The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland

The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland

The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland

The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland

Synopsis

Roy Foster is one of the leaders of the iconoclastic generation of Irish historians. In this opinionated, entertaining book he examines how the Irish have written, understood, used, and misused their history over the past century.
Foster argues that, over the centuries, Irish experience itself has been turned into story. He examines how and why the key moments of Ireland's past--the 1798 Rising, the Famine, the Celtic Revival, Easter 1916, the Troubles--have been worked into narratives, drawing on Ireland's powerful oral culture, on elements of myth, folklore, ghost stories and romance. The result of this constant reinterpretation is a shifting "Story of Ireland," complete with plot, drama, suspense, and revelation.
Varied, surprising, and funny, the interlinked essays inThe Irish Storyexamine the stories that people tell each other in Ireland and why. Foster provides an unsparing view of the way Irish history is manipulated for political ends and that Irish poverty and oppression is sentimentalized and packaged. He offers incisive readings of writers from Standish O'Grady to Trollope and Bowen; dissects the Irish government's commemoration of the 1798 uprising; and bitingly critiques the memoirs of Gerry Adams and Frank McCourt. Fittingly, as the acclaimed biographer of Yeats, Foster explores the poet's complex understanding of the Irish story--"the mystery play of devils and angels which we call our national history"--and warns of the dangers of turning Ireland into a historical theme park.
The Irish Storywill be hailed by some, attacked by others, but for all who care about Irish history and literature, it will be essential reading.

Excerpt

What stories do people tell each other in Ireland, and why? What stories do they tell themselves? How therapeutic are the uses of invention? the subtitle of this book hints at fabrication, but also at reconciliation; the essays that follow are linked by a preoccupation with the way Irish history, biography and memoir are refracted through narratives of one kind or another, and the way that narrative itself has come to be seen as an agent of making history. This is the specific subject of the first essay, 'The Story of Ireland', and the last, 'Remembering 1798', but it pervades those in between.

Sequential narrative imposes omissions as well as dictating content – every generalizing historian's headache. the heat generated by competing versions of our island story, the dust kicked up when different interpretations collide, obscures some of the most salient questions at issue – such as, whether the country actually is still an 'island' in any meaningful sense. Many of the authors whose stories are assessed in this book have contributed to the process, one way or another: by accounting for themselves and thus helping to make history, or to make it up. the elision of the personal and the national, the way history becomes a kind of scaled-up biography, and biography a microcosmic history, is a particularly Irish phenomenon, but the exclusions thus implied raise wider questions too. P. N. Furbank, in his thought-provoking meditation on identity politics, has put it another way:

However convincingly historians tell the story of the world, one is aware that
something is wrong or missing. It is a story not like other stories, of the kind
we are familiar with in fables or novels, since from moment to moment the . . .

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