University of Limerick, Ireland | Published: 15 March, 2014
ISSUE 9 | Pages: 178-207 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2014-4288
2014 by Patricia A. Lynch | This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.
Reflections on Irish Writing in 2013
Today in Ireland, we have moved from serious recession to what is hoped is the beginning of a new and better fiscal era. Recently Ireland exited the World Bank bail-out which had caused it to lose its economic sovereignty. Now the last of the rating agencies has updated Ireland’s bonds from Junk status to Investment Grade. However, serious unemployment and lack of opportunities for young people mean that emigration, especially to Australia and Canada, is a strong feature of the lives of most Irish families. This has led to an increased use of technology; people who never before used a computer now use Skype to keep in touch with their extended families abroad. While there are some improvements in the situation at home, for example, an increased number of new jobs, there are still serious problems to be faced. New forms of tax have been evolved, in the areas of property and water. The country is still racked by scandals over unusually high expenditure of public funds, of which the most prominent is the payment of €50 million to consultants in setting up the new company Uisce Éireann/Irish Water to regulate the national supply and billing of water.
Reasons for hope persist in the economy. The nationwide promotion of an event called the Gathering has led to increased tourism, which was helped by the fine weather of a good summer, a happening that always helps morale. Literary, dramatic and film festivals still continue. Limerick is the first Irish City of Culture for 2014 so there will be plays, concerts, festivals of all sorts, historical talks, exhibitions, museum projects, arts and antiquities. Not only will the sports events be out of doors but there are to be lighting displays of architecture, the creation of a community garden, parades, and a play staged on a boat in the River Shannon.
Theatre will be a marked feature of Irish cultural life in the coming year. The company Druid after forty years are still continuing to produce old and new plays; at present they are touring Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn. Druid is to stage a new play by Tom Murphy soon. Not all theatre companies have had success: a special committee was tasked in the past year to review the quality of performances at the premier national theatre, the Abbey, to ascertain if its productions were “world class”, and the results were not favourable. Articles in The Irish Times give details of the membership of the committee and the ratings which they gave the various productions, ranging from enthusiastic to not reaching “an acceptable standard for professional theatre presentation” (O’Toole 2014b). One of these plays, a new Frank McGuinness work, The Hanging Gardens, received one of the higher ratings. Though the reviewer did not consider it as one of McGuinness’ better works, the performance of Niall Buggy in the main role was praised in various newspaper reviews at the time of staging. I had the good fortune to see this production, and what struck me was not so much its place in the McGuinness canon as its similarity to Brian Friel’s work. Among other facets were the Donegal setting, the struggling writer, and a dysfunctional family which achieves some sort of redemption at the end.
In the field of fiction new books still come out. Two by Donal Ryan, The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December, have jumped from obscurity to fame. Appropriately for the coming year, Donal lives in Limerick, and is contributing well to the cultural scene. Some recent books, fiction and non-fiction, which I wish to review for this issue of the journal are The Crocodile by the Door (Selina Guinness 2012), The Devil I Know (Claire Kilroy 2012), and Staring at Lakes (Michael Harding 2013).
To begin with The Crocodile by the Door, this book is many things. First of all, though autobiographical, it represents an update on the theme of the Big House, bringing it up to 2012. The subtitle claims that it is “the story of a house, a farm, and a family”. Tibradden is a relict of a lost world which saw this area of parkland on hills sweeping down to the sea as one of a chain of similar parklands which in older times belonged to similar Ascendancy families. It is the property of a branch of the famous brewing family, Guinness. The book is imbued with a very strong sense of tradition, with frequent references to something which a great-great-grandfather or other ancestor planted (1). In a style reminiscent of many Big House narratives, the house and property are in a semi-ruinous state, and the narrator and her family stagger from crisis to crisis in an effort to keep the ship afloat. Over the decades, the Guinness family have had to sell off parts of the land to fund themselves. The newer generations have to take over after bad administration which has run the property down, leading to back-breaking work on the farm and in the house, as well as having to face tough decisions about the future. The hard work involved in this labour ties the young heiress and her husband even more to the place as she states that “sweat creates an attachment beyond talk of property and prices” (4). They have strong ties to a local school, St Columba’s, which once catered solely for children of the landlord class, and it forms an outpost to the house and to their way of life. Similar to the situation in Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent, there is an interdependent family which is tied by service and loyalty to the landlord’s family. The Kirwans have worked on the farm and lived in a listed but tumbledown cottage on the estate for many years, and their whole life is bound up with continuing to inhabit it, so much so that when they believe their tenancy is threatened it leads to tragedy for the father of the family. Similarly to Thady Quirk in Edgeworth’s narrative, the Kirwans insist that what has been traditionally done must be continued. The heavy burden of their expectations leads to even greater responsibilities for the young owner.
There is a very strong sense of place in this text, so much so that the reader can clearly envisage the estate rolling down almost to the sea, and gain a cartographic sense of the whole area, and its presence in relation to Dublin city. Every field has a name (208). This immediacy is even greater when it is juxtaposed with the maps and designs of the developers who wish to buy a section of the property. The narrator not only has a continuing family attachment to her ancestral home, but it has become her Arcadia; as a child when she came here to her grandparents and uncle, she “always felt as if
Guinness, Selina. 2012. The Crocodile by the Door. Dublin: Penguin Ireland.
Harding, Michael. 2012. Staring at Lakes: A Memoir of Love, Melancholy and Magical Thinking. Dublin: Hachete Books Ireland.
Kilroy, Claire. 2012. The Devil I Know. London: Faber and Faber.
McGuinness, Frank. 2013. The Hanging Gardens. Dublin: Abbey Theatre/Arts Council.
O’Toole, Fintan. 2014a. “Experts query Abbey Theatre’s ‘world-class’ status”. The Irish Times, January 18, p. 1.
________. 2014b. “Abbey confidential: outside experts unimpressed by our national theatre”, The Irish Times, January 18, p. 7.
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