever dangers lay ahead, as well as the compassion and forgiveness to work among a people who had brought nothing but pain to his life. None of this came naturally to him, however. He was a man of great insecurities who constantly wondered if he was really cut out for the task he had been given. He had missed years of education while he was enslaved in Ireland and carried a tremendous chip on his shoulder when anyone sneered, as they frequently did, at his simple, schoolboy Latin. He was also given to fits of depression, self-pity, and violent anger. Patrick was not a storybook saint, meek and mild, who wandered Ireland with a beatific smile and a life free from petty faults. He was very much a human being who constantly made mistakes and frequently failed to live up to his own Christian ideals, but he was honest enough to recognize his shortcomings and never allow defeat to rule his life.
You don’t have to be Irish to admire Patrick. His is a story of inspiration for anyone struggling through hard times public or private in a world with unknown terrors lurking around the corner. So raise a glass to the patron saint of Ireland, but remember the man behind the myth.
Headline image credit: Oxalis acetosella. Photo by Erik Fitzpatrick. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Here is one of my favorites from P is for Pirate, the notorious Grace O’Malley—Irish queen & pirate captain. She was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I and reportedly had an interview with Gloriana (who, after all, had a soft spot for buccaneers).
Queen Grace has been the subject of songs, at least one play and even a musical. So far as I know the swashbuckling Maureen O’Hara never played her in a movie, but what perfect casting that would have been!
I show Queen Grace in an Errol Flynn pose with her ruffians behind her. In the sketch I thoughtlessly drew a baroque-looking ship like we’re used to seeing from piracy’s golden age. In the final painting I used the Mayflower—much closer in style to a ship from Queen Grace’s time—as reference. Same deal with the costumes: they’re Elizabethan. I first drew her in men’s clothes but thought she looks much cuter in a dress.
I almost missed reading this book. Published in 2009 it has only just been releases here. I was reluctant to pick it up because “debut thriller of the year” gets thrown around a far bit and I am very skeptical. However in the case of THE TWELVE it is not marketing or publicity that has come up with the statement because it is more than true. This is not just one of the best thriller debuts of the last ten years; it is one of the best thrillers of the last ten years full stop.
THE TWELVE blends together seamlessly some of my favourite elements of crime fiction. It is political (without choosing sides), it is violent, it has heart and it is wickedly funny in places. It also reminds me of some of my favourite authors while being completely original. While reading the book Adrian McKinty, Ken Bruen and the DEXTER series all came to mind as well as the film THE DEPARTED and the TV series RESCUE ME.
The main character of the book is Gerry Fegan, an ex-IRA hit man who has just done a 9 and a half year stretch in Maze prison. Prison has changed him but not like you would think. Gerry is haunted by the crimes he has committed, literally. He is followed by twelve ghosts of people he has killed. He can see, hear and feel the ghosts all the time and they will not let him sleep. Even whiskey doesn’t help and Gerry is seen as a crazy drunk who talk to himself all day.
Gerry tries confessing to one of his victim’s relatives in an effort to free himself from these unwanted spirits but that only get him into trouble with his old bosses. But that’s when he finds out what his ghost want him to do, they want revenge. As Gerry counts down his ghosts, his actions threaten to tear apart Northern Ireland’s new found peace. This means he must be stopped, making this one hell of an explosive thriller.
OK so I thought THE TWELVE was freakin’ awesome but COLLUSION takes it up another notch. The now ghost-less (but still haunted) Gerry Fegan has escaped Northern Ireland to New York but his trail of destruction and its consequences still reverberates around Belfast. Interestingly Gerry takes a backseat in this book. We’re introduced to Detective Inspector Jack Lennon (who happens to be the briefly mentioned ex-girlfriend of one of THE TWELVE’s main characters) and we meet an even more twisted hitman known as The Traveller.
I love when a series follows a non- linear path and at first you think COLLUSION is a Jack Lennon novel. But one of Lennon’s cases has links to what happened in THE TWELVE and when he learns his ex-girlfriend and estranged daughter were somehow involved he is determined to find out what happened. When those that survived THE TWELVE start turning up dead Lennon is put on a collision course with The Traveller who has been cleaning up loose ends.
The action is again incredible and the twists are devilish. With a title like COLLUSION you have no idea which side anyone is really on. All the elements that made THE TWELVE great are still here and I am still trying to catch my breath after the ending. Seriously if you love action/thrillers you HAVE to read Stuart Neville.
Stuart Neville is fast becoming one of my favourite crime writers. THE TWELVE blew me away and COLLUSION was an excellent follow-up and now he continues the brilliance with STOLEN SOULS.
Jack Lennon again features and he is trying to balance the pieces if his life that are left in the aftermath of the last book. But the central character is Galya, an illegal immigrant from The Ukraine who has been deceived into coming to Ireland for work but the job she has been ‘sold’ into is not what she signed up for.
STOLEN SOULS is in essence a chase novel. The book opens with Galya having just killed a ‘client’. Unfortunately the ‘client’ is the brother of a very important and ruthless man. She must now out run his revenge but ends up jumping out of the fry pan into a very vicious fire.
Meanwhile Jack is left to clean up the trail of destruction and try and figure out what is going on. Neville again mixes up unpredictable action with both flawed and despicable characters. Get on the Stuart Neville bandwagon now because this guy is going to be huge.
Summer morning dawns softly with a low salty fog. A quietly rolling sea feels the misty clouds floating above its spirited waves.
Kilmore Quay, a small fishing village tucked away on the southeast corner of Ireland begins another day of sea life. Early risen fishermen move slowly down the pier, their mumbled words mixing melancholy in the morning air. They climb on board the sturdy trawler. Its decks still wet with drops of Irish dew.
Exhaust stacks billow thick clouds of unburnt fuel as Deidre’s big diesels cough to life and the day begins. Nets are readied on deck with orange buoys lined up like runners preparing for a race. The radios crackles into the still air and words break free, understood only by a chosen few native speakers. Yes, the southeast of Ireland still has some Irish left. The language of old, used to hinder competitive fishermen from France or Britain in their search for herring in European waters.
One by one the salty steeds glide slowly past the end of the breakwater out into the open sea. Looking southeast, the Great Saltee Island rears its rocky shape and below it the Little Saltee, with its tribes of puffins and avian divers preparing for another day of fishing.
Skipper Blake’s Deidre, steers northeast with diesels pounding in her belly. There are miles to go before the huge net will be dropped into the deep. A gas stove swinging in its gimbals springs to life as rashers hit a hot pan and eggs crack and sizzle, sending wafts of bacon scent throughout the boat. The crew settles down for an early meal together, as voices discuss the day stretching on before them.
Morning sun has burned away the fog as great sea birds wheel and squeal above the slowly moving swells. It is time to set the net. Blake charts the course, checks the depth and gives the order, “Let her go.”
Giant mounds of orange mesh roll like waves over the rounded transom and are sucked below the waves. Orange buoys line up on left and right. Well-worn otter boards fall out and take the strain. The creaking steel cables tighten and the net is set. Nothing to do now, but wait.
The twin diesels take the load and plough ahead. Deidre points northward up the Irish Sea, her well-worn props push towards fish and bigger seas. The waiting crew stands ready to man the winches and prepare the icy hold below. Some gaze north in anticipation of weather and wealth, while others go below to finish up some goey eggs with a piece of toasted soda bread.
Blake watches the sonar as he guides his big Norwegian vessel towards a blue cloud on his blurry screen. Twisted cables groan; black smoke pours out of the two blue stacks. The herring have hit. The orange net strains, capturing a shivering school and makes Deidre’s diesels earn their keep. Seagulls swarm aloft in the salty air crying for the haul to come aboard. The radio crackles. Other skippers have seen the bird-cloud. The chase begins. Keep the Frenchmen and the British out.
Deidre’s crew grabs the winch controls and the cables begin to turn. Otter boards are stowed, and the orange net crawls back over the stern. Orange buoys now form a circle on the heaving sea, as churning fish cut the surface with their sharp fins. Knotted net is hoisted high, dripping with silver wriggling shapes and black shiny eyes. The release is pulled and herring pour onto the deck to slither below into their icy tomb. The catch is huge. Skipper Blake shouts to his crew, “Let’s do it again lads!” Salty green water splashes on the scaly deck as the hustling crew sets the net back into the deep. The scope on the bridge reveals more clouds of herring and Deidre’s net hits the mother lode again. Her winches pull another load of wriggling life towards the surface and the waiting crew.
The late evening swells push Deidre, now laden with her load, southward past Tuskar Rock. Its lighthouse white and sentry-like, flashing twice to warn of rocky reefs below. The setting sun sinks over the great back of Ireland and lights snap on below deck. Blake steers his prize homeward, with tired crew and holds bursting with the silver haul.
White and red markers appear to starboard. The heading is set. Deidre makes her run over ancient reefs, past kelp weeds swinging languidly in the evening tide. The muffled sound of her diesels echoes between the walls as she rounds the tightly stacked stones to tie up at the waiting bollards. Blake snugs her next to the wall as guiding hands make fast the mooring lines.
Hercrew pumps the herring from her hold through a large tube, sending it down the pier to the holding tanks at the fish plant. The great hoard disappears as thehold is emptied and washed out ready for the next occupants.
In the dying light tired legs walk slowly down the pier and toward the lights of Sutton’s pub. Another Deidre’s day at sea makes for stories at the bar where salty hands wrap their day around some well-earned pints.
Finally there is a new Pope who seems to want to take responsibility for the clerical abuses over the last few years. This is a huge step toward healing the horrific wounds inflicted by some members of the clergy on the innocents . He totally gets my vote.
The unqualified achievement of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League (UNIA-ACL) led by Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940), the first National Hero of Jamaica, owed its success to many sources.
One of Garvey’s main influences was Booker T. Washington, whose vision of self-help through education and economics was the main impetus behind the movement. However, Garvey’s organizational strategies for the liberation of people of African descent closely modeled the slogans and methods employed by Irish nationalists such as Padraig Pearse, Robert Emmet, Roger Casement, and Eamon de Valera.
Even the choice in naming of the UNIA-ACL headquarters, Liberty Hall, was a nod to “Liberty Hall, Dublin, the symbolic seat of the Irish revolution.” In The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, he repeated his conviction and alliance with the Irish cause: “Marcus Garvey has no fear about going to jail. Like MacSwiney or like Carson, like Roger Casement, like those who have led the fight for Irish freedom, so Marcus Garvey shall lead the fight for African freedom” (183).
As early as 1910, Garvey was assistant secretary of the National Club of Jamaica, a group whose activities marked the first attempt by Jamaicans to create a nationalist political platform. The club's founder, S. A. & G. Cox, absorbed the influence of the Sinn Fein movement while he was enrolled as a student, beginning in 1905, at the Middle Temple in England…The Jamaican historian Richard Hart has pointed out that "for [the National Club's] newspaper Cox chose the name Our Own, a rough translation of the Irish nationalists' Sinn Fein."
Indeed, Garvey’s most audacious plan, the Black Star Line, which led to his imprisonment on trumped up charges brought by J. Edgar Hoover and the US Justice Department, was another symbolic nod to the Irish struggle:
RUPERT LEWIS:The idea comes to Garvey that black people need a shipping line, and he bases his idea on the fact that the Cunard family has the White Star Line and the Irish have the Green Star Line, and he says, "Why shouldn't blacks have the Black Star Line?" So it is a vision of grandeur.
Perhaps the greatest influence on Garvey’s strategies was the courage of the Irish heroes. As Robert Hill points out:
In July 1919, Garvey announced that "the time [had] come for the Negro race to offer up its martyrs upon the altar of liberty even as the Irish [had] given a long list from Robert Emmet to Roger Casement.
Yet it wasn’t only the courage of the Irish that moved Garvey. During the International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World at Madison Square Garden, August 1-31, 1920, Marcus Garvey gave a speech to thousands of UNIA delegates from twenty-five countries and accepted the title of “Provisional President of Africa.” This was not an accident. During the Easter Rising of 1916, Padraig Pearse had been named “President of the Provisional Government” before his martyrdom on May 3, 1916.
However, Garvey’s closest personal relationship with Irish nationalism was with the Hon. Eamon de Valera. In fact, they had even arranged for a speaking engagement to share the platform:
Come and See the Irish President Among the Speakers will be His Excellency Hon. MARCUS GARVEY Provisional President of Africa His Excellency Hon. EAMON De VALERA Provisional President of Ireland
The example of de Valera's clandestine travel between America and Ireland also became an object of emulation for Garvey. In his speech at Liberty Hall on the evening of 6 January 1921, he alluded to his impending departure for the Caribbean and Central America: "Two weeks from this I shall suddenly disappear from you for six or seven weeks," he told his audience. "You won't hear from me during that time, but don't be alarmed because we Negroes will have to adopt the system of underground workings like De Valera.
Marcus Garvey’s meteoric rise to fame and influence was due to his knowledge of the struggle for Irish freedom. From the outset of his career, Garvey recognized the kinship of the Irish and Pan-African struggle for freedom from the British Empire. Garvey’s awareness of the slogans and methods of Irish nationalists as well as his connection, personal and symbolic, with Irish revolutionaries, shaped the direction of the UNIA-ACL and provided a framework for the struggle of Africans at home and abroad. As Garvey said in his famous Chicago speech in 1919, “Robert Emmet gave his life for Irish independence . . . and the new negro is ready to give his life for the freedom of the negro race."
It is no wonder that the historian, William Ferris, would give this final summation of Garvey’s career: “the same courage which St. Patrick showed in delving the pagan gods of Ireland Marcus Garvey shows in defying Anglo-Saxon caste prejudice." Marcus Garvey's life was a testament to the kinship of Irish and Pan-African freedom fighters in the liberation of their people.
First Published: 3/17/13 6:35 AM, Eastern Daylight Time
The Coalition for the Exoneration of Marcus Garvey is petitioning President Barack Obama to exonerate Marcus Garvey:
Set in England aground the 1840s, The Night Gardener features an Irish gal with the gift of blarney, her10-year-old brother with a lame leg and stout heart, a mysterious storyteller, and a strange family inhabiting a creepy mansion on an island in the middle of the sourwoods.
Separated from their parents and forced to flee Ireland due to famine, Molly & Kip have no choice but to accept employment with the Windsor Family, the only inhabitants of the only home in the sourwoods,
At the far end of the lawn stood Windsor mansion. The house had obviously been left vacant for some years, and in that time it seemed to have become one with the landscape. Weeds swallowed the base. Ivy choked the walls and windows. The roof was sagging and covered in black moss. But strangest of all was the tree. The tree was enormous and looked very, very old. Most trees cast an air of quiet dignity over their surrounding. This one did not. Most trees invite you to climb up into their canopy. This one did not. Most trees make you want to carve your initials into the trunk. This one did not. To stand in the shadow of this tree would send a chill through your whole body.
Even Molly's indomitable spirit and knack for storytelling cannot shield Kip and the young Windsor children from the horrors that lurk within the shadow of the giant tree.
Historical fiction and horror intertwine in this absolutely gripping story. With similarities to Claire LeGrand's The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, The Night Gardener is the stuff of nightmares.
Coming to a bookshelf near you in May, 2014!
Notes: My Advance Reader Copy was thrust upon me by none other than the wonderfully funny, Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame), who insisted that I read it. Thanks, Tom! Also by Jonathan Auxier, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, which I reviewed in 2011. The book's cover was drawn by Patrick Arrasmith and designed by the talented Chad Beckerman, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a while back.
After many years of extraordinary success the dramatic collapse of the Irish economy in 2008 was unprecedented in the history of post-war industrial countries. Who and what was responsible for the demise of the poster boy “Celtic Tiger?” What lessons can be learned form the Irish debacle and can the Tiger come roaring back?
(1) Until around five years ago, the Irish economy was the envy of the world.
During the nineties, the rise of the Celtic Tiger was one of the most remarkable post-war industrial country phenomena. A relatively poor country on the periphery succeeded in transforming itself into one of the richest countries in Europe. The key was the massive inflow of foreign direct investment, as US and other multinationals sought to take advantage of Ireland’s location and young, well-educated labour force – the only English-speaking country in the common currency euro area. To be sure, sound financial and macroeconomic policies also helped inspire confidence. Ireland experienced annual growth rates of almost 10% at times, living standards soared, and emigration — the hallmark of the Irish – turned into net immigration. Foreigners, especially from Eastern Europe, flocked to take advantage of the booming economy.
Awaiting an upturn in the Irish economy. This section of City Quay between Moss Street and Prince’s Street, surrounded by steel and glass buildings of the Celtic Tiger Era, has been saved from demolition by the severe downturn in the Irish economy. Photo by Eric Jones of geograph.co.uk. Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.
(2) Things then started to go horribly wrong, although it was not recognized at the time.
Starting around 2002, the technology based export led growth began to turn into a property bubble. Fuelled by special tax incentives and unlimited funding at low euro area interest rates, the Irish banks went on a splurge of reckless lending to property purchasers and developers. Government budget expenditures soared, financed by revenues from the artificially booming property sector. House and land prices soared to levels among the highest in the world and the population engaged in a frenzy of borrowing to acquire property before it was too late…
(3) The economy started to collapse around 2008.
In 2008, following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in the United States, the property bubble burst in a spectacular fashion. Almost overnight, prices began to plummet, eventually losing between 60-80% of their value. All the Irish banks became hopelessly insolvent, the budget deficit soared to almost unimaginable heights as the earlier surge in expenditures could not be reversed, and unemployment tripled. The fall in output was probably the largest ever experienced by an industrial country since the Second World War. Ireland quickly found itself unable to borrow on international markets and in November 2010, had to follow Greece and seek ignominious recourse to an emergency bail out from the IMF and the EU.
(4) Much progress has since been made but there is still a tough road ahead.
Under the strict insistence of the IMF/EU, much — albeit painful — progress has been achieved in righting the financial ship of state in the last four years. The enormous budget deficit has been slowly but steadily reduced, and the massive financial problems of the banks have been addressed. But Ireland’s debt has unavoidably continued to soar, and while the economic decline appears to have bottomed out, unemployment remains stubbornly high at around 14% and large scale emigration has resumed. Moreover, it is not clear that steps are being taken to tackle decisively the major failings in political and economic governance that caused the debacle in the first place
(5) Can the Celtic Tiger rise again?
It is very difficult to imagine a return to anything near the heady heights of the Celtic Tiger. Ireland’s economy is very heavily dependent on exports and the EU growth outlook remains very clouded. Increasingly, there are questions as to whether Ireland’s preferential corporate tax regime – key to attracting foreign investment over the years — can be sustained in the face of pressures from other countries. Still, even if real incomes in Ireland return to around their 2000 levels, this would still be an enormous improvement compared to the seventies when Ireland joined the EU as its then poorest member.
Maggie Steele, the storybook heroine who vaults over the moon, has been attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. So many visitors, in fact, that she’s using a time zone map to keep track of them all.* People are … Continue reading →
So here are the top superheroes behind one of the best book festivals I've ever been to! Meet Tom Donegan and Sarah Webb, Ireland's ultimate dream team:
The sun was shining bright and Dun Laoghaire (pronounced 'dun LEER-y'), just next to Dublin, felt like being on the Mediterranean riviera. And I got to hang out with one of my best friends, writer Philip Reeve! We strolled along the promenade with Irish filmmaker Frank Kelly, who kindly agreed to take this author photo for the book I'm working on with Philip right now, Oliver and the Seawigs. My studio mate, Gary, just looked over my shoulder and said I look like a mermaid, so that's perfect.
On the first evening, Tom and Sarah took me for dinner with Philip, writer Marcus Sedgwick and top librarian Dr Marian Thérèse Keyes, who took the photo.
After dinner, Marcus, Philip and I went along to hear Sarah Webb talk about her book and writing, along with lots of other writers for adults and young adults, including Cathy Kelly, Katie Fforde, Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, Sinéad Moriarty and Marita Conlon-McKenna. Our dinner had run overtime a bit, so we were sitting way, way in the back and couldn't see all that much. The panel gave a great talk, but the three of us were quite jolly from dinner and I made stupid drawings of us.
The next morning, Philip and I did a big MONSTERS & GOBLINS stage event, in front of something like 300 kids. It was loads of fun! Here's Philip with a miniature version of a bratapult, a weapon of war which plays quite a key part in his Goblins book. In fact, his main character spends something like two chapters falling after being hurtled from such a device. We fired goblins into the audience to make some merry chaos.
At two different events, we introduced ourselves while the other person drew an attractive portrait. We weren't allowed to look at our portrait until it was finished. You can get a glimpse over my shoulder here of Philip's drawing of me, which set the kids in the audience absolutely howling.
I grossed out the kids with a reading from Morris the Mankiest Monster and then the kids helped us invent new monsters, and Philip and I took turns drawing how we thought some of the characters in Goblins might look, including Trolls and Boglins. Here's Philip's Boglin.
Then we turned the kids into a tribe of goblins by having them each design a goblin face.
It was fun seeing the kids' work when they came up to get their books signed.
As ever, I can't post photos of the schoolchildren's faces, which is a shame, but they look quite nice with books for heads.
After the show, we recorded an interview for national television, RTE2's Elev8 programme (the same show Gary Northfield and I took part in a couple years ago, which you can see here). It'll go live in the show's next season, probably some time in October. Here are camera crew Elaine Buckley, Julian Hills and Orla Morris-Toolen.
Orla (in the polka-dot dress) was an amazing interviewer; the camera crew would ask her to do something a bit different, and she'd quickly think about it and come up with a good way to ask us a question that fitted in well with the flow of the programme. Not many kids can think on their feet as calmly as that, I was really impressed.
Later on in the festival, I ran into Moldovan Elev8 presenter Diana Bunici, who'd interviewed Gary and me last time. You can follow her on Twitter as @DeeBTweets and read her blog here.
And here's the fabulous illustration exhibition Tom Donegan put together in the County Hall! Scholastic UK let the festival have sneak peeks at two spreads in my new book, Superkid with Claire Freedman, coming out next spring. Here they are, printed up large:
Both times Philip and I had some time off, we took the chance to stroll along the beautiful Dun Laoghaire harbour. Philip took a photo of me in front of this big sea urchin sculpture and said I looked like something painted on the front of a B-52, the thought of which pleases me to no end.
You can just about see the James Joyce Tower in the background. I really should know what this is. *Makes note to self to try to get into Ulysses again, despite several failed attempts*
And here's some of the jolly gang from Children's Books Ireland! Mags Walsh, Jenny Murray (and Aoife (pronounced 'EEF-ah') Murray arrived a bit later); bookseller and blogger Kim Harte, can someone remind me who that nice gentleman is?, and Tom.
The next day, Philip and I led a Comics Jam workshop in the lovely posh yacht club, with about 20 kids.
We started out by talking about character design. Here's one Philip drew:
And a kid's drawing. Isn't it fabulous?
Then we took our characters and put them into a comics story. Here's one Philip and I bashed out at great speed, taking turns with each panel, with story material based on suggestions from the kids.
Then we set the kids off on their Comics Jam!
They had five minutes to draw a panel, then everyone passed their papers to the next person and for the next five minutes in the second panel, took up the new story where their neighbour had left off.
And so on, passing every five minutes until the four panels were filled.
At the end of 20 minutes, they had some great results. Here's one that made us laugh.
One of the cool things about doing events is meeting kids who are really stuck into comics already. Here's Finn, who brought along his notebook to show us and will obviously be an awesome comics artist if he keeps working as hard as he's doing now.
I was thrilled to see he'd been studying my favourite comic strip, Calvin & Hobbes. Copying is a great way to learn in detail how another artist works, and I remember copying pages and pages of Archie comics when I was his age.
And he's coming up with great stuff of his own! Philip laughed and pointed out this Will-You-Need-a-Gas-Mask-o-Meter.
You can definitely see the influence of other comics on Finn's work, and it's great to see how he's exploring them and starting to add his own creative elements. Look out for this guy, he made be making appearances at small press comics fairs in the next few years.
After our comics jam, we met up with lots of other writers on the yacht club deck to go for the Monster Book Lunch. I didn't get to talk with them as much as I would have liked to, but that's Claire Hennessey on the left (whom I hardly got to meet), someone (can anyone tell me who?) in the middle who I didn't really get to meet at all, and Judi Curtin, with whom I chatted briefly and is really lovely. Apparently her books are as popular in Ireland as Jacqueline Wilson's books are in England, so look out, English people, you might be seeing more of this lady.
When I walked into the lovely banquet room, I was kind of expecting the table I was sharing with Philip Reeve to be packed with girls in tea party dresses. And most of the tables were like this, except ours, which was entirely seated with ROWDY BOYS. Ha ha! They were gentlemen enough to warn me not to drink the squash, which had salt and pepper added to it.
At most tables, the esteemed writers were having gracious conversations with their table mates, but that wasn't going to happen at ours. Instead we played a Monster Consequences game, and made some pretty awesome creatures.
It was loads of fun meeting kids who already knew my work, including Shauna here, who was a huge fan and sent me a lovely e-mail which I read on my phone at the airport on the way home.
Here's our marvellous bookseller for the festival, the ever-energetic Bob Jonstone, who runs The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin's Temple Bar area. His shop's been getting lots of publicity and winning loads of awards recently, and he and his team ran the whole book sales side of things completely smoothly. Thanks, Bob!
I left the Monster Book Lunch a bit early to do another Comics Jam workshop for older kids than the first one I'd done with Philip. Finn was there, but the rest were teenagers and a couple adults. They'd come to hear Steve Simpson give a talk on Superhero Illustration, but he had a family emergency, and the people at the workshop were great about letting me step in. Here are a couple of the Comics Jam results:
Meanwhile Philip Reeve was getting ready to go on a panel with writer Michelle Harrison, and I managed to dash in to listen, just as they were getting going.
The panel was a project for the three girls interviewing Michelle and Philip. They'd had the chance to choose writers they'd like to interview, get them invited to the festival, and spend quite a lot of time preparing for the interview. They knew the writers' books well, and were able to ask some great questions.
I was interested to find out that, like Philip, Michelle also does some illustration (as does Marcus Sedgwick, whom I mentioned earlier). And both she and Philip were very influenced by the early work of Brian Froud, who designed the looks for The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth films. Michelle writes a lot of horror stuff, and read from her recent book, Unrest, inspired by the sleep disorders she's encountered in people she knows. Here's the trailer video, and you can find out more over on her website.
Here's the fab panel, being VERY SCARED.
Or is that speakers being VERY SCARY?
One of the great things about Mountains to Sea is that the festival's all within walking distance and everyone stays at the same place. So we were always bumping into people, including the writer Eoin Colfer (creator of Artemis Fowl), who wasn't even taking part in the festival this year!
Here's the Royal Marine Hotel, a lovely Victorian candybox of a place:
I got to sit across from Michelle at dinner, and meet writer Robert Muchamore. I didn't really know Robert's work, but he's the writer of the Cherub graphic novels, which my friend John Aggs illustrates, so it was great to meet him. Michelle (@MHarrison13) tweeted: Sat next to @RobertMuchamore at dinner earlier. He threw olives at me and pulled my hair. ...I think I will say nothing about that.
The next day, writer-illustrator Chris Judge and I went to the People's Park to take part in the Picture Book Picnic. I'd met Chris once before, at the festival at Tales on Moon Lane, but I'd been so busy keeping my group of kids from dumping paint on the bookshop floor that I didn't have much time to see him in action.
Chris did a great job reading from The Lonely Beast and The Great Explorer and getting the kids to respond.
It was so obvious that all the kids, parents, festival volunteers, everyone, really love him. That's something so nice I'm noticing about Ireland. They don't have a huge home-grown publishing scene, but those they do have, they really get to know and cherish them. I really like that.
We both did some drawing with the kids. Here's Chris showing us how to draw the walrus from his book.
So many kids showed up that some of them had to share clip boards. I love this photo.
And this one, too. The team of volunteers was brilliant. And can I just say that if I was making an epic action film, I would want to cast this awesome-looking one in the lead role? This is designer-illustrator Simone Crowley and I spent some of the picnic admiring her and her tattoos from afar.
And one more photo with Chris. The weeping willow in the Secret Garden section of the park made for a wonderfully atmospheric storybook kind of place.
After the picnic, Tom and a lovely volunteer named Jenny hustled me off to County Hall for The Big Picture Panel Discussion with Chris, Inis magazine editor David Maybury and David Mackintosh.
No event involving the whirlwind that is David Maybury can be anything other than terribly exciting, and this panel was no exception. The best part for me was finding out about David Mackintosh's work. I'd never even heard of him, but his books are SO beautiful.
David's now London-based, but he was born in Belfast and grew up in Australia. And he worked as a graphic designer before moving into making his own picture books. And you can really tell: his understanding of typography, colour, how to use space on the page is exceptional.
I'm already such a fangirl. Here's the dedication in one of the books I bought:
Aren't these pictures the best thing ever?
I talked a bit about self-publishing during the panel, and at the end, two members of the audience came up and gave me copies of their self-published books, The Enlightened Light Bulb Boy by Dublin-based Brazilian illustrator Tarsila Krüse and the Yum! Yum! Recipe Booklet by Tarsila and her friend Paula McGloin.
Googling their names, I saw their blog post about the annual Dublin Zine Fair, which looks like something worth visiting or taking part in if you're in town.
Then it was time to go home. Jenny whisked me off for a late lunch at the bagel place, then I got a festival taxi to the airport with Philip's agent, Philippa Milnes-Smith, and Sara Wingate Gray, who runs The Itinerant Poetry Library. Philippa and I listened, enthralled, to all the stuff Sara's been getting up to with her suitcase of poetry books, providing her 'guerilla public library service'. She was one of the first librarians to know about Twitter, which you can guess from her succinct Twitter name, @Librarian. I mentioned Audrey Niffenegger's graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile and short story Moths of the New World, and we decided that Sara had probably crawled out of the pages of one of those books before they were even written.
Oh, and this is my lovely new companion, a 'zonk' which I have named Webbster Donegan. She loves flying, even though her wings aren't terribly aerodynamic.
I was sad to leave. Someone tweeted a Dr Seuss quotation during the Paralympic Closing Ceremony that evening - 'Don't be sad it's over. Be glad it happened.' - and I thought that was a good way to look at it.
Goodbye, Ireland! An enormous thanks to Tom, Sarah, Marian, David, Jenny, Philip, CBI, Bob, Orla, the team of volunteers, and loads more people who made this festival such a wonderful experience.
I feel like sleeping for a week now, and I'm sure the festival team do, too, but wow. That was amazing.
For many people the terms Ulster, Northern Ireland, and ‘the North’ conjure up images of communal conflict, sectarianism, and peace processes of indefinite duration. More than 3,500 people were killed in the national, communal and sectarian conflict that engulfed Northern Ireland between 1969 and Easter 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Tens of thousands were injured or maimed, while sporadic acts of political violence persist to this day.
The near-present is a powerful influence on how we view the past. Yet, in many respects, these blood-spattered years serve to distort our understanding of the lived experience of people in Ulster from 1700 onwards. True enough, this was an ethnically-divided society, but one characterised by complexities, ambiguities, contrariness and the unexpected. Above all, it is necessary to appreciate that violence was not the dominant motif in most time periods in recent centuries.
In 1600, Ulster was a thinly populated, economically backward region. By 1900, without the benefit of local coal or iron, the Belfast region had emerged as a significant industrial and commercial centre in western Europe. This social and economic dynamism was based, first, on linen textiles and later on shipbuilding and engineering. Elsewhere in Ulster, more traditional but vigorous small-farming enterprises predominated.
The story of Ulster since 1600 is one of dramatic transformation, in which immigrant entrepreneurs and workers played a vital role. Moreover, in terms of economic geography and social networks, east Ulster was well placed to benefit from the English and Scottish industrial revolutions. In fact, the north east of Ireland was the only part of the island of Ireland to experience modern industrialisation and urbanisation on a major scale. By the time of political independence in ‘southern’ Ireland, Belfast stood out as Ireland’s only industrial city.
But here is one of the many paradoxes. Despite these modernising tendencies, Belfast and the lesser towns of Ulster incubated and perpetuated forms of politico-religious conflict that have outlived similar tendencies that were once characteristic of many parts of western Europe.
There are other paradoxes. The economic trajectory of Ulster in the eighteenth century, though marred by periodic crises, was generally upwards. Yet the province of Ulster experienced higher levels of emigration, particularly to North America, than any of the other Irish provinces. These emigrants, Presbyterians in the main, went on to forge other lives in the New World. A disproportionate number were involved on the insurgents’ side in the American war of independence. At home, a minority of Presbyterians were active in the radical United Irishmen, seeking reform of the Anglican and landlord-dominated Irish political system.
Presbyterian radicalism took a new turn in the following century, focusing on reform of the landlord and tenant system and local government, but within the framework of the Union of Britain and Ireland. The industrial success of east Ulster in turn served to solidify support for the Union, among Protestant workers as well as captains of industry, aided by a resurgent Orange Order. The comparative underdevelopment of the south and west of Ireland provided ideological justification for emerging Irish nationalist and Catholic opposition to the Union. It is significant, though, that members of the Catholic working class in Belfast, Derry and Newry were not swayed by economic arguments. In conjunction with their co-religionists, they sought Home Rule and later political independence for all of Ireland.
The partition of the island in 1920-21, with six of the original nine Ulster counties forming the new statelet of Northern Ireland, was a major source of grievance to Irish nationalists, North and South. Yet much of social and cultural life proceeded as before – arguably the continuities were as important as the discontinuities – though the heat and invective of political partisanship was sometimes imported into activities as diverse as sport, schooling and language revival.
The formative phase in the making of modern Ulster was undoubtedly during the Plantation of Ulster. But maybe Ulster was a place apart, even before then, as Estyn Evans has suggested? Indeed has the distinctiveness of Ulster in recent centuries been overstated, as some others have suggested? These, and many other questions, find at least partial answers within the pages of Ulster Since 1600.
Philip Ollerenshaw is Reader in History at the University of the West of England, Bristol. He is the author or editor of several books on economic, financial, and urban history, including Ulster since 1600: Politics, Economy, and Society (co-edited with Liam Kennedy; OUP, 2012) .
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i have been working on this illo/painting for the past few days. it was inspired by a dear friend of mine's daughter, born on st. patty's day. the ironic thing...she's about 110% POLISH! go figure...;)
i just thought a little irish whimsy would be fun. for the sake of the illo, i decided to make her hair a strawberry blonde color...kinda like macaroni and cheese (and how could THAT be bad....)!
i'm just about done and will be listing it FOR SALE as a PRINT sometime in early february.
There had been rumours for months. When Dublin’s Abbey Theatre announced that John Millington Synge’s new play The Playboy of the Western World would be produced on Saturday, 26 January 1907, all were on alert. Controversy had followed Synge since the production of his first Wicklow play, The Shadow of the Glen, in which a bold, young, and lonely woman leaves a loveless May/December marriage to go off with a fine-talking Tramp who rhapsodizes over the freedom of the roads. Irish women wouldn’t do that!
In The Playboy the action takes place in a public house on the wild coast of Mayo, when a travel-stained stranger enters and is persuaded to tell his story. Impressed, the admiring on-stage audience thinks he must be very brave indeed to have killed his father, and in turn the young tramp blossoms into the daring rollicking hero they believe him to be – winning all the prizes at the races and the love of the publican’s daughter. But then his father, with a bandaged head, turns up seeking his worthless son who is not the courageous father-slayer after all. Disillusioned and angry at the loss of their hero, the onstage crowd turns brutally on Christy, who tries to prove that he is indeed capable of savage deeds, even attempting unsuccessfully to kill his father a third time. The play ends with father and son leaving together, dismissing the onstage audience with the words “Shut yer yelling for if you’re after making a mighty man of me this day by the power of a lie, you’re setting me now to think if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse maybe to go mixing with the fools of earth”.
Irish actors Sara Allgood (“Pegeen Mike”) and J. M. Kerrigan (“Shawn Keogh”), in ‘The Playboy of the Western World’, Plymouth Theatre, Boston, 1911.
The offstage audience, thrown off guard by the comedy of the opening scenes, erupted at the word “shifts” (a woman’s chemise) in the third act. Some were outraged by the intimation that not all Irish girls were pure or holy, others were shocked by the strong (and strange) language. All were doubtless bewildered by finding themselves laughing as church and the law are banished from a world eager for a hero, charmed by the language and the love story, then challenged again when the tale threatens to invade reality. Synge and his colleagues were in turn accused of “playing” with a nation’s ideals. The riots continued for almost a week. Yeats, eager to champion the rights of the artist, exacerbated matters by calling in the local police, and Dublin and beyond were agog with press reports of the playacting on stage at night and in the courts by day. The actors loyally performed in dumb show until the play at last had a full hearing. But even they were not always comfortable with the control exerted by the playwright through language and gesture, sometimes in their confusion making matters worse by causing their actions and speeches to be more realistic. And who could blame them?
Yet the playwright does not seem to have been aware of the response his play would cause, insisting that it was merely a comedy, an “extravaganza”, meant to entertain, and that “the story — in its ESSENCE — is probable, given the psychic state of the locality.” Not to this audience, who charged him with immorality, obscenity and blasphemy, “a sordid, squalid and repulsive picture of Irish life and character”, making a hero of “a foul-mouthed scoundrel and parricide”.
For three years Synge had painstakingly developed his original idea, producing more than a thousand typescript pages, drafts and scenarios, all the way to draft “K” before he finally hit on the brilliantly ambiguous final form. For a “playboy” may be an athlete, performer, seducer, trickster, manipulator, creator, hero, or all of the above; while “the western world” might refer to County Mayo, to the United States, or to this world as contrasted with that “eastern world” of folk and fairy tales — or to all. “What a blessing you did not go to version L, if Version K had such a disastrous effect!” a friend commented in the turbulent months that followed.
Like Christy’s own tale of slaying his Da, the story of his injuries to Ireland’s good name continued to grow with the years. When the Abbey theatre took the play on tour to the United States, the clash between the idea of a pure nationhood cherished by Irish immigrants and what they saw on stage was even more pronounced. In New York missiles were thrown on the stage, and a hundred police attempted to keep order. Lady Gregory, who led the tour, received death threats; Theodore Roosevelt’s presence at the second performance ensured a more sedate reception. But when the company arrived in Philadelphia all hell broke loose, and the players were hauled into court by an Irish-American patriot who accused the company and the play of indecency. The case was dismissed when the judge learned that the accusers had not read the text.
In the theatre individual response to what is clearly not real can quickly become an excuse for objecting to what is perceived to be real. Audiences have always felt justified in expressing their disapproval of what is staged, or attempted to be staged. In 18th century London theatre managers petitioned the King for a guard of soldiers; one manager engaged thirty prize-fighters as well. Destruction of scenery, benches and even musical instruments was all too common when the audience felt cheated; often foreign performers were pelted with rotten fruit and other missiles (and told to go home).
Patriotism was perhaps the most frequent cause, especially in Ireland where the stage Irishman, created by English dramatists, was a subject of mockery and ridicule, and where class, nationalism, and religion were inextricably entwined. In 1907 however the disturbance was premeditated, with members of the audience carrying in stink bombs, rotten vegetables, trumpets, whistles, and other paraphernalia. There was clearly an organized cabal determined to silence a work which is now considered a masterpiece of comedy, performed throughout the world and recently the centrepiece of a world tour.
Would such events happen today? We are much more accustomed to onstage violence; but censorship is still very much with us. Synge suggests that to hold a dream is better than to live with caution; the outsider serves to perpetuate the myth-making process while at the same time challenging it, introducing a heightened self-awareness which embraces community on both sides of the footlights. Thus the audience is caught off-guard, encouraged to enter the world of fantasy, then betrayed by a reality of a different sort — the dream itself can threaten if fulfilled; we are briefly dangled above two worlds at once.
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Joyce was obsessed with birthdays. Today, February 2nd, is his. An emerging secular saint’s day, it will be remembered and alluded to round the world – especially in Dublin — in the corners of newspapers and pubs, in blogs (like this one), tweets and the odd talk. Born in 1882, Joyce’s cake — if he could have one, let alone eat it — would have a hundred and thirty one candles; a hundred years ago, therefore, he would have been celebrating his 31st birthday. The image of candles is suitable, since Joyce’s birthday fell on ‘Candlemas’, a holy day which commemorates Christ’s first appearance in a synagogue with his mother, forty days after his birth, in part by the lighting of candles. Mary was following the Mosaic law which says that, after giving birth, a mother is not clean for forty days, at which point she is to be purified through sacrifice.
‘Celebrating’, however, might be too strong a word: in 1913, Joyce was, artistically, in something of a lull, and life might well have been frustrating. He was teaching English in Trieste, with two small children, aged 5 and 7. He was struggling to get Dubliners past timid publishers and printers; A Portrait…,begun some nine years before, was unfinished; Ulysses was not yet begun. He was writing the odd bit of journalism, but the high artistic ambitions he had cherished as a young man had taken a battering. He’d spent his twenty-first in Paris, receiving a letter written by his father John Joyce, which he would carefully keep wherever he went:
My dear Jim, May I be permitted to offer you my best wishes for your future which I, at one time, fancied may have been more rosey on your attaining your majority [i.e becoming 21]… I hope you will beleive [sic] me that I am only now, under I may tell you, very trying times, endeavouring to do my little best, but Jim you are my eldest Son I have always looked up to your being a fitting representative of our family one that my father would be proud of. I now only hope that you may carry out his ideas through your life and if you do, you may be sure you will not do anything unbecoming a gentleman.
John Joyce, here and in general, was, like Simon Dedalus in Ulysses, strong and open in his expression of emotion. He is not the stereotypical cold and detached Victorian father. On the other hand, the complexity of his warmth borders on ambiguity, and its intensity must have brought some pressure to the young and, by all accounts, lonely Joyce: the father feels responsible for failing his son, but implies that his son was failing, or in danger of doing so; he seeks forgiveness while sending his son on a guilt trip; he says he looks up to him, while also establishing a role model in his own father, thus reaffirming the patriarchal hierarchy of genealogy. Self-pityingly unable to help materially, he adopts the role of civic mentor — urging him to behave like a gentleman, as Polonius did to Laertes when the latter was about to go to Paris (and its fleshpots). Larkin’s term for such ambivalence was ‘sloppy-stern’.
Birthdays may be a universal convention, but they are not universally liked. One pressure that birthdays bring is the inevitability, almost the duty, of self-reflection — a pressure which the Joyces, father and son, must have been aware of in 1903. The attention of others — fathers, mothers, friends, colleagues, wishing us well, presenting a gift, raising a glass — may exacerbate processes of self-examination and even pernicious comparison. Relative to where we were, or where we hoped to be, relative to our peers, or where our role models once were — where have we got to, or to what have we sunk? Birthdays are ciphers that multiply whatever condition we’re in. The potential trauma of birthdays repeats, perhaps compulsively, the trauma of the day of birth. The twitching nervous checking during labour of the condition of mother and child – how are they doing, what are their heart rates? — becomes a twitching nervous checking on birthdays of whether one has yet become oneself.
For an ambitious person, for someone intent on establishing a mythology of themselves, for someone superstitious, birthdays, especially their own, and other anniversaries are crucial. And so they were for Joyce, for these very reasons. He habitually made awkward deadlines for himself and his publishers, by wanting his books to appear on his birthday or, failing that, his father’s. The day on which Ulysses is set (itself the day of the troubled birth, though fictional, of Mortimer Edward Purefoy), is supposed to be the day of Joyce’s first date with Nora Barnacle, though their encounter is not in fact recorded in the fiction.
Through the cyclical repetition of dates, days become haunted, charged with the meaning of the events of the past, implicit in their dates: Armistice Day, Guy Fawkes, the Battle of the Boyne. The different calendars of the global village, now shared in multi-cultural societies, show the space of the year as an environment that is densely built up with official anniversaries which are the signs and the foundations of institutions, of nations, states, religions, organisations, movements.
Anniversaries seem inevitable because of the cycle of the year, but they are not guaranteed: different anniversaries can coincide on the same day, so that one feast day ousts another; secular festivals push out saints’ days. Joyce cheekily engineered such a coincidence in the birthday of Molly Bloom, which was September the 8th, the same day as the Virgin Mary’s birthday. Joyce’s love of birthdays is in part a wish to appropriate this map, a symptom of an eternal struggle he identified between the individual and society: ‘the state is concentric; man is concentric. Thence arise an eternal struggle.’
We have a Bloomsday, on which the institution of Joyce studies (and Joycolatry) are built. But there is no Wake-day: Finnegans Wake does not seem to happen on a single day, though for one critic it is a dream dreamt on 28 March 1938. For others the events of the Wake happen everyday and anyday. Unlike Ulysses, it has not been so easily institutionalised. Either way, it is certainly worth celebrating and lighting candles for: and Joyce’s birthday is as good as any to do so.
Dr Finn Fordham is Reader in 20th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. Along with Robbert-Jan Henkes and Erik Bindervoet, he has edited the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. Finnegans Wake is a book that reinvents the novel and plays fantastic games with the language to tell the story of one man’s fall and resurrection; in the intimate drama of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and his wife Anna Livia, the character of Ireland itself takes form. Joyce called time and the river and the mountains the real heroes of his book, and its organic structure and extraordinary musicality embody his vision. It is both an outrageous epic and a wildly inventive comedy that rewards its readers with never-ending layers of meaning.
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Hey look, I have an interview in Ireland's Inis (pronounced 'IN-ish') magazine with Cethan Leahy, including a piece of brand-new picture book artwork no one's seen before! Click here to read...
Thanks to the Irish book community for being so supportive of my work! I'm looking forward to a week in Ireland this May, where Children's Laureate Niamh Sharkey, French picture book man and sculptor extraordinaire Hervé Tullet and I will be running gloriously amok. More news about that later!
Irish animation studio Brown Bag Films released its 2011 short 23 Degrees 5 Minutes online today. Based on a story by Austin Kenny, the CG short is directed by Darragh O’Connell, who has been twice nominated for the animated short Oscar for co-directing the films Give Up Yer Aul Sins and Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty.