Welcome to Estudios Irlandeses, the scholarly journal of AEDEI, the Spanish Association for Irish Studies.
Editing an Irish Studies journal outside Ireland always raises thought-provoking questions, all of them related to the legitimacy of any perspective which is grounded in the study of all approaches to Irish topics, including the detailed examination of literature, history, society or art.
Following Richard Kearney in his defense of Irish mythical thought, there is much to be said of the creative tension provided by the both/and explanation instead of the traditional classic logic of either/or. A view of Ireland from our distant shores should complement the insider knowledge of scholars working in Ireland, so that in the end a complex and multiform picture of the country emerges, something close to real life. The external vision has also undeniable advantages, the first of them being that it is not tied to political, religious or territorial loyalties or, rather, that our loyalties may provide an interesting counterpoint to those intrinsic to Ireland. A single, monolithic view in any field of knowledge may lead to provincialism in cultural terms, and the situation can get worse if it is applied to political solutions. Let’s take Brexit, for instance. Couldn’t some politicians foresee that the re-establishment of a frontier in Northern Ireland would only cause discomfort and unease among the population of this island? For the ideologues of Brexit it simply never crossed their minds that the consequences of the 2016 Referendum for people of all religious denominations both sides of the border might imply a serious disruption in their lives. Of course one does not have to live outside Ireland to see this obvious truth, but perhaps it is comforting to know that, seen from abroad at least, the Irish (public figures and common citizens alike) have maintained a concerned and restrained attitude over the whole affair, above all not letting themselves being dragged into the emotional turmoil.
A view from abroad can also show how truly global is the concern for Irish culture, expanding sometimes beyond the sphere of influence of countries that because of their history have been traditionally receptive to explore their Irish heritage. An analysis of Irish Studies in Cyprus, for instance, such as the one that Paul Stewart undertakes in the present issue, may reveal the kinds of obstacles that our discipline encounters in different parts of the world. In a broader scope, Elizabeth Malcolm offers a full account of the Irish (and Irish Studies) in Australia. The solutions that have been found in each place may contribute further to the extension of the debate beyond static interpretations of Irish identity.
As regards the potential contained in Irish literature to understand and diagnose the state of the nation, one should never underestimate the value of a story properly told. In the last decades Ireland has shown a determination to clear the cobwebs of the past, to let in fresh air into dark corners, and this has been done in a bold and liberating way by participatory movements which have decided on important issues affecting their lives using the democratic institutions provided by the state. This has caused admiration all over the world and Ireland in this sense has emerged as a model for other countries, still burdened by the weight of history. Personally, I do not know a better metaphor for this whole process towards modernization in Ireland than the story of Ray in Sara Baume’s splendid novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither (2015), particularly when the protagonist climbs into the attic of his house to recover his father’s bones. Ray and his dog One Eye put the skeleton in the car and drive away. As it is not possible for them to bury the bones in the graveyard, they go to a deserted beach where Ray finds a wooden plank and then drags his father’s remains into the sea. The moment when the plank drifts away opens up many resonances dealing with mental release and with the desire to write a fresh start for Irish history: “The current is taking my father, drawing him away to the place where the shorebirds disappear at night-time and high tide, to the great floating continent called Out to Sea”. This is an apt image for modern Ireland, casting adrift the ossified remnants of past ignominies never to be seen again. It is in this same spirit that contemporary authors are exposing the impediments that still abound in Irish society, and in this sense it is important to consider what literature has to offer to a country until lately immersed in a continuous act of remembrance; it is revealing the brutally honest account of the “death toll of a drinking culture”, for instance, that Emilie Pine identifies as one of the evils of modern Ireland in her very fine Notes to the Self (2018), or the deterioration undergone by the public health service in the last decades, as it is reflected in Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s gripping memoir Twelve Thousand Days (2018). At the other side of the border, it is striking the plea for an inclusive idea of Irishness that permeates along the essays collected in Chris Arthur’s Hummingbirds between the Pages (2018). Arthur, a Belfast born Protestant, has claimed that in his closest circle of friends and family defining himself as Irish is almost a betrayal, while, at the same time, his work has little resonance among the cultural gatekeepers of the Republic. These are some of the murky areas where literature can offer a refreshing view of things to any interested reader.
Ireland from abroad offers the picture of a highly interactive cultural environment, where education is valued and supported from the official spheres, where open debate on all issues is the norm in the media and where citizens retain a general respect for their men and women of state. Economic growth and the recent return of affluence, however, are seen as suspicious by relevant commentators on Irish life (see the effects of the crisis as reflected in the poetry of Paula Meehan, by Seán Kennedy, or read Martina Devlin in interview in this year’s issue of Estudios Irlandeses), particularly as regards a renewed conspicuous consumption, and other serious problems such as housing shortage; those are still matter of serious concern, as if the worst financial crisis ever to occur in contemporary Ireland, now more than a decade past, has ensured that at least some caution prevails in any current analysis of the nation. Going back to Baume’s novel, what happens to the skeleton of the protagonist’s father can only be gathered by reading the whole story, but whatever you think of the final denouement, the exhilarating sense of liberation felt by the protagonist (and the airing of the bones) was worth a swim in the cold sea.
We are grateful to a number of scholars who have contributed with imaginative care to promote in this issue of Estudios Irlandeses a vision of Irish culture as we see it from abroad: dynamic, diverse, unafraid of confrontation, open to debate and also deeply interesting. We are indebted to Jochen Achilles, Vito Carrassi, Maria Graciela Eliggi, Raphaël Ingelbien, Ute Mittermaier, Tina Morin, Clíona Ó Gallchoir, Audrey Robitaillié, José Ruiz Más and Frederik Van Dam for their help.
José Francisco Fernández