Irish Studies Review (14/2&3)

Roy Johnston reviews Irish Studies Review, Vol 14, nos 2 and 3, Routledge (Taylor & Francis), ISSN 0967-0882

Irish Studies Review

I HAVE been a subscriber to Irish Studies Review (IRS) for some years, being interested in how the Irish cultural scene impacts on the Irish Studies academic community abroad.

ISR is published by an editorial group based in Bath-Spa University and has an international circulation, with people from France, Austria, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in its editorial group, as well as many of the 'usual suspects' in Ireland and Britain. It has fallen to my lot to try to evaluate how it might serve the needs of people interested in the political issues arising in the current context, dominated as it is by the aftermath of the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements.

I gather that these are the first review copies sent to the Irish Democrat for some years; perhaps this could be a result of the increasing interest shown by the Irish Studies community in the annual Desmond Greaves August weekend school held in Dublin- an event which is becoming recognised as a welcome opportunity for academic analysts of Irish historic, political, economic, social and cultural issues to interact with activists seeking change?

The May 2006 issue is dedicated to the concept of 'Irishness in Britain'. There is an introductory thematic overview by guest editor Aidan Arrowsmith (Metropolitan University, Manchester) which introduces the other articles, all of which deal with aspects of the 'otherness' of the Irish, seen as threatening in England since the time of Geraldus Cambrensis.

The Irish are the largest ethnic minority, collectively criminalised in the context of 'anti-terrorist' legislation, to the extent that to survive they need to keep their heads down. This role is now tending to pass to the Muslims. It is also being complicated by the influx of other white immigrants.

From various authors we get:

  • a complex sociological analysis of class, gender, sexuality and generation;
  • anti-Irish racism in Scotland;
  • interviews and group discussions with emigrant women in London;
  • a search for emigrants' writings as a source of experience (said to be difficult to trace, but no mention of Mac Amhlaigh or MacGill)
  • analysis of Desmond Hogan's London Irish narratives;
  • social memory, amnesia in a globalising socio-economic context;
  • photography as a memory aid....

I found the review section useful and readable; it is sub-divided into history/politics and literature. In the first group we get Brownet al on converts and conversion 1650-1850, Geary and Kelleher with a guide to recent research on 19th century Ireland, Carla King's edition of Davitt's Jottings in Solitary, Wheatley on the Irish Party 1910-1916, Parkinson on the Belfast pogroms of the 1920s, Owens on social history of women in Ireland 1870-1970, then finally Connolly & O'Toole on second-wave Irish feminism.

Under Literature we get Real on the Reception of Jonathan Swift in Europe (this review by Robert Mahony identifies Germany as the main focus of Swiftian studies on the continent; Proffesor H J Real of the Ehrenpreis Institute in the University of Muenster organises regular Swift symposia, of which this is the Proceedings; one has to ask, is Swift Literature or politics?), Eve Patten on Samuel Ferguson, Nicholas Allen on George Russell and the New Ireland 1905-1930, Maud Ellmann on Elizabeth Bowen, Paul Delaney on Daniel Corkery, and Storey on the Troubles in Irish Short Fiction.

It will be evident however from the foregoing that, while there is a political dimension, there is a blind spot as regards the understanding of the politics of Irish emigrants in the context of their host country, this being the area of primary interest to Irish Democrat readers.

Nowhere is there any sign of recognition of the role of the emigrant political movement in seeding the Civil Rights approach to the Northern Ireland question in the 1960s. There is clearly some bridge-building to be done between the Irish Studies community in Britain and Irish political activists.

Turning now to the August 2006 issue (14/3), this reverts to its usual procedure, edited by Paul Hyland and Neil Sammells in Bath, without thematic introduction. We get Barbara White on 18th century Newgate confessions; these were published, and constituted an attempt to find out what it was that led Irish felons into their lives of crime. Geoffrey Warner writes on the Falls Road curfew of 1970, emphasising its role in generating support for the Provisionals. Brad Kent analyses the role of censorship in the context of O'Flaherty's 'Puritan'. Paula Murphy writes about Billy Roche's Wexford Trilogy, in terms of suppression by family, community and nationality in the 1980s and 90s. There follows an interview of Billy Roche by Kevin Kerrane.

Under Reviews the History/Politics section has Donnelly's Encyclopedia of Irish History and Culture, reviewed by Claire Bracken of UCD, who interestingly emphasises the essentially hypertext structure of the project, but fails to pick up on whether culture in this context includes science and the practical arts; I suspect it doesn't and and I must put it on my agenda to explore this matter further, this being a hobby-horse of mine.

Then we have Malcomson on Nathaniel Clements 1725-75 (Dublin Castle finance), Legg on Nicholas Peacock' diary 1740-51 (farmer and land agent), Lennon on 16th century Ireland, McCormack on the Earldom of Desmond 1463-1583, a festschrift in honour of John A Murphy edited by Dunne and Geary, and finally Bairner on Sport and the Irish.

In the Literature section we get Rankin on English writing in Ireland between Spenser and Swift; she digs up works by soldier-settlers subsequent to the Elizabethan wars which call into question Seamus Deane's assertion that Anglo-Irish literature begins with Swift. We have Frawley on 20th century nostalgia, an Proceedings of the 17 international Joyce symposium (held in 2000) published in 2005 edited by Fagarty and Martin, a Dictionary of Munster Women Writers 1800-2000 edited by O'Toole, and finally Belanger on the 19th century Irish novel.

It will be evident from the foregoing that the contents of both issues of ISR are primarily for the scholarly market, although nuggets exist to tempt those contemporary political activists who have some interest in theory, analysis and ideologies. The way in for such aspirant readers is the public library. There is perhaps scope for such activists to use ISR as a means of identifying academic centres of Irish studies which cultivate critical political roles, with a view perhaps to interacting with their local seminars. I have elsewhere offered the suggestion that the Greaves School might consider organising mini-conferences, in various such locations, with a view to encouraging interaction between academic critical analysis and political activism. Perhaps this may turn out to be an idea whose time has come?

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