Ulsters of the Mind: The Writing of Northern Ireland
Each person in Ulster lives first in the Ulster of the actual present, and then in one or other Ulster of the mind.
( Seamus Heaney, 'Place and Displacement: Reflections on Some Recent Poetry from Northern Ireland')
Introducing Sam Thompson's Belfast play Over the Bridge ( 1960) for an edition published in 1970, Stewart Parker said that 'if making "works of fiction" is not treated as an honest day's work in western society at large, in Northern Ireland it's scarcely countenanced as a furtive hobby'. 1 This is consonant with Derek Mahon's satirical evocation, in 1972, of 'that once birdless, if still benighted province'. 2 Nevertheless, since the late 1960s writing from the North of Ireland has come to be widely regarded as among the most significant contemporary work in the English language. Critics have ascribed this burgeoning to several factors: the unique spur to creativity given by a moment of extreme political tension and civil unrest; the rising into articulation, after the 1947 Education Act, of social classes which would previously have been tongue-tied by the lack of educational opportunity; the fortuitous coming together in the Belfast of the mid-1960s of a group of extremely talented individuals and the fostering of their work by a number of critics, literary editors, and publishers.
In fact, Parker's emphasis on the furtiveness of the act of writing in Northern Ireland prior to the later 1960s, while it undoubtedly reflects a socio-cultural reality for his generation, exaggerates the extent to which literature was not a significant