Back to the Present, Forward to the Past: Irish Writing and History since 1798 - Vol. 1

Back to the Present, Forward to the Past: Irish Writing and History since 1798 - Vol. 1

Back to the Present, Forward to the Past: Irish Writing and History since 1798 - Vol. 1

Back to the Present, Forward to the Past: Irish Writing and History since 1798 - Vol. 1


The island of Ireland, north and south, has produced a great diversity of writing in both English and Irish for hundreds of years, often using the memories embodied in its competing views of history as a fruitful source of literary inspiration. Placing Irish literature in an international context, these 2 volumes explore the connection between Irish history and literature, in particular the Rebellion of 1798, in a more comprehensive, diverse and multi-faceted way than has often been the case in the past. The fifty-three authors bring their national and personal viewpoints as well as their critical judgements to bear on Irish literature in these stimulating articles. The contributions also deal with topics such as Gothic literature, ideology, and identity, as well as gender issues, connections with the other arts, regional Irish literature, in particular that of the city of Limerick, translations, the works of Joyce, and comparisons with the literature of other nations.


Consider an island, and how it was formed.

It was created by the action of a long river finding its way around two sides of a low hill. The third side of a triangle is formed where this hill faces the setting sun over the estuary. It is only one-third of a mile wide and one mile long at its biggest, but the location makes it desirable to wandering peoples. Its western side has deep water, capable of berthing large ocean-going craft, and its eastern side has a ford where smaller boats can be drawn up so that their owners can land safely. The island is fertile, and the salmon-filled river gives easy access to even more rich hinterland, inland and north.

Its earliest inhabitants were fisherfolk and hunters, living off the produce of land and water, and washing their household pots on one of its strands. They were Celtic, and even pre-Celtic peoples, of whom little trace remains on the island. Later came fierce Vikings, who favoured just such a vantage point, with rich pickings to pillage from the Celtic villages and monasteries inland, and with an escape route to sea when the ravaged people came to seek vengeance. Later still came the Anglo-Normans, who fortified it with a strong castle, and filled it with soldiers. Their successors, the English, strengthened the island town with a wall.

Later again, in more settled times, the Irish were allowed to approach and to live outside the limits in an area called Irishtown, to distinguish it from the garrisoned Englishtown. When their attempt to take back the city, for such it had become, and the larger island to which it belonged, failed in 1691, it was from its estuary end that the defeated Irish forces left to fight in the armies of Europe: unless they had prophetic gifts, they were unable to take comfort in the prospect that one day freedom would be attained by their countrymen, people descended from all of the arrivals to their homeland.

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