NOTTINGHAM IRISH STUDIES GROUP (NISG) Review of 2006
February 1st Feb: Talk on Contemporary Irish Writing for Birmingham Irish Forum (by Deirdre O’Byrne)
March 17 March – St Patrick’s Day at Nottingham Castle: Literature programme organised by Deirdre: Poetry readings by Catherine Byron and Kevin Fegan, Storytelling by Fran O’Boyle, Literature talk & workshop (Deirdre); card-making & crafts for kids, with Castle Guide Pete Barnsdale. Good coverage in St Pat’s brochure and On The Write Lines listings mag. Piece by Anne Murphy on Paul Durcan in On the Write Lines. Deirdre’s (very) short story on Irish schooldays read on BBC Radio Nottingham on 17 March [see below], & brief interview.
April 6 April: Deirdre – talk & workshop on Irish Writing for Fosseway Writers Group, Newark. Irish Reading Group ran a workshop on Paul Durcan’s poetry (in advance of his reading – see below).
May – June Ireland’s Writers – short course run by Pat Murphy (NISG Chair) & Deirdre, on Maeve Binchy, Sean O’Casey, Edna O’Brien, Colm Tóibín, James Joyce (by Sheelagh Gallagher), Martin McDonagh, Frank O’Connor, Seamus Heaney (by Catherine Byron).
Summer · 16 June: Bloomsday at Lowdham Book Festival. Readings in costume from James Joyce by Deirdre, Sheelagh Gallagher, Gerry Molumby. Live Irish music by Jim Walker and Charles Tebbs.
· Article ‘From Country Girls to Celtic Tigers‘ in Nottinghamshire Book Reviews Summer issue :- Pat Murphy: ‘What Makes Irish Writing Special’; Anne Murphy: ‘What It Means To Be an Irish Reader’; Deirdre O’Byrne: ‘Changes in Irish Literature’ (* read the article below)
· Liz Plant agreed to take over Treasurer duties for NISG. Thanks, Liz.
· Deirdre invited by Elaine Marren (St Patrick’s Day Parade organiser) to DION reception at Irish Embassy, to celebrate St Pat’s receiving DION funding. The photo shows Patrick’s Day committee members.
· Deirdre met with Mansfield Irish Association; suggested Kevin Fegan (2nd generation Irish, Mansfield-based poet/playwright) read Let Your Left Hand Sing for their group, which he did in October. Lots of people bought the book, which draws on Kevin’s own experience of growing up in Shirebrook as a son of Irish parents. Check out Kevin’s work: http://www.kevinfegan.co.uk/
Sept – Oct · Poetry in the City Festival: poetry reading by Bernard O’Donoghue on National Poetry Day. Poetry workshop on his work by Irish Reading Group.
· 4 Oct: Deirdre – Talk on Irish literature to Melton Mowbray Arts Society, Leicestershire.
· Pat, Liz (new NISG Treasurer), Brian and Deirdre attended official launch of Mansfield Irish Association.
November · 3 Nov: Máirín Casey organised Kelly’s Heroes concert in West Bridgford.
· 11 – 12 November- Irish Film Weekend at Broadway: Intro + film + discussion The Wind That Shakes the Barley (sold out), introduced by Jonathan Moore. Pavee Lackeen intro by Phien of PADD Irish Traveller group. Coverage in Irish World.
December: Article on NISG by Pat & Deirdre in Irish Herald, new East Midlands paper.
Ongoing Weekly Irish language classes led by Pat, Wed 7.30pm in Irish Centre. Monthly Irish Reading Group, led by Deirdre, in Angel Row library. Both advertised regularly in Irish Post, Irish World and Irish Herald .
NISG now have good links with other Irish voluntary groups: St Patrick’s Day Parade Committee – NISG programme now part of annual 17 March celebrations. Golden Shamrock Club: NISG occasional visits and donations. Long Eaton: Barbara Selley of the Irish Reading Group organised a very successful poetry reading by Irish poet Paul Durcan in St Francis of Assisi Church in Long Eaton, 21 April. Deirdre helped on the bookstall, and Barbara kindly reciprocated by selling books at Bernard O’Donoghue’s reading. ———————————————————————-
* The following article was originally published in: Nottinghamshire Book Reviews / County Lit (editor: Ross Bradshaw) Issue 1, Summer 2006
From Country Girls to Celtic Tigers… Regular readers of our publications will have noticed that we have a lively Irish literature programme. We thought it might be useful to ask three consumers and organisers to talk about Irish literature.
WHAT MAKES IRISH WRITING SPECIAL?
Ireland and the Irish have had an enormous influence on writing, particularly in the English language. In the 20th century, four Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Irish writers: Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney, and the development of the novel and theatre have been fundamentally changed by Joyce and Beckett.
My first encounter with Irish writers was listening to Frank O’Connor reading his short stories on Irish radio in the 1950s. One of his finest stories, ‘My Oedipus Complex’, tells of a young boy’s anger at being made to play second fiddle in his mother’s affection by the return of his father from the war. This spoke directly to my own experience as my father had just returned from working in London. These stories were set in my home town of Cork, but the themes were universal to any child trying to make sense of a confusing adult world. It was also the power of the narrative which drew me in, and to my mind it is this love of storytelling, and the ability to tell a story well, which makes Irish writing special.
Declan Kiberd, in The Irish Writer and the World, argues that Irish writing, whether in short story, novel, poetry or play, is made up of ‘mini-narratives’, in a tradition which is directly connected to the art of oral storytelling stretching back over a thousand years. The short story is especially suited to this tradition, and the conversational style of O’Connor, O’ Faoláin, and of course Joyce in Dubliners, manages to combine a unique sense of the parochial with an exploration of themes which speak to people of all nationalities and creeds.
Founder and Chair of Nottingham Irish Studies Group
What it means to be an Irish reader
Reading is about absorbing. The reader travels with the writer and experiences the emotions of the story as it touches their own life history. If you are Irish, then reading often transports you back to your roots, family and familiar themes of journeys, loss and belonging – the complicated simplicity of the notion of ‘home’.
Sometimes exploring the writing, the words and descriptions in Irish novels can move me to tears simply because they conjure up the physical place that is Ireland, that clear air and sense of space.
As an Irish reader you understand economy of language and what lies beneath the stories where nothing much happens. We have grown up with the rituals of the formal handshake and mumbled ‘Sorry for your trouble’ when someone close dies.
Ireland’s political history is never far away in our reading, the conflict of loyalties and political choices. I think both readers and writers struggle in different ways to integrate and accept some of the injustices and awful violence of our shared history. The Irish Reading Group* is full of people who bring these themes to life. Personal stories are shared that reflect stories we have read.
I am conscious as an Irish reader of being immersed in the nostalgia and sentimentality of what it means to be Irish. The novel I enjoyed most in the reading group was Edna O’Brien’s Into the Forest. She captured chillingly the introversion and claustrophobia of a small Irish community and reminded me of one of the reasons I left in the first place!
Anne Murphy, Nottingham Irish Studies Group
Member of Irish Reading Group at Nottingham Central Library
Details of Irish Reading Group: firstname.lastname@example.org / 0115 9152813
CHANGES IN IRISH LITERATURE
A barometer of change in any society is the tackling of taboos by its writers. In the early years of the twentieth century, taboo-breaking caused Irish writers to be castigated and their books to be banned in their home country. Today, it seems obligatory that Irish writers tackle topical issues, and fiction and non-fiction have created parallel furrows in previously untilled territory. For instance, Jennifer Johnston, whose novels had looked back to the early decades of Irish Independence for inspiration, has in latter years begun to examine the consequences of present-day violence. In Shadows on our Skin, set in the North of Ireland, Kathleen is punished for her relationship with a British soldier, and Laura in The Invisible Worm is raped by her father, a Senator and former hero of the War of Independence. Many writers join Johnston in deposing public heroes. In John McGahern’s Amongst Women, Moran, a freedom fighter in his youth, is shown to be a bully in his home. Dermot Bolger has probably done most to interrogate Irish politics, with The Journey Home and The Valparaiso Voyage revealing a deeply cynical view of public figures. Patrick McCabe in The Butcher Boy creates a macabre world in which domestic violence and sexual abuse lead to tragedy. Colm Tóibín explores attitudes to sexuality in The Heather Blazing and The Blackwater Lightship, his particular skill being in the untangling of how public attitudes are experienced in private life. Contemporary Irish literature reflects a confident society which is strong enough to confront its demons.
Nottingham Irish Studies Group
Facebook.com / East Midlands Irish Forum
Recommended Irish Fiction
(source: Irish Independent)
John McGahern, That They May Face the Rising Sun
Joseph O’Connor, Star of The Sea
Colm Tóibín, The Blackwater Lightship
John Banville, The Book of Evidence
Edna O’Brien, The Country Girls
Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy
Maeve Brennan, The Springs of Affection
Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds
William Trevor, The Ballroom of Romance: Stories
Molly Keane, Good Behaviour
Frank O’Connor, Selected Stories
Brian Moore, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
Patrick Kavanagh, Tarry Flynn
Walter Macken, Seek the Fair Land
Mary Lavin, Selected Stories
Liam O’Flaherty, The Informer
Kate O’Brien, The Ante-Room
Seán O’Faoláin, Short Stories
Jennifer Johnston, The Captains and the Kings
J P Donleavy, The Ginger Man
1966 and All That
We watch as the tricolour runs up the flagpole, and listen as Jim reads the 1916 Proclamation. Equal rights . . . opportunities . . . cherishing all children of the nation equally — that means us, doesn’t it? My friend and I have never heard of Equal Access, but that doesn’t stop us wanting it. The boys invade our space, the Girls’ Side of the schoolyard, so we think that entitles us to go round the Boys’ Side. We plot a Rising.
We end up on the coal-shed roof, surrounded by boys baying for our blood. We’re firing missiles of abandoned bread crusts, emerald green and rock hard, when the Master arrives. He laughs, so it’s partly his fault that we tackle the Final Frontier: the football field. We have no interest in football, but where lads are allowed, we argue, so are lasses. (Unsurprisingly, Marie, my fellow revolutionary and early practitioner in legal disputes, subsequently became the first female Registrar in County Wexford.)
‘Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’, the Master says when I turn up late after lunch, my third-hand dirndl skirt ripped on barbed-wire. I’d been two fields away, and hadn’t heard the bell. Who picked me as Fox in the game of Fox and Hounds? Only a dead fox would be slower, so the silence — no barking behind me — becomes alarming. I trail back, face redder than a madra rua, to join rows of sniggering Hounds, hunched six-in-a-row in the long brown desks of the Master’s Room.
Now, when someone mentions that year, I don’t recall alien invasions, moon landings, Star Trek or the World Cup. I’m back there again, attempting To Boldly Go Where No Girl Has Gone Before: Rathoe National School, 1966.
This story was first broadcast on BBC Radio Nottingham on Patrick’s Day 2006, as one of the winners of a short short fiction competition run by Nottinghamshire Literature Development.
It has since been published in Ballon-Rathoe Chronicle.