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Edited by Pilar Villar-Argáiz.

London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 290 pp.

ISBN: 978-3-319-74566-4

Irishness on the Margins: Minority and Dissident Identities testifies to the prominent role of the editor, Pilar Villar-Argáiz, not only in the wider field of Irish studies, but most specifically, in the increasingly significant area of research about the multifarious processes of othering that have been present in Ireland historically, and their effects in the changing social landscape of the island. Her previous collections include relevant titles like Literary Visions of Multicultural Ireland (2014) and a special issue of Nordic Irish Studies devoted to “Discourses of Inclusion and Exclusion: Artistic Renderings of Marginal Identities in Ireland” (2016). Taken together, these three compilations of scholarly works offer a comprehensive analysis of how traditional hegemonic discourses collide with most recent transformations of Ireland’s cultural order. In this new volume, as the editor makes clear, the notion of dissidence is incorporated to the critical analysis, so as to enhance “the interconnections normally established between minority voices and dissident voices” (3). Thus, her aim is to bring to the fore the “circles of resistance [that] tend to appear at the heart of minority groups which are discontented with their treatment by official standards” (3).

The academic rigour of Irishness on the Margins can be grasped at a first glance, for example, from its meticulous structural organisation. Indeed, the four parts in which it is divided comprise a balanced number of essays that truly bear out the most significant approaches from which the subjects of marginality and dissidence can be explored. Similarly, a foreword by Bryan Fanning – a leading academic figure in the Irish social sciences – underscores the synthetic character of this edited volume, while also anticipating most of the major topics and genres under analysis. Besides, the reader will find quite helpful Villar-Argaiz’s introduction, where she provides a detailed list of the subjects covered in the essays and the main theoretical stands from which the contributors depart in their investigation. Her justification of the timeliness of the book is more than convincing, given the shifting social milieu, both in Ireland and internationally, in which it is published. In this context, she observes, “the essays gathered here remind us of the importance of ‘rethinking’ nationhood and belonging” (10).

Part I is appropriately entitled “Unearthing Dissidence in the Irish Past”, as the works that it contains share a critical reading of how several key events in Ireland’s contemporary history have taken a new expression in recent cultural and artistic manifestations. In the opening chapter, “Dragging up the Past: Subversive Performance of Gender and Sexual Identities in Traditional and Contemporary Irish Culture”, Jeannine Woods establishes a thoughtful connection between the embodied practices of the merry wake tradition in Ireland and the performative, carnivalesque elements of the contemporary drag, epitomised by Panti Bliss. Thus, the author effectively demonstrates the challenge to categorical subjectivity that continues to inhabit Irish popular culture. A revision of the past is also the central part of the second essay, “The Wasted Island: Epistemic Friction in Revolutionary Ireland”, written by John Keating. His main argument in the analysis of Eimar O’Duffy’s much neglected novel is informed by several theoretical standpoints related to epistemic frictions and pluralism, which are brought to bear on the array of characters that appear in this text dealing with an alternative view of the 1916 Easter Rising. The third chapter, Katarzyna Ojrzyńska’s “Dancing against the Tide: Reconstructing Irish Cultural Identity in Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall”, looks at the notion of socio-political resistance as represented by the subversive dancing bodies portrayed in this highly acclaimed film. The Foucauldian concept of “heterotopia” figures as a powerful critical lens through which the dissident space of the hall can be interpreted, while the critique of “heritage cinema” and the nostalgia it entails also occupies a focal position in the analysis.

In Part II, which is certainly the most cohesive one in the book, attention is paid to “Sexual Minorities and Dissident Gendered Subjects”. The gender prism had to be inevitably present in this collection on marginality and it is perfectly signified in the three chapters selected for this part. The opening work is Katherine O’Donnell’s powerful essay, entitled “Academics Becoming Activists: Reflections on Some Ethical Issues of the Justice for Magdalenes Campaign”. This piece is a thorough, highly informative and moving description of the socio-historical background of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries as well as the events that have sustained the activism in favour of the victims of this system of incarceration of women considered sexually “deviant”. The contributor’s own personal experiences in the campaigns are combined here with engaging philosophical and ethical commentaries about the ongoing vulnerability of the Magdalenes and the full reparation that is still due to them.  Much of this context resonates with what Miguel Ángel Benítez-Castro and Encarnación Hidalgo-Tenorio explore in the following chapter, “‘We Were Treated Very Badly, Treated like Slaves’: A Critical Metaphor Analysis of the Magdalene Laundries Victims”. In this illuminating approach to the trauma of Magdalene survivors from the perspective of discourse analysis, they study the conceptual metaphors used by these women when interviewed by the Justice for Magdalenes Research Group, demonstrating their internalisation of the marginal and shameful position to which they were allocated. And finally, “Abortion in Ireland: from Religious Marginalisation to State Recognition” by Edwige Nault explores the inconsistencies that still remain at stake in the present secularised Irish social order when it comes to the perception of crisis pregnancies and abortion. Written before the 2018 Eighth Amendment Referendum, this essay provides, nonetheless, an exhaustive examination of the different phases and events that have resulted in the declining influence of the Catholic Church and the more progressive attitude towards women’s reproductive rights.

Part III consists of three enlightening chapters dealing with “Minority Voices in Irish Public Discourse” and it is inaugurated by Aidan O’Malley’s work, “The Aestheticism of Minorities in The Crane Bag”. Concentrating on the 1981 special issue of this relevant Irish cultural journal, O’Malley examines the different articles gathered by the editors at that time which delved into the experiences of a number of marginal communities, like homosexuals, Travellers, mentally ill people, etc. The author concludes that despite evident absences and fissures, The Crane Bag contributed to the long process of discussions about the accommodation of more liberal and inclusive attitudes on the island. Next, in “A Fragmented Minority: The Challenges to Public Institutionalisation of Islam in Ireland” Marie Violaine Louvet charts the presence of this religious minority in the Republic, while also tackling the articulation of Muslim identity. To this aim, she analyses the considerable role of organisations like Islamic Foundation of Ireland and Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland for the integration of this marginalised, but indeed plural, community in the social body of the country. And the closing chapter is “The Cyber-Discourse of Inclusion and Marginalisation: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Muslims in Ireland and Northern Ireland on Twitter 2010-2014”, by Abdul Halik Azeez and Carmen Aguilera-Carnerero. Their revealing work is methodologically based on corpus linguistics and it focuses on the discursive presence of Islamophobia and inter-religious connections in a substantial number of tweets posted in that five-year period.

Finally, Part IV moves towards “The Dissent of Minority Voices in Art” and it gathers three highly stimulating chapters. The first one, “Interculturalism and the Arts in Post-Conflict Northern Ireland” by Hèléne Alfaro-Hamayon, tackles the extent to which individual artists and community arts organisations have fostered a more inclusive attitude towards ethno-cultural diversity. After their case study of several art projects devoted to such issues, the authors observe that intercultural art practices figure as valuable mechanisms not only to fight racism and sectarianism but also, and most importantly, to usher in a more integrative response to difference. Then, in “Intercultural Harmony in Recent Irish Cinema: Moore Street Masala as a Case in Point” Rosa González-Casademont focuses on a short film by David O’Sullivan released in 2009. Starting with an in-depth taxonomy and contextualisation of the representation of immigrants and ethnic minorities in the media and on the screen, the author offers a stimulating analysis of a filmic text that, she concludes, proves the far-reaching possibilities of transcultural dialogue in present-day Ireland. And the final essay in this part is “Literature and Dissidence under Direct Provision: Melatu Okorie and Ifedinma Dimbo”, by Sara Martín-Ruiz. Her brilliant analysis of two short stories by these Nigerian-born writers sheds some light on the injustices of the Direct Provision Centres in which asylum seekers have been placed since the implementation of this scheme in the late 1990s. However, the strongest point in this chapter is Martín-Ruiz’s demonstrated appraisal of the literary value of their work within the contemporary panorama of the island.

On the whole, Irishness on the Margins stands as a major contribution to the field of Irish studies and an outstanding example of the many debates triggered by the old and new practices of othering that have taken place in Ireland. As for the outer reach of the volume, the essays gathered by Villar-Argáiz constitute a foremost aid for research on topics whose investigation is mandatory in the current state of affairs, both nationwide and on an international scale. Indeed, the pertinence and urgency of such discussions can be attested through the recommendation to “Check for updates” included on the top corner of the first page of all the essays. This element may be a technical, editorial device but it by no means encapsulates the high level of impact that strong academic works such as this bring for the unceasing process of articulation of Irish identities.

Works Cited

Villar Argáiz, Pilar, ed. Literary Visions of Multicultural Ireland: The Immigrant in Contemporary Irish Literature. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014.

———, ed. Special Issue: Discourses of Inclusion and Exclusion. Nordic Irish Studies 15.1 (2016).