Country Spotlight: Irish Classics
By Megan Powell, Michael Calder and Hannah Spruce
With the summer holidays quickly approaching, the classics team have decided to take a literary trip to Ireland to bring to light some Irish classics that you should read. This country's spotlight is full of inspiration and remarkable writers who have carved their name as some of the most influential and renowned authors in classic literature. From Wilde*, to Joyce, to Heaney, these authors have become staples when reading classic literature. This issue explores more of our favourite Irish authors and poets to grow your global bookshelf.
*Check out our earlier issue (issue twelve) which was fully devoted to Wilde, for more on him.
Dubliners by James Joyce
This Irish classic was first published in 1914, at a time when Irish nationalism was increasing and conflicting ideas were arising around the crisis of Irish identity. Dubliners reflects these cultural influences and challenges in the structure of fifteen short stories. Joyce writes numerous characters, all with varying plots to fully depict Dublin during this pivotal time in Ireland’s history. The rise of cultural attitudes and behaviours is masterfully explored through this short story structure, allowing Joyce to fully encompass Irish society.
This collection of short stories boldly, and truthfully, explores the harsh realities many Irish people faced throughout this period of cultural unrest. The plots mostly follow the lives of the middle-class society, each exquisitely executing imperative themes of social restriction through the centre of the country’s political and industrial rebellion. It is hard to select a standout story within this collection as they all equally stand as remarkable pieces of literature. Dubliners is a fantastic introduction to Joyce and will certainly establish your desire to read more of his work.
Poetry by W.B Yeats
Ireland is at the heart of the poetry of W.B Yeats and his work helped to establish Irish literature as something distinct and valuable. In ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ the speaker yearns for the peaceful natural beauty of the Irish landscape which continues to inspire and ground them. Yeats writes of Ireland in an evocative and mystical manner, he establishes its beauty through his rich and nostalgic imagery that are inspired by his own experiences, which many others also recognise as familiar and comforting. Despite this tranquillity, in ‘Prayer for my Daughter,’ the stability of Ireland is threatened due to the societal shifts and uncertainties which paint a much bleaker portrait for the next generation.
Yeat’s oeuvre was integral to the Irish literary revival and there is a reverence in the way he explores the heritage of the country. There is still a strong attachment to his poetry as it represents a celebration of the culture which had been suppressed for so many years.
Digging by Seamus Heaney
Within Seamus Heaney’s earliest poetry collection, Death of a Naturalist (1966), the Nobel Prize-winning Irishman deliberated heavily upon the topic of identity. He considered the split nationalist identity that haunted Ireland, religious dissonance that divided his homeland and an internalised childhood disconnection with both his ancestry and patriarchal figures.
As the opening poem of this collection, ‘Digging’ encapsulates these notions of a disenfranchised identity during youth and uncovers the bridges Heaney built to overcome uncertainty, plying his trade as successfully as his ancestors did their own.
However, the poem opens with despondency, depicting the traditional skill of his forefathers and the conflict with his own passions. Heaney cannot align the two – neither regarding their physical intensity, or impressiveness. Within the poem’s following stanzas, Heaney depicts growing up in rural Derry and the rapturous differences between himself and his lineage –
occupation, academia, ideology –via representation and admiration for his father.
In a relatable, accessible poem about the development and complexity of the individual journey, Heaney translates childhood trauma, fear, anxiety and eventual acceptance into recognisable experience.
Belfast Confetti by Ciaran Carson
Written as a depiction of decisively tumultuous periods within Irish history, Ciaran Carson’s most recognised poem, ‘Belfast Confetti’ (1987), captures the devastation, confusion and dissociation which accompany an explosion within Belfast City centre.
The poem begins with chaos and minimal context, brilliantly depicting the immediate aftermath of a situation which can barely be comprehended without experience. However, with ingenious utility of verbalised punctuation, Carson expresses the panic and volatility of the violent situation within a medium which feels almost tangible, drawing comparison between our everyday understanding of the literary devices and the extremely unfamiliar nature of the conflict – everyone understands the impact of an exclamation mark with the viscerality of an explosion.
Yet, Carson not only draws the reader into the conflict but embeds conflict within the speaker. The speaker’s transition between disjointed thoughts and interwoven analogy; familiarity with the landscape, but inaccessibility; and the ultimate lack of direction imbues a sense of dysfunction brought about by experiencing such a heinous act and captures the reader within the unrecognised, dangerous and intense persona.