Gerry Smyth
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Déirdre and the sons of Usnach
A case study in Irish betrayal
in The Judas kiss
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The story of Déirdre and the Sons of Usnach (one of the best-known from the medieval Ulster Cycle) is infused with betrayal – in many different forms and degrees – from beginning to end. This famous saga rehearses various classic elopement tropes, such as may be found in, for example, the stories of Tristran and Isolde, Paris and Helen, and (closer to home) Diarmuid and Grainne. It was also an extremely important reference point during the kulturkampf of the ‘Celtic Revival’ around the turn of the twentieth century. The barrage of activity that took place around this time is testament to the legend’s flexibility of realisation in an increasingly sensitive and volatile politico-cultural context. This chapter explores the legend of Déirdre with specific reference to the growing importance of ‘betrayal’ as a key concept within the discourses of cultural and political nationalism in the years leading up to the revolutionary period of the early twentieth century. The chapter examines four such treatments of the Deirdre legend – three dramatic (Yeats, Synge, Gore Booth) and one novelistic (Stephens) – by way of an introduction to the six case studies that will follow in Part Two.

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The Judas kiss

Treason and betrayal in six modern Irish novels


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