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March 10, 2019


#Ireland Essays on Modern Irish Writing

by N@ncy



Gerard Dawe is a retired (2017) Professor in English from Trinity College Dublin and a poet.
Born in Belfast and started is family life in the west of Ireland, Galway.

Series of 14 essay on modern Irish writing from from WB Yeats onwards.

The epigraph is by Hugo Hamilton’s The Speckled People and
reflects Irish writers and their writing for me….excellent choice of words by G. Dawe!

“…You can’t be afraid of saying the opposite,
even if you look like a fool and everybody thinks you’re
in the wrong country, speaking the wrong language.

The book is also dedicated to an Irish poet who passed away in 2017, Gerard Fanning.
I have never heard of him.
His poem collections are difficult to find in The Netherlands.
I ordered his collection Water & Power.
I was the last book before his death.
I’m curious what he has to say.

The essays are in the form of invited lectures or contributions given by G. Dawe.
Tone is conversational and because it is a lecture it takes random turns.
I had to read carefully and ask myself “what did I really learn from this lecture?

I read about the author on Wikipedia before starting Dawe’s writing.
It gives a helicopter view of the writer before I start an essay.


Some of the writers discussed in the essays:

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) Nobel Prize 1923 and
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) Nobel Prize Literature 1969
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) Nobel Prize 1995

  • Note: …it is quite exceptional to have  3 Nobel Prize winners
  • emerge from an Irish Protestant Group in literature!

James Plunkett, John Hewitt, Eavan Boland, Dorothy Molloy,
Michelle O’Sullivan, Leontia Flynn, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Ethna Carbery
Elizabeth Bowen, Mary Lavin, Kate O’Brien, John McGahern, Brendan Behan, JP Donleavy, Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Deane, Derek Mahon, Medbh McGuckian, Stewart Parker.

  1. Read Eavan Boland’s  The Poet’s Dublin....beautiful
  2. Reading Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin‘s
  3. The Boys of Bluehill (40 poems published 2015)
  4. Read an essay by Seamus Heaney about Patrick Kavanaugh.
  5. Read Seamus Heaney Poetry
  6. Read Elizabeth Bowen The Death of the Heart
  7. Reading Medbh McGuckian Selected Poems 1978-1994



  1. Early years: 1913 – 1939: Lockout Dublin, WW I, Easter 1916
  2. 1940s – 1950s: Tragic writing lives of American and Irish generations
  3. 1950s: Emigration of young Irish women to Britain
  4. 1960s: Boozy literary Dublin
  5. ….and onwards 2010s.


My notes on 7 essays:


Hearing Things: W.B. Yeats – S. Beckett

Beckett and Yeats had similar social, educational, Irish Protestantism backrounds. Beckett would create in his drama testimonials to Yeats.  Beckett and Yeats met only once . 1933 Beckett went through extremely difficult tragic year: death cousin (TB) May 1933 and loss of his father (heart attack) June 1933. This marked the real beginnings of his life as a writer. He was 27 years old.


Plunkett’s City: James Plunkett
James Plunkett was an Irish writer (1920-2003) He was educated by The Christian Brothers in Dublin.

Plunkett grew up among the Dublin working class, petty bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia.

Strumpet City is a 1969 historical novel by James Plunkett set in Dublin, Ireland, around the time of the 1913 Dublin Lock-out.
Strumpet City is movement between Dublin, Kingstown and the coastline of Dublin. Characters talk to one another as they observe the city around them. This is the long tradition of perambulation in Irish writing. The book starts in 1907 and ends 1914 with a troop ship leaving Dublin Bay for WW I. In the seven years the 1913 Lockout, struggles for social justice and democracy in Ireland revolve around Dublin.

Dawe introduces met to a poem which I read and listened to: Easter 1916 by W.B. Yeats.

This is a nice read/listen on Easter Morning….and remember what happened en changed Ireland forever.


Border Crossings:

John Harold Hewitt (1907 – 1987), who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was the most significant Belfast poet to emerge before the 1960s generation of Northern Irish poets
that included Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley.
Hewitt’s verse expresses the
damage done by political division and nostalgia for a different past.
John Hewitt was a father figure for young Northern poets like Heaney and Longely.

I read Dawe’s essay and did not learn very much. I kept searching on the internet for a better image of this poet.I listened to readings of his poems “The Watchers” and “The Local Poet.” In this poem you can sense Hewitt’s modesty and shyness between the lines. Beautiful.
On Culture Northern Ireland website I found a concise introduction to John Hewitt that appealed to me more than Dawe’s essay.

We need Hewitt now more than ever to remind us that we have a tradition and a definable, colourful, multi-layered Ulsterness. That Ulster has a cultural and cultured mind that has nothing to do with universities. Now that we have, at least for political reasons, ceased to kill each other, Hewitt can teach us how to write poetry again in the peace of who we really are.


From The Ginger Man to Kitty Stobling

This is going to be an interesting essay because I HATED The Ginger Man by P J Donleavy. It was listed on Modern Library’s list of Best 100 novels of 20th C. Perhaps Gerard Dawe can tell me what I was not ‘getting’ in Donleavy’s book!

60% of the essay was a Dawe’s attempt to put Irish literature in the historical context of the 1950s (social,political) Donleavy was mentioned in two sentences! No analysis. 40% of the essay was about Patrick Kavanaugh. He produced an Irish classic “The Great Hunger” (poem) and fought tirelessly against the establishment in Dublin. Ireland 1950s was an age of innocence but also full of dark secrets (difficult (patriarchy) conditions for women, child abuse in the Catholic Church, Magdalene laundries).


The Passionate Transitory: John McGahern  – REAL DISCOVERY!!

The Observer hailed him as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death in 2006  and in its obituary the Guardian described him as ‘arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett’. I never heard of John McGahern! (1934-2006)

Dawe’s essay was not very enlightening. I learned more while reading McGahern’s Wikipedia page!

McGahern had a very challenging life, moving schools repeatedly – often for no good reason – losing his mother to cancer when he was 10 yrs old…growing up with an absentee father and enduring physical, emotional, psychological abuse at the hands of his policeman father.

One of the preeminent Irish writers of our time, John McGahern has captivated readers with such poignant and heart-wrenching novels as Amongst Women and The Dark. Moving between tragedy and savage comedy, desperation and joy. John McGahern….all his books reflect his hard life experiences. Characters, events, attitudes are all peeled back to reveal reality. Sounds like a good author to add to reading lists!

I bought his first novel….The Barracks (1963) and his last book before he died…Memoir (2005).

Elizabeth Reegan (represents McGahern’s marries into the enclosed Irish village of her upbringing. The children are not her own; her husband is straining to break free from the servile security of the police force; and her own life, threatened by illness, seems to be losing the last vestiges of its purpose.


The Barracks (1963) AE Memorial Award, McCauley Fellowship.
The Dark (1965)
The Leavetaking (1975)
The Pornographer (1979)
Amongst Women (1990), Irish Times Literary Award (1991), nominated for the Booker Prize (1990).
That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001), Irish Novel of the Year (2003), nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Non-Fiction: Memoir (2005)


Fatal Attractions: John Berryman in Dubiin
John Allyn McAlpin Berryman (1914 – 1972) was an American poet and scholar…not Irish but visited in Dublin. I wonder why Dawe added this essay to his book? This essay feels out of place…#JustSaying


History Lessons: Derek Mahon and Seamus Deane
Derek Mahon (1941) is an Irish poet. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland child of Ulster Protestant working class parents. Derek Mahon is regarded with Heaney and Longley as the leader of the resurgence of Irish poetry from the late 60s onwards. He writes lyric poetry of enormous wit, elegance and scepticism

Seamus Deane (1940) is an Irish poet, novelist, critic and intellectual historian. Born in Derry, Northern Ireland, Deane was brought up as part of a Catholic nationalist family. Of all the writers I’ve read about in the first 7 essays….Deane is the least interesting. Sorry, Seamus.


Last thoughts:

  1. I’ll let you discover the last 7 essays yourself.
  2. The purpose of reading this book was to broaden
  3. my Irish reading horizons.
  4. #MissionAccomplished
Read more from essays, Ireland, non-fiction
3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tamara
    Mar 17 2019

    Love this post on Irish poets!
    I’m definitely going to check some of these poets out, as well as no elist John McGahern. Thanks for sharing, for your research, and enthusiasm! I had never heard of J McGahern either and it sounds like he is definitely worth checking out. Also, you may be interested in reading John Boyne. He is a modern day Irish writer.
    I read his “The Hearts Invisible Furies” last year and it was fantastic. Getting ready to start his newest book “A Ladder to the Sky”.
    Anyway, happy reading!


    • Mar 17 2019

      Thank you Tamara…..for you comments and I will look up John Boyne’s books!
      I’m reading a book by John McGahern…as we speak!
      Happy St. Patrick’s Day!



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  1. Reading Ireland Month Week Two round-up!

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