Eire-Ireland:Journal of Irish Studies

Journal of Irish Studies: Editors’ introduction

Editors’ introduction – Editorial

This issue suggests the many directions of current scholarship in Irish Studies: work characterized by new archival research, revisionist unsettlings of earlier assumptions, and innovative interdisciplinary initiatives. We begin with four essays illustrating how Irish Studies today ranges far beyond its foundational disciplines of English-language literature and history. Each of these first four contributions, by moving both within and beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, suggests new directions for interdisciplinary scholarship. Subsequent essays reflect the flood of recent work amplifying or challenging familiar interpretations of major subjects and actors in the Irish historical record.

Guy Beiner’s “The Decline and Rebirth of ‘Folk Memory,'” seamlessly connecting folklore, literary criticism, and history, examines how local memory about the 1798 French landing at the Bay of Killala in County Mayo interacted with the relatively modern literary genre of the novel and the even more recent form of cinema. Beiner demonstrates how the American publication and the subsequent RTE filming of Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French in Mayo provided the catalyst for revived local interest in historical and social memories of 1798. His essay charts the complicated and overlapping relationships between folk memory and modern cultural activities–fiction, film, and even Irish summer schools. Like Angela Bourke’s article, “Legless in London,” Beiner’s contribution undermines linear models of social memory. Both authors illustrate how folk memory, despite its often-lamented demise, does not disappear but rather transforms itself into new, sometimes startling “modern” forms. Burke juxtaposes two twentieth-century narratives about migrations and exile, finding innovative responses to the colonial experience both in the first modernist fiction written in Irish by Padraic O Conaire and in the folk memories of the legendary storyteller Eamon Liam a Burc.

Architectural historian Rhona Richman-Kenneally, like Guy Beiner, explores the complex interactions between historical, social, and political agendas that interact in the construction of modern commemorative sites. “Now You Don’t See It, Now You Do: Situating the Irish in the Material Culture of Grosse Ile” again offers a richly interdisciplinary exploration of historical memory. Richman-Kenneally begins with a detailed scrutiny of the souvenir tourist card from Grosse Ile in Canada that appears on the cover of this issue. Her essay introduces readers to the methods for studying material culture and firmly locates Irish commemoration within that rapidly developing interdisciplinary field. Margaret Kelleher’s bibliographical research about a major anthology of Irish writing similarly situates Irish Studies within another such field, in this case the increasingly visible area of the history of the book. Her essay, “The Cabinet of Irish Literature: A Historical Perspective on Irish Anthologies,” positions Irish anthologies in recent international debates about the political and cultural functions of such publications; it also undermines historical claims for the uniqueness of the 1991 Field Day Anthology project.

If some initiatives in Irish Studies strike out in interdisciplinary directions, other essays in this issue return to familiar historical actors–John Mitchel, D.P. Moran, and Kevin O’Higgins–with fresh eyes. As a foundational and much heralded figure in Irish revolutionary republicanism, Mitchel is recognized as a champion of the oppressed Irish, but he was also, disconcertingly for many today, the champion of Negro slavery. James Quinn’s “John Mitchel and the Rejection of the Nineteenth Century,” rather than accepting Mitchel as an apostle of individual freedom, stresses the extreme illiberalism of his outlook. Quinn explores how Mitchel loathed Britain not only in its role as the oppressor of Ireland but also in its position as symbol of a nineteenth-century idea of progress embodied in industrial capitalism, free trade, unregulated competition, and advances in communications. Like John Mitchel earlier, the pugnacious journalist D.E Moran saw British culture as the source of moral pollution and displayed a strong antipathy to the modern industrial city. Paul Delaney’s essay, “D.P. Moran and The Leader,” explores the range of discursive strategies–irony, ambivalence, and equivocation–inherent in the work of this controversial figure who privileged cultural over political nationalism in the formation of national identity. Delaney examines cartoons, editorials, and articles from Moran’s newspaper The Leader appearing around the time of partition to reveal how strategies from The Philosophy of Irish Ireland (published in 1905) reasserted themselves in a new campaign to write a violent, bigoted, and alien North out of a moral and tolerant “Irish” identity.

The hatred of all things British that drove Mitchel and Moran was foreign to the political behavior of Kevin O’Higgins, a figure whom some recent historians have identified as a leader of a counter-revolution that allegedly followed the events of 1916-21. Jason Knirck’s essay, “Afterimage of Revolution: Kevin O’Higgins and the Irish Revolution,” challenges such interpretations head-on. Whereas Mitchel and Moran both epitomize the modern Irish nationalist tendency to see Britain as the root of all evils in Ireland, Knirck stresses that as minister for home affairs in the 1920s, O’Higgins passionately sought to embed new ideas in the civic culture of the Free State. He insisted that the Irish themselves must accept responsibility for and resolve their own problems, the most immediate and pressing of which was to give practical meaning to the prize of democratic self-government that the revolutionaries of 1919-21 had extracted from Britain. Knirck shows that O’Higgins was not completely averse to the concerns of cultural nationalists like Moran, but that his first priority was to make Dail Eireann the place where the Irish people, or at least those of the South, settled their differences through the ballot box instead of the gun.

Fresh perspectives on familiar topics–Fenianism, the land war, and de Valera and women–also emerge from three articles distinguished by the quality and scope of their archival research. David Wilson’s “The Fenians in Montreal, 1862-68: Invasion, Intrigue, and Assassination” examines the activities of a group of revolutionaries who, along with other advanced local nationalists, sought to mount a political breakthrough in Montreal, and who also hoped to join a Fenian army that would liberate British Canada from the south. Wilson finds that they almost succeeded in achieving their first goal, but that they were defeated utterly in their schemes for the liberation of Canada as a prelude to the winning of Irish independence. Bitter frustration over their defeat, which many Montreal Fenians blamed in part on the former Young Irelander and leading Montreal politician Thomas D’Arcy McGee, was a factor, argues Wilson, in his assassination in x868. The continuing presence of Fenianism–in North America, in Britain, and in Ireland itself–formed a provocative backdrop to the Irish land war of the 1880s, a subject that L. Perry Curtis, Jr., examines from the perspective of the landlords who were its principal targets. Surveying the mounting problems facing Irish landlords even before the crisis that began at the end of the 1870s, his article, “Landlord Responses to the Irish Land War, 1879-87,” reveals a much less one-sided conflict than many historians have previously supposed. In fully uncovering the collective action undertaken by landlords to combat the agrarian campaigns waged by the Land League and the National League, Curtis undermines widely shared assumptions about a relatively passive class–assumptions underlying portrayals of Big House proprietors in, for example, much nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Irish fiction. Whereas most other scholars have been struck by the slow and limited response of Irish landlords to the furious assaults of agrarian activists, Curtis presents a richly detailed picture of their robust defensive posture, expressed in no fewer than eight national landlord associations between 1879 and 1887.

Like Curtis and Wilson in their contributions, Mary E. Daly reassesses and revises older assumptions through painstaking archival work in her article, “Wives, Mothers, and Citizens: The Treatment of Women in the 1935 Nationality and Citizenship Act.” The narrowly confined role accorded to women is a commonplace of scholarly discussion of de Valera’s 1937 constitution, a document much criticized by Irish feminists of the era (and since). But as Daly shows, the Fianna Fial government had a prior record of positive action on a significant aspect of sex discrimination–both at the League of Nations and at home. Daly places Irish gender politics in an international context by demonstrating how far de Valera’s government went in its legislation of 1935 to settle questions of citizenship in cases of transnational marriages on a gender-neutral basis. Producing evidence that Irish and other feminists viewed de Valera before 1937 as an opponent of gender discrimination, she suggests that feminist vilification of the 1937 constitution may represent feelings of betrayal by a former ally. Daly further argues that Irish feminists were obsessed with equality of rights between the sexes, whereas many feminists elsewhere adopted a discourse of maternal and family needs that meshed much more closely with traditional Catholic social teachings–an alternative, Daly maintains, that would have been better suited to Irish political and cultural realities.

The next issue of Eire’Ireland will be a special one devoted to a broad consideration of unionist identities in Ireland between 1780 and the present from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and with a distinct interdisciplinary slant. The guest editor for this issue will be Professor Sean Farrell of the Department of History and Political Science at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. In the spring of 2005 we will publish a special issue on Irish Catholicism edited by Michael Griffin of the University of Limerick and Breandan Mac Suibhne of the Keough Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Irish American Cultural Institute

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group