The First World War in Irish Poetry

The First World War in Irish Poetry

The First World War in Irish Poetry

The First World War in Irish Poetry

Synopsis

"Drawing on the work of over thirty Irish poets whose careers span the twentieth century, from soldier poets like Francis Ledwidge to influential figures like Yeats, Joyce, and Heaney, Jim Haughey's The First World War in Irish Poetry provides the first comprehensive book-length study devoted to how Irish poets write the Great War. While the book surveys a startling range of viewpoints expressed about the war from an Irish perspective, it also explores the extent to which Irish memory of the war has been politicized to serve warring political ideologies. By presenting a wide reading of the poets' war poetry, Haughey illustrates how inaccurate memories of the war further exacerbate existing political divisions and intensify sectarian hatred in Northern Ireland. A recurring preoccupation of the book is its exploration of the extent to which Irish war poetry (and popular culture) is suffused with unionist and nationalist mythographies which either read the war as a glorious imperial sacrifice or largely ignore it as a colonial sideshow to the Easter Rebellion." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Modern memory of the Great War has been largely shaped by the countless books written about England's celebrated soldier poets. Across the Irish Sea, however, Irish poetry about the Great War has elicited such scant critical attention that compiling a list of studies exclusively related to the subject results in an embarrassingly slim bibliography. This is particularly odd since Irish poets have hardly been silent about the subject. If Irish war poetry was uniformly bad, then one could understand why so little has been written about it, but this is far from the case.

One reason to explain this apparent lack of interest in Irish poetry about the Great War is that it is only within the last fifteen years or so that an effort has been made by some Irish historians to reexamine the island's overall role in the First World War. Prior to the 1980s, the general consensus was that Ireland played a minor part in the war. Furthermore, besides a slew of perfunctorily written wartime propaganda pieces, some postwar regimental histories and the occasional chapters buried in a survivor's memoir, to the casual reader, there was little evidence that Ireland had produced a significant body of Great War literature. As we shall see later, this general lack of interest in the war is chiefly due to the politics of Irish memory. Up until very recently, most people in the Irish Republic were infinitely more acquainted with the circumstances (and myths) of the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Dublin than they were with even the slightest detail about a global cataclysm that claimed the lives of thousands of Irish men and women. Certainly general historical ignorance, unionist triumphalism and nationalist irredentism explain, for the most part, why a climate of indifference toward the war prevailed in the Irish Republic for many years. It is hardly surprising, then, that Irish poetry about the Great War has garnered little interest either.

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