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Sinéad O’Connor

The story of a voice

Emer Nolan

The chapter concentrates on the music of Sinéad O’Connor, encompassing all her albums from The lion and the cobra up to I’m not bossy, I’m the boss, with particular attention to key songs and video performances. It analyses her extraordinary vocal performances in relation to ideas about femininity in traditional Irish music and in popular music. It considers the evolution and significance of her image, especially her rejection of aspects of conventional feminine beauty. Her treatment of trauma, Catholicism, colonialism and her protests against child abuse are also detailed here. The chapter traces an ongoing negotiation in her work between the individual female artist and the idea of the collective.

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Nuala O’Faolain

An emotional episode in public life

Emer Nolan

The chapter concentrates on Nuala O’Faolain’s journalism, several media appearances (including her final interview on Irish radio just weeks before her death in 2008), and the astonishing international success of her confessional memoir, Are you somebody? In particular, the chapter considers her enduring fascination and involvement with Ireland and Irish culture, despite her extensive and sometimes despairing attention to the effects of misogyny, sectarianism and economic inequality in the country. It documents her treatments of sexuality and intimate relationships in the context of her experience of Ireland and of feminism. The chapter also details her account of the Irish family, of her own education and formation, and of her place in Irish literary, intellectual and political traditions.

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Emer Nolan

The introduction outlines the rationale for selecting these five women: Edna O’Brien, Sinéad O’Connor, Bernadette McAliskey, Nuala O’Faolain and Anne Enright. It discusses the ways in which women in Ireland have been understood as both symbols of the nation and key agents of modernisation. It explores the question of whether Ireland has been exceptionally oppressive to women. It considers current conditions for women in Ireland and argues for the significance of the contribution made to Irish feminism by innovative individuals such as the subjects of this book.

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Five Irish women

The second republic, 1960–2016

Emer Nolan

This book is comprised of five interlinked portraits of exceptional Irish women from various fields – literature, journalism, music, politics – who have achieved outstanding reputations since the 1960s: Edna O’Brien, Sinéad O’Connor, Nuala O’Faolain, Bernadette McAliskey, and Anne Enright. Several of these could claim to be among the best-known Irish people of their day in the world. This book looks at their achievements – works of art in some cases, but also life-writing, interviews and speeches – and at their reception in Ireland and elsewhere, shedding light on some of their shared preoccupations, including equality, sexuality and nationalism. The main focus is on the ways in which these distinguished women make sense of their formative experiences as Irish people and how they in turn have been understood as representative modern figures in Ireland.

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Edna O’Brien

Writing sex and nation

Emer Nolan

The chapter considers the history of women in independent Ireland, up to the period of the emergence of Edna O’Brien in the early 1960s. It explores the representation of women in modern Irish literature since the time of W. B. Yeats and the Irish Literary Revival, outlining the rejection of the Revival in the work of James Joyce and other writers. It analyses Edna O’Brien’s creative response to these romantic (Yeatsian) and modernist (Joycean) traditions of Irish literature and pays detailed attention to O’Brien’s description of girlhood, romance, female sexuality, colonialism and violence. O’Brien is discussed in relation to the key works The country girls trilogy; her two volumes of memoir, Mother Ireland and The country girl; and some of her recent fiction.

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Bernadette McAliskey

Speechifying

Emer Nolan

This chapter is devoted to a political figure, Bernadette McAliskey. As Bernadette Devlin, she came to world-wide prominence as one of the leaders of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and she remains an important republican, socialist and feminist activist. Drawing on her early autobiography, interviews and a selection of key speeches delivered over the course of her career, the chapter argues that her accounts of family, community and nation are in some regards strikingly different from those of female writers and artists from the Republic of Ireland. The chapter concludes with a discussion of this material focused on ideas of home, the state and incarceration.

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Anne Enright

Taking the Green Road

Emer Nolan

The chapter considers the novels and non-fiction of Anne Enright, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2007 for The gathering. It traces the trajectory of her fiction towards a revamped version of Irish realism, with a focus on her most recent novel, The Green Road. It considers Enright’s evolving attitudes towards the nation and Irish literary traditions. The chapter discusses her memoir of motherhood and some of her other reflections on her development as a writer. It is argued that Enright belongs to a later moment than the other women considered here, as a person upon whom the burden of the Irish past appears to sit more lightly. Nevertheless, she engages with recognisably Irish themes such as emigration, child abuse, the Celtic Tiger boom/bust and rural life.

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Emer Nolan

The afterword outlines some communalities between the subjects of this book and compares their treatments of certain recurrent preoccupations such as religion and the idea of home or homeland. Despite the fact that all these women are seen as heralds of the modern, the afterword comments on their rejection of aspects of the new Ireland, especially consumerism. While there have been major advances in gender equality in Ireland, many of the political aspirations of feminists such as these remain to be fulfilled.

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‘Turbulently at rest’

Order and anarchy in the later work

Alex Wylie

In this chapter, various manifestations of an obsession of Hill’s later work are discussed, namely the relationship of order and “anarchy”. This includes an examination of Hill’s sense of the human will in the later work, Hill’s sense of which draws heavily upon Philip Sidney’s description of “the infected will” and on Shakespeare’s sense of “will” which is, punningly, self-will and wilfulness; further to this, the human will’s relationship to law and justice is discussed. Following from this is a discussion of modernist conceptions of justice and Hill’s interpretations of them, central to which is a discussion of Hill’s conception of metaphor and the centrality of this to his quarrel with certain attitudes of ‘high modernism’ (Eliot, Yeats, Pound). The chapter concludes with a section investigating Hill’s conception of the relationship between active and passive which infuses his politics and sense of language.

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‘There are no demons’

Faith and metaphysical fantasy

Alex Wylie

This chapter examines the relationship between belief and “metaphysical fantasy” as Hill conceives it in his later work. The chapter argues that such fantasy, or metaphysical desire as it is termed elsewhere in the book, is at the heart of Hill’s later conception of poetic energy and human values at large – and, fundamentally, that such a conception is a tortured and tortuous one. The influence of Gerard Manley Hopkins on the later work is discussed, and there is a further examination of Hill’s sense of the human will, this time in relation to the fall, drawing on such Christian thinkers as St Augustine, Martin Luther and Karl Barth. The chapter concludes with a consideration of Hill’s sense that reality is “like fiction”, and that the religious sense of his later work is fired by this difficult conclusion – difficult particularly for someone who rejects postmodern relativism.