The Oddball Narrators of 21st Century Irish Literature

All-Seeing Characters Who Refuse To Join In // Caitriona Lally

Caitriona Lally, author, teacher, backpacker

In recent years, major economic changes in Ireland have given rise to a host of oddball narrators in Irish literature, outsiders who don’t fit into boom-time society and who remain alienated during the bust. Prior to this, Irish writers have often produced an outsider literature, with stalwarts such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett writing their most famous works about Ireland from outside the country. Furthermore, the protagonists of some of the best-known works of Irish literature–Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses, Lemuel Gulliver in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and the eponymous Molloy by Beckett–are outsiders whose musings are used to satirize the ills of society as the writers see them.

My own experiences as an outsider in times of economic plenty helped me to create my oddball narrator, Vivian, in my first novel, Eggshells. Vivian believes she’s a changeling, a fairy child who has been left in the place of the human child that has been stolen. Vivian walks around contemporary Dublin, looking for codes, meanings, and patterns in order to find a way back to the world she believes she belongs in. I decided to make her unemployed because I wanted her to be an observer on the margins of society. Continue reading

The “Other” Irish Literary Canon

Sinéad Gleeson and Irish women writers // Samuel K Brick

Sinéad Gleeson
The Long Gaze Back edited by Sinéad Gleeson

The Long Gaze Back is the first all-female anthology of Irish short stories in 14 years and is therefore timely and well overdue. Edited by the broadcaster, critic, and journalist Sinéad Gleeson, and published by New Island, the collection carries stories by emerging (EM Reapy, Eimear Ryan, Lisa McInerney), established and award-winning (Anne Enright, Mary Costello, Belinda McKeon, Eimear McBride, Nuala Ní Chonchúir), long-deceased (Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Bowen), and forgotten (Norah Hoult, Charlotte Riddell) Irish writers.

In 2012, Sinéad Gleeson edited Silver Threads of Hope, a collection of new stories by Kevin Barry, Emma Donoghue, Colum McCann, Arlene Hunt, and Dermot Healy, among others, published in aid of CONSOLE, a suicide awareness, bereavement, and counselling charity. She has presented two seasons of The Book Show, broadcast on RTÉ Radio on Saturday nights. Sinéad Gleeson first came to my attention back in 2009/2010 when she was podcasting and blogging from The Anti-Room with Edel Coffey and Anna Carey about books, films, politics, pop culture, feminism, recipes, and you name it. Indeed, many contributors to The Anti-Room appear now in Long Gaze. I tell her that Canada excels, to my newcomer’s eye, in emphatically urging diversity and gender equality when it comes to showcasing the work of artists across all disciplines, and then ask her about how she thinks Ireland is doing. In answer, she highlights the fact that there are many female playwrights coming through in Irish theatre (Elaine Murphy, Grace Dyas, Deirdre Kinahan) and she would really like to see that reflected on the stages of the major theatres there. Perhaps, then, the work has always been there; it just continues to be selected or “staged” less often. Continue reading

Tracking Down Jennifer Johnston

A Journalist Meets Ireland’s Atwood // Jennifer Ryan

Jennifer Johnston
Front cover of Jennifer Johnston’s How Many Miles to Babylon?
First edition, Hamish Hamilton 1974

Contrary to the dour news reports, surveys, and statistics of late, I have been a full-fledged member of the Irish workforce for the past eight years. Perhaps even more contrary is the fact that my work has centred on Irish writing and publishing for most of that time. For three years I wrote the monthly book pages for IMAGE, an Irish glossy women’s magazine. For another one year, I promoted Irish writing by encouraging international publishing houses to buy translation rights through an Irish government-funded arts organization. Two more of those years I spent researching, writing, and talking about books for various Irish radio shows, newspapers, magazines, and even a breakfast TV show. I’ve worked for two Irish cottage industry publishers (one was literally in a cottage) and was the managing editor for four issues of a quarterly publication called The Irish Book Review. I have been fortunate to meet many great writers, both Irish and international. One of my dearest memories is hearing the late poet Seamus Heaney read his deeply evocative poem, “Midterm Break,” in the atmospheric St Canice’s Cathedral at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2009. It felt surreal sitting there listening to him. It was his work, along with novelist and playwright Jennifer Johnston’s state-prescribed 1974 How Many Miles to Babylon? that struck a chord during my schooldays and set me down the path of a career in publishing. Continue reading

We Americans (of Irish Descent)

Thomas Lynch, Paul Perry, and Trans-Atlantic Nostalgia // E Martin Nolan

Thomas Lynch
E Martin Nolan as he surveys the Belfast Lough

I grew up well aware I was Irish-American. The hyphen was like a pride IV drip from which I could suck an ancestry into—no, from!—my blood. It was far older and richer than what American TV could offer, and alive. I was more than just another white guy: Catholic churches, schools and camps; Irish flags, Tommy Makem CDs, books on the Famine; tales of my great grandmother, in London, Ontario, uprooting orange flowers on the day the Orangemen marched; St. Anne’s Church for St. Patrick’s Day mass, after which the black mayor would declare himself one-day Irish; Nemo’s Bar in Corktown for the parade and the drinking. It was all very warm-feeling. As Thomas Lynch, in Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans, describes St. Patrick’s Day in Detroit: “the pipes rise and drums begin, we rise, all smiles, because it’s a great day for the Irish.”

Then I went to Ireland, where I learned two things. It took one month—maybe one bus ride—to know I wasn’t really Irish, and that I couldn’t be. I was there, ostensibly, to study Joyce and Irish Myth, but mostly I was there for nostalgia. Then we were on a bus in Belfast, touring areas connected to The Troubles. The tour guide mentioned that Van Morrison was in a group of kids who used to bully him and his friends back in his school days. Like I knew something, I asked was Van—a favourite of mine—Protestant or Catholic? The man replied with a shame-inducing scowl and something like, “What the bloody hell would it matter?” I had no idea. Continue reading

Interview: Danielle McLaughlin and Andrew Meehan

Emerging Irish Short Story Writers on Their Work and Influences // Aoife Walsh

Andrew Meehan
Andrew Meehan
Photograph by Reg Gordon

In the second of two parts, I caught up with two previous contributors to The South Circular, the digital magazine of short stories which I’ve published since March 2012. Danielle McLaughlin’s story, “Five Days to Polling Day,” published in Issue 8 in December 2013, was nominated for a Short Story of the Year Award as part of the Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards in 2014. Andrew Meehan’s story, “Man of God,” is a hoot of a tale which appeared in Issue 2 in June 2012.  Continue reading

Interview: EM Reapy and Adrian Duncan

Emerging Irish Short Story Writers on Their Work and Influences // Aoife Walsh

EM Reapy
EM Reapy, writer

In the first of two parts, I caught up with two previous contributors to The South Circular, the digital magazine of short stories which I’ve published since March 2012. Adrian’s story “Chicken Lane Manifesto” was the first submission we ever received and was published in issue 1 in March 2012. “Spurned” by EM Reapy appeared in issue 5 in March 2013. Part two of this conversation will continue on Monday with Danielle McLaughlin and Andrew Meehan.

Aoife Walsh: Bring us up to speed on your work right now. 

EM Reapy: I’m currently interning with Salmon Poetry in County Clare, Ireland, learning about poetry publishing. I’ve just started a local writers’ group here and drafting new—very raw—short stories, getting them down on the page to start fixing over the next few months. Hopefully they’ll be fit for submission next year. I’m also in the final editing stages of my first novel and in second draft stages of a new project. Continue reading

The Bohemyth Magazine

“Global Digitization Made Me a Better Writer and Editor” // Michael Naghten Shanks

The Bohemyth magazine, an Irish digital lit mag

In the summer of 2010, having just completed a Bachelor’s degree in English at Trinity College Dublin, I found myself in a similar situation to many twenty-somethings at the time: I had a good (if not economically marketable) education and was faced with the prospect of emigration. Whether it was hubris, fear, or some complex mix of emotions, I chose to stay in Ireland. Despite brief spells of experimenting with writing, it was only once I was away from the academic setting that I began to truly feel inspired enough to explore my own burgeoning abilities as a writer. I wrote vignettes, pieces that were neither traditional short stories nor poetry. Then I began to look for publications that would be suitable and open to such submissions. At that time there were very few places in Ireland that appeared to welcome new writers and/or new styles of writing. The Stinging Fly was among the few. Continue reading

Tramp Press Editor on Irish Independent Publishing

“The Movement” in Irish Literature This Decade // Sarah Davis-Goff

Tramp Press
Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen of Tramp Press
Copyright by Norah Ward

As co-founder and co-publisher of Tramp Press, it’s my duty to do many things I like—reading unsolicited manuscripts, finding new talent, selling the crap out of our titles—and a very few things that I do not like. Chief amongst these is speaking at launches.

My co-founder Lisa Coen and I are ballsy as hell in pretty much everything we do: having taste, making offers, directing the trajectory of Tramp Press, and publishing brilliant, brave new work. We released our fourth title Spill Simmer Falter Wither by debut Irish writer Sara Baume in February 2015. As usual, Lisa and I stand up to say something at the launch. It’s an important part of the celebration to put our own shape on the night and our own faces to the company. I want people to know who we are, that we as the decision-makers are within reach of writers. Continue reading

The New Irish Diaspora Poets

Three Irish Diaspora Poets // Ailbhe Darcy

Irish Diaspora
Ailbhe Darcy on the Irish Diaspora Poets
Photograph © Conor Friel

In 1866, the story goes, the Irish invaded Canada. The plan was to grab land along the St. Lawrence River, then use it to annoy the British so much they would cede us independence back home. Despite being smack-bang in the category of “that’s so crazy, it might just work!” it did not work. The Irish have never stopped quietly invading Canada. Today, Toronto is among the most popular destinations for a new wave of the Irish Diaspora.

Emigration has been part of Irish identity for as long as Irish literature in the English language can remember, but the generation born after the 1970s is different. These are people who came of age during an extraordinary period of prosperity, when Ireland was a brief success story. Unlike previous exiles, many know what it’s like to feel entitled,to the pursuit of pleasure, material goods, or a prosperous future. They new Irish Diaspora is different, too, by dint of the unprecedented mobility and access to information bestowed on them by new technology, illustrated last May when thousands returned to Ireland to vote on gay marriage and went away again. Continue reading

Mary Costello on Alice Munro

Irish Short Story Writer on Munro’s Juliet // Mary Costello

Alice Munro
Runaway by Alice Munro

Introduced by Aoife Walsh.

There’s not a single person working in literature or letters in Ireland today who will not answer “Alice Munro” if you ask them, “Who do you think is the greatest living Canadian writer, my dear?” Our small country welcomed the master storyteller into its bosom a long time ago. This series on Irish literature is no different; over the coming weeks, you’ll hear her name lovingly crooned by many of our contributors.

Of all the aspects of Munro’s work, it was the interior lives of young, middle-aged, and old women that have affected me the greatest as a reader. Maybe because I was an adolescent when I first encountered her old women—falling in and out of love again, choosing a sweater to wear, cleaning a mark off a kitchen floor, letting their children go—I was forced to finally grant my own mother and my own grandmothers similarly laden moments. Alice Munro showed me the private lives of women of all ages, lives I have imagined for myself ever since. My readings were done with an eye on my own future (I was a teenager; everything was about me) so that deep down I believed, “When I grow up, life will be like Alice Munro stories; all of them, all of the time.” Continue reading