(Volume 38 of the Re-Imagining Ireland series, edited by Willy Maley and Alison O’Malley-Younger.)
‘If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here’ is the old triangular answer about asking directions in remote places on the island of Ireland. In this case however we may firmly put that mischievous old invitation to roadside philosophy to one side and say that if you have the symbols and geography of Ireland and Scotland in your thoughts then this is a place from which it is well worth setting out.
The Re-Imagining Ireland series, guided in editorial by Dr Eamon Maher of the Institute of Technology, Tallaght set out from volume 1 in 2009 to examine concepts of Irishness; to interrogate the past, the present and to suggest possibilities for the future and to do so through the prism of academic study- with reference to literary theory, historiography, political science and theology.
To amateurs such as myself picking about among the symbolic shells on a beach between the tides this means an examination of the tracks of our culture and its relations with others- with one eye always on the security of the safer ground.
From an introduction by Willy Maley and Alison O’Malley-Younger (worth the admission price alone) ‘Twilight to Tiger’ it is clear and sometimes uncomfortable to realise that there is the gimlet eye on some oft-debated characteristics of our society. Immediately there is a reference to the ‘divided self’ and Joyce’s remark on Dublin and its people of being capable of ‘having two thinks at a time’. To this reader this was an attention-grabber as from my own meagre attempts at the crack’d looking glass of what we are I have always been aware in some instinctive way of a covert and an overt Ireland.
Here there is an acknowledgement of that and a foray out into the wicklow of dangerous ground- an examination of relations between Scotland and Ireland and not in exchange of the usual historical accusations but an attempt to delve into the covert of both nations by way of the language of literature.
There is a cultural nervousness available in the approach to a book that sets out to examine Irish Scottish Relations. As if the potentiality of a political iceberg awaits between Larne and Stranraer for the unwitting vessel sailing without the necessary technology and only the rivets and bolts of careless assumption between it and the coldest of depths.
By far the most trenchant sweep of the radar in the introductory piece is the observation that both Scotland and Ireland have had to measure themselves against their own relations with England. A peculiar hopscotch in time is nicely noted in Yeat’s envious comment at the end of the 19th century on the fame of Scotland’s Scott and Burns: ‘The Time has not yet come for Irishmen, as it has for Scotsmen, to carry about with them a subtle national feeling’.
Just a few years later of course came that quickening in Ireland that Yeats had lamented and in fact begun to foster. Now of course we have, as the editors nicely note, the debate over Scotland and its potential for departure from the Union presaged by Irvine Welsh’s ‘Mark Renton’ announcing; ‘Some say that the Irish are the trash ay Europe. That’s shyte. It’s the Scots. The Irish hud the bottle tae win thir country back, or at least maist ay it.’
An exposition on Charles Maturin by John Strachan leads us by the hand into the Gothic otherworld, the covert, the gothic chambers of the celtic mind. Maturin and his successor Sheridan Le Fanu in the oppressed Hueguenot tradition came from that peculiar hidden camping ground available to the Scot and the Gael, the underworld of the medieval mind and spoke through the Gothic novel, most famously Melmoth the Wanderer. This examination of the mindset of Maturin in his fear and disgust of Roman Catholicism is a peculiar thing to read today amid the current self-examination of the effects of the same on the modern Irish mind- its replacement , whither now, and where will we get our gothic taste of the underworld with the supply being choked off as that particular cultural obsession and most welcome miserere of misanthropy is detached from modern Ireland? Much that would have been automatically found offensive in the viewpoint and sermons of Maturin may now be found echoed in the recent comments by the leaders of two Irish political parties in the Oireachtas with their referencing of a ‘twisted psychology’ as the ghost from the grave of a ubiquitous Roman Catholic culture in Ireland.
A diverting chapter from Alison O’Malley-Younger (‘Doctors and Devils: Diagnosing Racial Degeneracy in Stevenson’s Gothic Fiction’) provokes a fascinated revulsion much the desired effect of the subject matter she examines. Her account and explanation of the background to Stevenson’s ‘The Body Snatcher’ (1884)and later ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is darkly fascinating in itself for itse examination of the Celtophobia which existed in those days, the ‘fear and Lothian’ which swept Edinburgh and wider Scots society in the acts of the Irishmen Burke and Hare as reported in the spectacular trial of the latter for graverobbing when the hoped-for prosperity the two had expected when they arrived to navvy on the Union canal in 1818 failed to materialise. The Irish labour invasion and the fear of catholic Irish ‘pollutants’ perhaps lends much for us to ponder in the scaremongering tactics of the racists of today as they characterise the immigrant in much the same way catholics arriving in Glasgow in the early 19th century provoked that gothic response in newspaper and later novels in Scotland in the lurid fear of the ‘Little Ireland’ that had sprung up along the Cowgate, Grassmarket and West Port.
Of the commercial interactions of Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast Lauren Clark takes us through an examination of consumerism and the waxing and waning of Irish and Scottish nationalism as expressed by production and is particularly interesting in an examination of the approach adopted in the cities by way of the Trade Exhibition.
Masaya Shimokusu’s chapter on Mineko Matsumura and the reception of Fiona McLeod in Japan is fascinating in the light of recent popularity in China in translation of Finnegan’s Wake. To be able to access perceptions from such an alien culture to our own is an unexpected delight and a treasure trove of insights such as the reaching out by Japanese writers to European writers such as Yeats, Synge, Shaw and Lady Gregory in the early 1900’s into the regard in which our writers were held during this outward looking period in Japanese cultural exploration is a pleasure to encounter.
Of more immediate interest to politics.ie readers may be the chapter examining that close period in Scots- Irish political relations when the working class threw out from Scotland Communist thinkers who took a very different view from the middle class Edinbughian drawing rooms of the emergent nationalism in Ireland- most famously in the person of James Connolly and the forces which informed his firebrand socialism. (Wiley Maley and Niall O’Gallagher ‘Coming Clean About The Red and The Green: Celtic Communism in Maclean, MacDiarmid and Maclean Again’). There is a wonderful context and background available to the Red Clydeside, Green Clydeside duality here and some very interesting comment on the place Connolly found in the heart of socialists in Edinburgh and Dublin as well as an entry point to the fascinating poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid for those who are unfamiliar with the work of the author of ‘A Drunk Man Looks At A Thistle’, co-founder of the National Party of Scotland , Communist and Scottish Nationalist.
Deirdre O ‘Byrne takes us into the heart of Hanna Bell’s ‘December Bride’ , set in a rural Presbyterian community in Northern Ireland in the early twentieth century. There is an outstanding examination of symbol and language conveying the covert in what is an overt story of a woman finding a place of power on her wits and negotiating skills. O ‘Byrne does that elegant thing in an analysis of a novel- pointing to the subtleties in such a way that it makes on yearn to have the very book under examination in one’s hand that very minute. If you ever wondered about the Northern Irish-Scots cultural tradition in the same way that you wondered about the traditions of the people Synge portrayed of the west then this examination of ‘December Bride’ is for you.
Martyn Colebrook while staying within the confines of the point of the book drops in much useful knowledge of the background and context of the crime novel and manages while examining Liam McIvanney’s ‘All the Colours of the Town’ to examine the framework of the crime fiction genre. He does manage to unsettle one’s perceptions of the value of the literary novel when measured against the clear urgent needs of a story that must by definition be told within genre.
The political crime thriller background to All the Colours of the Town delivers an ideal charcoal for Colebrook to draw for us the lines between the ‘dear green place’ of Gles Chu and the ‘mouth of the sandbars’ Beal Feirste in McIlvanney’s tale where the localised story is lifted via the sectarian violence that lurks in the background of the two cities and raised to the national political stage.
If jaded somewhat by perceptions of Glasgow and Belfast against the sectarian background then here is another way to examine the symbols that will not be painted in mural on Belfast walls or celebrated in drinking dens in Glasgow but for all that are telling enough and as always the tracks will tell the nature of the beast hidden.
Colebrook settles McIlvanny’s work admirably within the wider tradition of the crime thriller by reference to the greats and provides absorption on the sociology of crime, the transmission of symbols and the history of the genre.
Perhaps appropriately this volume ends with an examination by Emily Ravenscroft and James Mollison of the events and interpretation by life prisoners in Northern Ireland’s HMP Maghaberry, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth which won a national award for outstanding achievement in film at for their adaptation of the play entitled ‘Mickey B’ in 2007.
One says ‘appropriately’ because the end chapter details an expression of cultural communication in a prison and if nothing else Irish-Scottish relations have been something of a high security prison in the past and are currently on remand awaiting release. A fascinating look into the perceptions of crew, screw and lifer at Maghaberry during this unusual and highly praised work at the prison.
Necessary declaration: I have no connection or financial relationship of any kind with the authors, editors or publishers of this book. I know one of the authors personally as a friend but as always reserve the right to either praise or be critical of the work.
From the Publisher (Germany) http://www.peterlang.com/download/da...et_430214E.pdf
Copy available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Celtic-Conne.../dp/3034302142
Further information about the Editors/authors Celtic Connections: Irish-Scottish Relations and the Politics of Culture - Willy Maley, Alison O'Malley-Younger - Google Books
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