abstracts

NISN-­2014 Speakers, Titles & Abstracts

Keynote by Colin Graham: '"I dwell, you dwell": The Vernacular, the Popular and the Peace Process'

Keynote by Anne Mulhall: ‘Sex, Crisis and Security: the representation of sex work in Irish popular culture'

***

Special presentation by Linda King & Elaine Sisson: Design and Visual Culture: Rethinking Irish Studies Through Mass and Popular Forms

This paper/presentation focuses on the relationship between the study of design and visual culture and its marginalized position within Irish Studies. We argue that the narrative interests within Irish Studies of history, politics and literature privilege visual material but only as rich illustrative context. Art history does, of course, analyse visual representation within historical and political narratives, however, we are less concerned with examples from painting, sculpture and photography than with representations of the popular and quotidian as understood within design and material culture studies. This paper argues that the popular visual image can be useful in framing, interrogating and even challenging discourses in Irish Studies, and further suggests that considerations of the visual in relation to popular experience offer fresh ways of understanding the history of Irish modernity.

***

Papers in order of presentation

Katherina Rennhak: Irish Superheroes and Constructions of National Identity

Superheroes have an ambiguous personal identity because they must negotiate their secret superhuman powers with an ordinary human subjectivity. Also, superheroes are by definition on a mission and use their special powers to fight against evil forces. Due to this constellation superhero comics have often been used to represent collective identities, in general, and to discuss questions of national identity, in particular.

In my paper I will analyze representations of Irish superheroes in American Marvel comics (which, arguably, invented this type) and compare them to their successors in fairly recent Irish comic books like The Wren (2010-). My aim is to demonstrate how the figure of the Irish superhero (or superheroine) is used to intervene in discourses of the (Irish and American) nation and to construct national identities. It will be shown how superhero comics can help to confirm and authorize or to unbalance and redefine existing constellations of power and how, in the process, superheroes and their missions can unsettle unwelcome national stereotypes as well as create new national icons. In this context, particular attention will be paid to the integration of folk elements into recent Irish versions of one of the most successful pop cultural genres: the superhero comic.

Val Nolan: Perusing the Short Shelf: A Brief History of Irish Science Fiction

With the nation’s long history of strange visitors and contentious futures, it is no surprise that there is much in Irish literature readily identifiable as science-fictional or speculative writing. Indeed, if there were ever a cultural and historical context which lent itself towards alternative histories or alien invasions, it is Ireland’s (and in fact the Irish Republic itself was a virtual reality of sorts for many years).

As such, this paper will demonstrate that Science Fiction in an Irish context serves as a crucial if neglected bridge between ‘folk culture’ and ‘mass culture’, between ‘high culture’ in the form of literary writing and ‘popular culture’ in the guise of outlandish adventure stories. It will present Irish SF as a space of extraordinary, multi-faceted encounters between readers and imagined developments in science, showing it to be a space in which meanings of identity, history, gender, sexuality, and subjectivity are problematized.

Initial periodization of the modern era will be reviewed with a focus on how it has developed from two ‘explosions’ of speculative themes: First the transition from folklore and fantasy traditions in the mid-nineteenth century, where writers like Fitz-James O’Brien representing a link to the wider history of SF, and writers like Lady Wilde gesture towards the scientific while being firmly of a piece with the folkloric (e.g., her ‘medical superstitions’, depictions of doctors, etc., speaking to conflict between traditional and modern ‘scientific’ notions). Moreover, Wilde’s work exemplifies the transition from oral storytelling to the written texts which characterize the second explosion, the period following publication of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (1968), and an era in which contemporary writers such as Mike McCormack, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Neil Jordan, and even John Banville combine literary and genre styles in a manner which would be identified as ‘Slipstream’ in the US or ‘Mundane SF’ in Britain.

Camelia Elias: Irishness in ”Lost Girl”

The fantasy TV series Lost Girl is a Canadian production, starring almost exclusively Canadian actors and scripted by mainly Canadian writers, although the show’s creator and first season show-runner is an American (Michelle Lovretta). Yet the show consistently picks Irish-inspired mythologies, settings and character archetypes as its story-propellant vehicles. Why is this, one might wonder? What is it about Irish folklore and mythology that inspires so powerfully that almost all the central supernatural characters (Fay) in the show can be traced to Irish roots, or simply flaunt their ‘Irishness’ as part of the character dynamics of their plot arcs? Examples include “The Morrigan” being the professional epithet for the main adversary (Dark Fay) of the plot; a Banshee becoming a major plot trigger in an early episode; the wise old savior-type protagonist (a.k.a. as the Blood King) bearing an Irish name, Fitzpatrick McCorrigan, although he is affectionately known to all as “Trick”; and his bar sharing the name the Dál Riata with an Irish/Scottish over-kingdom of the 6th and 7th Century.

This paper aims to discuss the pull and attraction of Irish mythology, story-telling, folklore and music as what approximates a lingua franca imagology of the Fay, exemplified by analyses of fragments of the image world of Lost Girl.

Fionna Barber: Aftermath: stories of conflict and displacement from Northern Ireland and beyond

In Northern Ireland, the politics of cultural memory have assumed a crucial significance in the ongoing process of post-conflict reconstruction. As the events of the Troubles themselves recede into history, the narratives that they generate assume an even greater importance in ensuring that the past continues to be meaningful within the present. On one very important level these processes acknowledge and give voice to the endemic presence of trauma within a collective sense of the past in Northern Ireland. Yet the recognition of multiple viewpoints derived from the very different perspectives of those who lived through the conflict also raises questions as to whether the contradictions that these positions represent can ever be successfully negotiated. Storytelling also requires an audience (whose own experience can be equally complex and diverse), in turn opening up questions around language, access and ownership.

This paper explores these issues in relation to the Aftermath exhibition that opened in Dundalk County Museum before touring to Dublin, Newry and Belfast. The exhibition focused around the lingering presence of trauma and displacement in the experience of survivors; however Northern Ireland’s political polarities are also put into a more global context through the inclusion of the testimony of survivors of other conflicts, who began to arrive in Ireland during the 1990s as asylum seekers and refugees. The interviews with participants filmed by Aftermath director Lawrence McKeown, and commissioned portraits and landscape photographs by Anthony Haughey were shown in addition to archival newspaper articles and press photography documenting the growth of conflict in Northern Ireland since 1968. Yet other elements of the exhibition, a sound installation and commissioned musical score by Elaine Agnew, were less immediately accessible, suggestive also of a diversity of means of engagement with the material of the past.

Ann Wilson: Popular religion, art and kitsch in nineteenth-century Irish Catholicism

During the nineteenth century Catholic practice in Ireland was regulated and formalised, and many traditional forms of popular piety were replaced by standardised, papally approved rituals, a process which Emmett Larkin has called a ‘devotional revolution’. This paper examines the role of mass-produced imported Catholic imagery in this transition, since what Michael Carroll has called an essentially ‘shapeless’ and non-figurative religious practice largely focused on natural phenomena such as rocks, pools and streams become, in a relatively short period of time, one significantly centred on naturalistically rendered human representations. These statues and pictures became the core of a new, immensely popular Irish Catholic piety, which, by the early twentieth century was regarded as a key characteristic of the country. However the popularity and social power of these mass-produced, imported objects dismayed many who were attempting to forge a distinctive Irish culture, drawn from both folk and elite sources, as part of the ongoing nation-creating project of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Rhona Richman Kenneally: What modern living calls for: Woman’s Way magazine and popular culture in mid-twentieth-century Ireland

An advertisement in the June 15, 1963 issue of Woman’s Way asserts that “Modern living calls for a BOSCH refrigerator,” and demonstrates this point by way of both copy (text) and a drawing in which a hostess serves chilled cocktails to her fashionably-dressed friends, in her impeccably designed living room. Indeed, promotions of this particular appliance pervade the issue both directly and indirectly, in advertisements, editorials, and the counsels of so-called experts. Statistics reveal, however, that not many consumers chose to heed that call until well into the next decade. Whereas this lag calls into question the efficacy of such promotional strategies as effective means of generating future performance, it thereby constitutes an all-the-more compelling point of departure to investigate the persistent trait of magazines created for women to endorse particular trends or behaviours. My paper will focus on this single issue of Woman’s Way, and take a design-studies perspective to explore trajectories of possible performance inspired—or not—through the narrative of transformations of domestic space in 1960s Ireland.

To do so, design theorist Tony Fry’s concept of relationality across four ecologies will be used, to underscore the merits of an integrative approach to studies of popular culture that takes into account the complex, dynamic, and only partly predictable nature of exchanges between humans and the physical and imagined world. As we will see, refrigerators were promoted as tools to engage in positive ways with flavour and convenience. But at a more general level they were also given extensive exposure as part of a new lifestyle expressed in terms of modern design and modernity, a way of life that invoked culinary practices and domestic performances in other countries including the US. Selling refrigerators in mid-twentieth century Ireland, in other words, was a means of underscoring the multidirectional dissemination of social norms and models that characterizes global popular culture.

Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh: Costume Design and Representation. A Case Study of Costume for film in Irish Historical Drama

As a practicing costume designer and lecturer in design, I wanted to take this opportunity to pose and attempt to answer questions I have asked for many years about my own work. I want to test my tacit professional knowledge, developed through my practice as a costume designer and attempt to root it in an academic discourse as a method of testing the insight I have gained over twenty years in the field and I hope to shed some light on a number of areas and debates.

My main questions are: how does costume define or stereotype women’s roles on screen? How does costume help to forge identity and character? What is the relationship between fashion and costume design and as I have worked on a number of period films, what is the relationship between costume design and historical drama?
I have chosen four films set in Ireland at the time of the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War, (June 1922 to May 1923). The films I have chosen are The Informer, (1935), directed by John Ford, Shake Hands with the Devil, (1959), directed by Michael Anderson, Michael Collins, (1996), directed by Neil Jordan and The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), directed by Ken Loach. These films will form the backbone of my analysis.

Looking at the relationship between costume design and history, I would like to touch on ideas of authenticity and accuracy, memory, stereotype and nostalgia. Do film and costume design have to be faithful to history? Can a stylised historical film still contain within it a truth about the past? Is history used merely as a backdrop to the narrative in historical dramas? Is the truth more important or the popular appeal?

Bent Sørensen: ‘That sounds surprisingly Irish’ – Some Irish Influences in Global Anglophone Pop-Culture

This paper traces and analyses some examples of the unexpected Irish influence on and textual presence in popular culture manifestations from the global Anglophone sphere, with particular attention to song lyrics.

A work in progress, I have no pretensions of having identified a complete corpus of such examples, and for now one specific instance will have to suffice:

Johnny Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols project, Public image Ltd (PiL), in 1986 released a record simply titled Album. The lead-off single from that album was a song, entitled “Rise”, purportedly about Apartheid in South Africa, which features an uncharacteristically melodic refrain line sung repeatedly in harmony by the backing vocalists on the track. The single line of this refrain is the well-known popular Irish benediction for a tired traveller: “May the road rise with you.” The melange of Lydon’s high-strung, aphonic lead vocals singing lines about racial uncertainties and torture methods applied to the song’s protagonist (arguably Nelson Mandela), and the rather funky bass-lines and harmony vocals on the refrain creates a disorienting instance of global pop music, rife with time-space compression (London – South Africa – Ireland?) and deterritorialization (what space for listening does the song offer to its buyer/consumer?). The presence of the Irish ‘proverb’ is at first the most surprising element, and cannot fully be explained by Lydon’s biography, although his parents were Irish working class immigrants who settled in London, where Lydon (b. 1956) grew up. However, his relationship to Ireland in general seems curiously fraught, as he has repeatedly described in interviews that he hated going ‘home’ to County Cork to visit his mother’s family because he would be mercilessly mocked for having a London accent, and yet, despite this, he travels on an Irish passport…

My hypothesis is that in cases such as Lydon’s “Rise”, the Irishness suggested serves to mediate in surprising but fruitful ways between other, more entrenched positions (in this case the polarities of the Apartheid issue). While Irishness is a fraught, multifarious identity position internally in Ireland, in a global/glocal perspective it may offer a consolatory ground to stand on for outsiders and political radicals with Irish credentials, such as Lydon. I hope to supply other examples of this phenomenon (such as Kevin Rowland (b. 1953) and Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On, Eileen”) in the full version of my paper.

Rebecca Miller: Intersecting Industries: Irish Showband Music and The Revival of Traditional Music and Song, 1960-1975

Showbands emerged in Ireland in the mid-1950s, performing covers of American rock and roll and English pop hits. In bringing new sounds and provocative choreographies to their dancing audiences, showbands riveted Irish youth, dismayed parish priests, and revolutionized popular entertainment in Ireland. From the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, upwards of 800 showbands were performing five or six nights a week throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland; as such, the showband phenomenon quickly became its own industry.

The showband era is contentiously remembered by various segments of the Irish population. On the one hand, fans remember the showbands fondly if not nostalgically; former showband musicians and promoters happily recall the era as an opportunity to earn enormous amounts of money. On the other hand, Irish academics, producers, and cultural commentators remember the showband era in terms that range from the dismissive to the downright hostile, most notably Irish rock musician/producer Bob Geldof, who famously asserted that the showbands were “crap … an appalling travesty.”

In this paper, I argue that these latter, more derisive narratives are, in part, best understood in terms of the showband industry’s intersection in the 1960s with the emerging international market for Irish folk song (notably The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem) and, by the 1970s, the revival of interest in traditional Irish music. I focus on the perception of showband music as an “outside” genre that drew largely on non-Irish popular sources (British and American) in contrast to traditional Irish music and song, which served as beacons of a new, emergent Irish identity. Finally, I examine this intersection of popular and traditional Irish music in light of the developing “troubles” in Northern Ireland by the mid 1970s – political upheaval that generated renewed feelings of Irish nationalism, and, for various reasons, spelled the end of the showband era.

Michael Lydon: ‘The Enormous Oak-Tree of Irish Popular Music: U2, The Anxiety of Influence, and tension in Irish Popular Music Discourse’

The Irish poet Austin Clarke once noted of his forerunner W.B. Yeats, ‘Yeats was rather like an oak-tree, which, of course, kept us in the shade and of course we always hoped that in the end we would reach the sun, but the shadow of the great oak-tree is still there’. In Irish popular music discourse, this same tension and anxiety is evident in relation to U2, with both contemporary and subsequent artists - both individual and collective groups – seeking to establish a day in the sun while in the shadow of the great oak of Irish popular music. This paper will seek to examine this tension in relation to the bands Whipping Boy and The Hitchers, and also solo performer Sinead O’Connor. It will adopt Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence to examine this anxious discourse, a work which argues that the act of creation is not born out of love or admiration, but out of a jealousy, with ‘art the index of men born too late’. As an extension of this discourse, this work will also explore U2’s anxious dialogue with influential ‘Otherness’, in the form of both insular ‘folk’ tradition and international popular music. Ultimately, the paper will explore tension in Irish popular music discourse, a tension born out of anxiety of influential ‘Others’: an anxiety to find success in the shadow of an enormous oak-tree.

Jenny Malmquist: “So they tell their stories, of the cruelty of gods and words and music”: Myth, high art and popular culture in the poetry of Ciaran Carson

Myths have been used as explanatory frameworks to account for various phenomena but they have also been transmuted into high art, as exemplified by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This epic is both the foremost source of classical mythology and an artistic composition which incorporates the classical myths into a narrative of transformation; something which suggests that what is considered “popular” and “high” changes over time and place and is, in part, dependent on the medium. Through his engagement with the Metamorphoses in his collection of poems First Language (1993), Carson returns to the idea that myths are communal and a form of popular history whilst highlighting how the Metamorphoses itself is part of cultural memory. This paper will address Carson’s rewritings of the Metamorphoses. Building on my thesis Belfast Textiles: On Ciaran Carson’s Poetics (2013), the paper will focus on Carson’s technique of interweaving different kinds of material from different domains, its function and effects. It will be discussed how Carson, by juxtaposing the mythological and classical spheres derived from Ovid with items from the modern popular sphere – such as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Auld Lang Syne” – both inquires into the stories we tell about ourselves, and the resources we use in the telling, and throws into question the boundaries between the high and the popular.

Anthony Johnson: Alphabets

Alphabets complicate the relationship between the popular and the élite. Ideologically, they are the great leveling ground, an access point open to everyone who wishes to open channels of communication (as they do not depend on physical presence for their effect) and accordingly, have always held the possibility of communicating to the populus in a way. But in practice alphabets can be divisive: separating oral from ‘literate’ cultures, invoking the politics of language (as in, say Gaelic vs Anglophone communication), marking religious difference (for instance, in relation to uses of ‘aitch’ and ‘haitch’ in Northern Irish culture), or demonstrating differences in class or education (as in mastery of the Latin or Greek systems still taught in the more expensive Anglophone schools). And as the historical record reveals, the activity of ordering one’s letters (‘spellcraeft’ as the Anglo-Saxons called it), could also demonstrate occult power, exhibiting illocutionary forces of its own.

A case in point, illustrating the ways in which such tensions may manifest themselves in Irish culture, is Seamus Heaney’s contemplation of the issue in his poem ‘Alphabets’. From the perspective of the present symposium it is not insignificant that it was originally written for Harvard’s élite Phi Beta Kappa Exercises in 1984 before taking on a life of its own: from its incarnation in a very physical form as high art on the walls of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in March 1995 to its wider post-Nobel distribution in ‘popular’ anthologies of poetry around the world.

Starting from Heaney and the Dutch exhibition, my paper will widen to consider the alphabetical cogitations and reappropriations of a number of other contemporary Irish poets: from the faux naiveties of Muldoon’s ‘abcediaries’ - ‘AE’, ‘Allingham’, ‘Anonymous’, ‘Beckett’, ‘Bowen’, ‘Carleton’, ‘Coffey’, ‘Devlin’, Edgeworth’, et cetera – to Ciaran Carson’s ‘Letters from the Alphabet’, ‘Opera’, ‘All we Know’, or ‘Et Cetera’ (et cetera), and the work of Sinéad Morrisey.

Charles I. Armstrong: FINER ARTS? Form, Frame and Function in the Tradition of Irish Poetry on Weaving

In Belfast Textiles: On Ciaran Carson’s Poetics (2013), Jenny Malmqvist has recently addressed the poetic use of textile metaphors and images in order to argue that the work of a Northern Irish poet, Ciaran Carson, can be understood in terms of a largely formalist notion of intertextuality. This paper will enter into a dialogue with Malmqvist’s analysis, placing key poems by Carson dealing with weaving - such as “Interior with Weaver”, “The Patchwork Quilt” and “Patchwork” – within a larger framework. Recent poems on weaving by poets such as Seamus Heaney, Paula Meehan, Eavan Boland and Michael Longley will be used to contextualize Carson’s work, and in addition John Hewitt’s important 1974 monograph on Rhyming Weavers and other Country Poets of Antrim and Down will be used to supply a broader historical perspective. The 18th century ‘Weaving Poets’ celebrated by Hewitt’s study crossed the border separating the fine arts from the textile industry so important for Belfast and the development of the Ulster region, and this paper will consistently focus on related borders - such as those between the high-brow and the popular, the functional and the aesthetic, as well as the feminine and the masculine. The poetic use of metaphors and techniques associated with textile arts will be compared with the typical ways of approaching ekphrastic poetry: Does the engagement with textile techniques and images provide another way of conceptualizing literature’s intermedial potential, compared with the more widely studied strategies associated with poetry inspired by the visual arts?

Sara Dybris McQuaid: ‘Traditions in Transitions’

On New Year’s Eve 2013, months of talks on ‘Dealing with the past’, ‘Flags’ and ‘Parades’ ended without agreement on how to move towards reconciliation of positions in Northern Ireland. The failure of the talks illustrates the importance of culture in divided societies, where politics often pivot around whose culture shall be official and whose subordinated, whose history shall be remembered and whose forgotten (Jordan and Weedon 1995) in a zero sum game. These struggles are particularly intense in times of transition where traditions, power relations and frames of relevant remembrance are reconfigured.

Historically, parading traditions have been important cultural carriers of identity in Northern Ireland. (Jarman 1997). Correspondingly, the marching season has been an arena for politico-cultural struggles and resistance, indexing community relations, relations between society and the state and, recently, the robustness of the peace process. (Bryan 1998).

As the contest over meaning is always determined by the context of articulation, this paper examines the role of parades in the current phase of the peace process. Using theories of cultural and collective memory (Assman 2011, Olick 2011, Bodnar 1994), and examples from republican and loyalist parades in North Belfast it is argued that a) there is a fear of memory collapse in particular communities on the margins of the peace process with a conscious doubling of efforts to articulate the hidden recesses of memory in the current transition. And b) that patterns of ‘competitive commemoration’ in parades should be understood in relation to the increasing dissonance between vernacular languages of conflict and the official post-conflict discourses in Northern Ireland.

Anne Baltser Pedersen: Parades – taking political theatre to the streets

Through the use of ritual and symbol theories, this paper examines parades in Northern Ireland as theatrical performances that serve to assert territorial politico-cultural power and presence. Through a reading of the rules and conventions of rituals and theatre performances, the paper weighs up the balance between efficacy and entertainment in parades. Parades are bounded, repetitive, serial events that importantly play out differently in different contexts (across space and time). The manuscript is often an exclusive ethnic composition, which does not resonate across all sections of society, and the performance becomes contested when it – according to the traditional choreography - is brought to stages and audiences who are excluded from the ritual itself, yet actively cast in the role of antagonists. Following Robert Schechner, the paper argues that parades in resonating contexts (single identity areas) are akin to aesthetic dramas, where actors are allowed to focus on symbolic displays rather than strategies to achieve their goals. When traversing sectarian boundaries on the other hand, parades become more like social drama, which ‘has more variables, the outcome is in doubt – it is more like a game or a sporting context…’(1974, 464). However, this reading is further complicated by the fact that even contentious parades also have become ritual performances akin to the Rocky Horror Show and the Mouse Trap .

Tanja Gotthardsen: The Ancient Order of Hibernians

While much of the literature on parades in Northern Ireland examine the Protestant traditions, this paper instead explores a parading tradition emanating from the Catholic, nationalist community, namely that of The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). Whereas the order today presents itself as a demarcated, religious, sociocultural institution with a penchant for pacifism and charity, it constituted a political and paramilitary force du jour in the early 20th century, supporting the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), while simultaneously engaging around 170.000 members as a ‘friendly society’ and comprising a vehicle for sectarian violence. An examination of this change in the order’s objectives, more specifically in relation to the order’s self-imposed parading ban of the 1970s, serves as the purpose for this historical exposition, to accentuate the transition of its institutional narrative, while emphasising the obtrusive question of how and why a previously political, paramilitary organisation resolved to non-violence in the wake of the Troubles. While the presence of the parading ban from 1970 to 1975 has been established (McNally 1996, n.p.; Jarman & Bryan 1998, 49; Bardon 1992, 681), it has not previously been considered as a source for conflict resolution. Drawing upon the concept of the mobilisation of institutional memory and upon the order’s own publications and interviews, this paper establishes that the ban was indeed motivated by a social proviso, and argues that the transition of the order’s narrative in itself was facilitated by its decreasing political influence following the Easter Rising, the General Election of 1918 and Partition, and ultimately questions whether the efforts of the order was indeed successful and applicable to the wider scope of the Northern Irish conflict.

María Leticia del Toro García: PORTRAYING IRELAND FROM THE DISTANCE: SUSAN HOWE “DISCOVERS” HER IDENTITY

The poet Susan Howe, born in a middle class Bostonian family, has always manifested strong links with Ireland which has marked part of her literary career. Mainly influenced by her Irish mother and her profound “homesickness” (a term Howe herself employs frequently) Howe has provided Ireland much attention in her work, transforming it into the thematic line of many of her books. However, and that is the reason I am going to analyze her work, her projection is fresh and original due to the sources she employs for inspiration. Howe does not take information from historical records, libraries or newspapers. She inspires in her own family. When she talks about Irish mythology she devotes space to myth well-known in Dublin (her mother´s home) but not so popular out of there as it happens with Lyr. Speaking about places she mentions “The Liberties”, the Promontory of Howth or Saint Patrick´s Cathedral as those where the places her mother visited when in her country. As a consequence of that Howe´s work achieves a very personal presentation focused on specific aspects of this country that only truly Irish people know. Precisely that is the reason why Howe works on them. She tries to explore Irish identity. She looks for her place in a country she loves but where she still feels an outsider so she focuses on elements only truly Irish people like her mother knows. My purpose is making a presentation of those elements from several perspectives (historical, literary, mythological and cultural) while I analyze the way Howe introduces them into her poetry since I consider her approach to Ireland provides the vision of the contemporary writer in search of an identity.

Jessika Köhler: Don’t you? - Alan Gillis’s Pop Poetry

Alan Gillis poetry is informed by the postmodern world of popular culture, mass communication and consumerism and many of his poems focus on the tension between traditional pastoral ideals and the realities of the twenty-first century as he creates new landscapes that mesh both worlds in poems like ‘The Mourners’ where “the sky turns from cobalt to blu-ray” (2010: 33). Predominantly set in an urban environment, his poems interrogate the way popular culture, be it in the form of TV, internet, radio or computer games, infringes on the public and private space and leaves the individual disoriented by a constant and overwhelming stream of images, deceptive realities and shifting signifiers and relations. Alan Gillis’s poems create a new dimension, a place located somewhere between reality and the perceived reality of media and technology. His poetic landscape of Northern Ireland gives rise to a new level of uncertainty, not caused by the Troubles, but by a fractured sense of reality where Bob the builder somehow turns out to be a dickhead.

This exploration is part of what Kelly calls Gillis’s ‘inappropriate aesthetic’ (Kelly 234) which foregrounds those elements that aren’t typically representative of art and, thus, radically subverts the reader’s pre-existent expectations of what constitutes poetry. The present paper aims to look at the way Gillis’s poetic depictions of contemporary pop culture casually and with a playful delight interrogate the conceptions of highbrow art by, for instance, creating a poem made entirely of lines from eighties pop songs.

Anne Karhio: Framed Landscapes in Recent Irish Poetry

This paper will examine the work of contemporary Irish poets and the ways in which visual representations of landscapes are portrayed in their writing. It will particularly focus on represented landscapes as “framed”, whether in painting, photography or on a computer screen, thus drawing attention to how landscapes in verbal or artistic works address the possibilities and limitations of single or multiple points of view. The above mentioned forms of visual representation have also been associated with distinct ways of experiencing place and landscape, from Romantic engagement with the spirit of the place to Postmodern placelessness in the age of digital media. Similarly, various media and different modes of visual representation have served different functions culturally and historically; landscape painting, photography and digital media have been associated with varying degrees of authority, authenticity and popular appeal. The paper will discuss landscapes in poems by Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon and Alan Gillis to highlight some of the ways in which poetry and different visual media interact in order to construct and question the narratives associated with Irish landscapes. How do contemporary poets engage with discourses of artistic production, tourism and technology in their landscape poems? How do their poems address the idea of framing as selection, perspective and a specific cultural context? And what role does the medium of poetic discourse itself have in this process?

Ruben Moi: Hay, Hay, Hay: Some notes on popularity, populism and profundity in Paul Muldoon’s poetry

Even in the wake of poststructuralist deregulations, Bourdieu’s social critique of the judgment of taste and Jameson’s redefinitions of cultural logic, everyone seems to agree that Muldoon’s poetry tends to be inaccessible, for the writers themselves and for the academic elite, and highly removed from ordinary people and popular culture. John Carey famously described Muldoon’s poetry as ‘arcane, allusive, packed to the gunwales with higher education’. Other labels include cryptic, coded, incommunicative and irresponsible hermeticism. This paper takes issue with this widespread opinion and will, firstly, discuss some popular aspects of Muldoon’s poetry, particularly in his ‘Sleeve Notes’ series from Hay (1998), and then, secondly, discuss to what extent these popular aspects can possibly revaluate the critical considerations of his poetry.

Erja Simuna: Troubled Irish - popular stereotypes of Irishness in international media?

”Irish time bomb ticks away”; ”Ireland, that island of woe unceasing”; ”Ireland, a bizarre nation”. These are just few characterizations of Irishness published by international mass media. But what then is popular when mediating news about the Irish from abroad? Does it differ from impressions from inside (Ireland)? How has the conflict in Northern Ireland coloured perceptions of it? The aim of this presentation is to find out whether there exists an impression of the Irish/Irishness that can be labeled as ’popular’ in a mass media context. News offer a very fertile chance to bring out international and cross-cultural perceptions as mass media are considered to be a poignant source in forming understanding about others. News can be considered as a manifestation of mass culture as they are usually produced to appeal to the great majority of the audience. This presentation discusses the issue by examining international newspapers’ representations as an example. I’ll especially focus on visual (news) images to discuss the attributes connected with the popular idea of Irishness.

Even though this presentation has a strong emphasis on history with a glimpse on the conflict years of Northern Ireland, the idea of how popular (or common) perceptions get materialized is generalizable to wider areas.

Jan Erik Mustad: The Popular Rhetoric of Ian Paisley – From ’Politics of the Streets’ to Power Sharing

Ian Paisley was the undisputed leader of the Democratic Unionist Party for nearly forty years and also the co-founder and Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church for nearly sixty. In 2008 he left his role as Moderator and his position as First Minister in Northern Ireland, but he still casts long shadows across the Northern Irish political and religious landscape. His fusion of religion and politics has led to several examinations of his public role as a stern defender of Ulster and Protestantism.

This paper seeks to examine Paisley’s popular rhetoric in an attempt to trace changes that may have occurred over the years. Was his amazing turn-around in 2006 traceable in his earlier rhetoric? Or was there a softer and more pragmatic and flexible strategy behind the hardline front that the people of Northern Ireland and elsewhere so quickly associated with Paisley?

Finally, the paper examines how and to what extent Paisley’s rhetoric of confrontation related to the political violence of the Province. Paisley’s narrative was often seen as being at the heart of Unionism and hence, his support reached far beyond his Evangelical choir. His ‘politics of the streets’ encouraged a holy war and urged Protestant-Unionists to fight for what they believed in. How did his rhetoric change after 2006, when the DUP opted for cooperation rather than confrontation?

Nathalie Sebbane: Magdalen Laundries: from Representations to History

Over the past 15 years, the plight of hundreds of women who were locked up for sometimes decades in religious institutions known as Magdalen Laundries, has received intensive coverage, both from media sources, support groups, artists and political actors. It can now be said that the issue has become a "popular" one, in the sense that the people of Ireland, as well as many people outside the country, do have some knowledge of what has happened to these women at a certain time in the history of the country.

In that respect, some questions deserve to be examined. First, I would like to review and examine what I have called the channels of popularity. It will cover:

  • scandals affecting the Church
  • cultural representation, ie. films, books, performances, plays: Mannix Flynn’s performance, the play Eclipsed, The Magdalen Sisters (by Peter Mullan), and more recently Philomena (by Stephen Frears)
  • the media, both traditional, mainstream media and social media (Facebook,Twitter) and support groups
  • accounts of survivors
  • publication of high profile reports and inquiries, ie. McAleese Report, UN report,
    UNCAT reports, IHRC reports.

Then, I will try to question the effects of the "popularization" of the issue on historical accuracy and its possible fallouts. Will it lead to new historical narratives?:

  • Does becoming "popular" mean lifting the veil of secrecy and silence?
  • To what extent has this popularity restored this part of history to the people? Has it turned it into folk culture?

Eleanor Lavan: The Irreparable and the Imprevidible: political failure at Joyce's family circus

In “Ithaca”, the penultimate episode of Ulysses, Mr Bloom remembers a night at the circus. His memory of the intuitive clown in quest of paternity and the public declaration that he (Bloom) was his (the clown’s) papa is humiliating. His remembered failure in fulfilling that role is disappointing. But by the time of this recollection, failed father Bloom has already concluded that “all tales of circus life are highly demoralising”. Joyce’s telling of these tales is my interest in this paper.

Throughout Ulysses, actual and metaphoric circuses feature as locations in which Bloom’s authority and legitimacy within the home are brought into question. Further, the “Ithaca” exchange unites home life and political life in the ring. This paper looks at how men in the domestic sphere offer fictional versions of grander political schemes satirised by Joyce in circus stories.

Declan Kiberd has recently called for a reconnection of Ulysses to everyday life. Primarily, this paper aims for that reconnection as I contextualise Joyce’s use of the circus trope which is rarely explored. I go beyond basic facts and figures to consider Joyce’s situation of dubious male authority in circus settings. To do so, I recount the biography of the Irish clown and nineteenth-century circus star Johnny Patterson who wilfully confronted politics in the ring. I link Patterson to relevant reflections made by the artist Jack B. Yeats on pre-Rising Ireland which are seen through the circus trope. Joyce’s writing weaves in and out of my argument, until my conclusion returns to Ulysses and the spectacular circus in “Circe”.

Sylvie Mikowski: "Roddy Doyle and Popular Culture"

Roddy Doyle is one of the most successful and acclaimed contemporary Irish writers, one of the rare Irish recipients of the Booker Prize, and he stands among those Irish artists most often called upon by international institutions or media to represent Irish contemporary literature. Yet right from his beginnings as a writer Doyle has also engaged with the most diverse forms of arts, mixing song lyrics and dialogue in his first novel The Commitments, which was soon adapted into film by Alan Parker, just as his two following novels, The Van and The Snapper were also adapted to the screen by Stephen Frears. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, the novel which won Doyle the Booker Prize, was characterized by the systematic use of the vernacular and dialogue, just as were the previous ones, Doyle's style being as a result mostly defined by its orality, at least until the publication of A Star Called Henry, which represented a real turning point in the writer's career. Meanwhile, Doyle experimented with script writing for film and television, drawing national attention with the broadcasting of the mini-series Family, which caused intense public debate about the ills and woes of Irish society such as they were exposed by the films. Besides writing for television and cinema, Doyle has also written children's books which have been translated into several languages. These days, Doyle has been able to attend the launching of a musical comedy adapted from The Commitments in a London theatre, still another way of bringing his work closer to the public. Readers of the weekly magazine Metro Eireaan can also discover an instalment of his serialized stories in each issue.

Through all these dallyings with popular forms of culture, can Doyle still be regarded as a 'literary' author ? Or should he be ranked amongst 'popular' writers, authors of best-sellers striving to please the largest audience possible at the cost of artistic integrity ? And if it were the case, should Doyle be labelled 'popular' because he appeals to a large audience and uses popular media such as TV or the press, or because he records the behaviours, speech and mindsets of the lower-classes such as in his famous 'Barrytown Trilogy' ? Such questions only reflect the difficulty of providing a stable, single definition of the word 'popular', which was vey often used with deprecatory undertones, until postmodern art and literature started to question and subvert the so-called essential difference between 'high' and 'low' cultures.

Heidi Hansson: Sanctioning Popularity: Allusion and Intertext in Land War Fiction

Fiction and drama about the Irish land war was to a large extent produced by first-time authors or writers who never published again. Apart from being characterised by their topicality and commitment to the moment, land war novels and plays are therefore greatly indebted to genre conventions when it comes to plot development, characterisation and the mechanics of text construction. Conventional elements in nineteenth-century literature are chapter epigraphs, allusions and quotations inserted in the text, sources of possible additional meaning that is extrafictional but not extratextual. In some cases, it seems as if writers of land war literature use such material to give their works a less ephemeral character by suggesting historical parallels, referring to classical or religious authority, or alluding to celebrated literary models. The apparatus of allusions, quotations, implied equivalents, inserted poems, dedications and references creates a discursive authority that strengthens the argument and deflects the anxiety of popularity. In other cases, the selection of material seems to build up a more self-confident Irish framework that sometimes includes an aspect of “writing back” to dominant English culture. In this paper I will examine the function of this extrafictional material in a selection of land war literature in the light of anxious as well as confident relations to popularity.

Billy Gray: “A thrilling beauty”?: Violence, Transcendence and the Shankill Butchers in Eoin McNamee’s Resurrection Man

The Shankill Butchers, a small group of UVF members based in the Shankill Road during the 1970s, acquired a reputation for indulging in pathological violence to a degree hitherto unparalleled in the annals of “Troubles”- related murders. Eoin McNamee’s Resurrection Man has been accorded a great degree of critical attention regarding the contentious manner in which it has attempted to investigate the Shankill Butchers’ legacy. My article attempts to suggest that the novel’s metafictive universe and innovative generic hybridity represent an attempt to transcend the spatial borders of Northern Ireland in order to present the conflict as an allegory of existential, postmodern alienation. The violent psychopathology of the Shankill Butchers is, in McNamee’s text, of universal as opposed to local significance, and violence is controversially portrayed as a search for intimacy and transcendence in a world defined by virtual reality.

María José Carrera: Elite, popular and folk culture in Samuel Beckett’s postwar novellas

Samuel Beckett’s narrators in his four postwar novellas display a ‘learned ignorance’ where obscure allusions to the likes of Dante and Proust share the page with equally hidden references to popular street ballads and best-selling books of the author’s formative years. The potentially awkward co-existence of voices from the elite and high art with the sounds of folk culture and the pages of popular books, combined with an array of autobiographical material, shape, we contend, the Irishman’s ‘autograph’, a peculiar type of self-writing. That this should be the case with such an experimental artist as Samuel Beckett who enjoys the status of both an author for the elite and, in some respects, a 21st-century commodity, makes this review of his use of popular, folk and high art an interesting case study within the global topic ‘Ireland and the popular’.

Ciaran McDonough: “Nineteenth-Century Irish Travel Writing as ‘Popular Antiquarianism’”

Translations and editions of early Irish texts published throughout the nineteenth century ensured that the study of Irish history was more accessible than ever before. Prior to this, such research was limited to those who could read the texts or who could afford to keep amanuenses, thereby confining it to the realm of the scholar. Yet despite these materials eventually becoming more widely available, they remained academic in both tone and in their treatment of the subject matter. Some antiquarians consequently resorted to travel literature as a means of reaching popular audiences with distilled versions of their antiquarian investigations.

Combining the formal conventions of contemporaneous travel writing with a deep concern for the folklife of the west of Ireland – the “peasant life” which was deemed to be dying off and therefore a legitimate antiquarian subject in and of itself – these texts targeted not simply a scholarly readership but an audience of Upper or Middle Class urbanites with an interest in Irish history and who could afford to take trips to visit the sites in question. The published volumes offered not just guides to places of archaeological interest but also references to important historical events in the vicinity and mentions of the sites in the annals and other manuscripts. Moreover, these further were accompanied by commentary from antiquarians and anecdotes from local folklore. Many of these writings also came with suggestions for travel to the sites, normally beginning from Dublin, and so can be read as precursors to the modern guide book.

This paper will thus examine nineteenth century Irish travel writing as both “popular”, in that it was intended for a general audience, but also as a neglected subgenre concerned with the depiction of the “populous” itself, ultimately contributing to the latter’s transformation into an antiquarian subject at this point.

Michael Kenneally: “Print Media, Fiction and the Recuperation of Irish-Canadian History in Jan Henry Morgan's A Chronicle of Lower Canada"

The three volumes that constitute Jan Morgan’s A Chronicle of Lower Canada were published from 1992 to 1996, a time of intense public debate in Quebec on the relationship between past and present, the role of memory in shaping politics and popular culture, and the constituent elements of national identity. Central to this discussion is the Rebellion of 1837, especially the role played by members of the Anglo community at this pivotal juncture in the colony’s history. The fault lines of language, politics, and national affiliation have also been the focus of much of the formal historiography dealing with this event. In rendering the confluence of social and political developments that led to the outbreak of violence, and in recounting the actual battles between the rebels and British colonial forces, Morgan draws on her wide-ranging research findings to devise new means of accessing and representing history. Her exploration of the relationship between history and fiction, more specifically between historical fiction and fictionalized history, can be profitably understood in the context of the ongoing debates between historians and others (Frederic Jameson, Hayden White, J.M. Bumstead) on the challenges of capturing the past in textual form. In A Chronicle of Lower Canada, Morgan creates a complex hybrid of diverse materials: meticulous analysis of archival sources; reproduction of a wide range of extracts from newspapers, parliamentary reports, letters, diaries, memoirs, travel writing, poetry and fiction; inclusion of a collage of illustrations of places, people, events, even maps; and the interspersion of the story of a fictional Irish immigrant in Quebec. I will argue that the shifting narrative focus of her rhetorical procedures affords Morgan the opportunity to suggest fresh and more nuanced understandings of this turbulent and seminal moment in Quebec history.

Kristina Grgić & Cvijeta Pavlović: Popular/folk and high culture in the Croatian reception of Irish literature and culture: Synge, Joyce, “Irishness” vs. Slamnig, Senker, Mujičić

The paper is intended as a contribution to the field of Croatian-Irish literary and cultural relations, which will focus on the meaning and significance of the high – popular/folk culture relationship in this context.

This topic will be explored in three aspects, starting with the Croatian reception of J. M. Synge’s work and his specific blend of folk and high culture. The analysis will uncover two strategies of its transposition: the one in which Synge’s texts are presented as classics of (Irish) high literary modernism and the only case in which they are “lowered” to the level of folk farce.

The second aspect will be illustrated on the example of another Irish modern classic, James Joyce, whose figure has entered Croatian popular culture due to the fact that he stayed in the town of Pula in 1904-1905. This fact has inspired a play by the contemporary Croatian dramatist Boris Senker (Pulisej), whose analysis will show how such an image of Joyce has been used in Senker’s postmodern reinscription of Ulysses, and particularly in his representation and interrogation of history and cultural and national identities.

The last issue will be highlighted in the third aspect as well, focusing this time, however, on the general representations of “Irishness” in the poetry of another Croatian postmodern author, Tahir Mujičić (Irski Iranec i Iranski Irec), who is also known for his playful conflation of “high” tradition and popular culture.

By presenting three different facets of the Croatian and Irish literary and cultural dialogue, the paper will thus also illustrate different strategies of blending high and popular/folk culture, placing them in a literary-historical – i.e. (post)modernist – perspective.

Michelle Carroll: A Whistle in the Dark

This paper sets out to explore the implications of postcolonialism for Irish identity politics, using an analysis of A Whistle in the Dark by Tom Murphy. Through the characters of this play who struggle to define a coherent national identity for themselves in the industrial city of Coventry, Murphy depicts the reality of modern Ireland by locating the play in the pathology of the alienated individual who contradicts the hegemony of Catholic bourgeois nationalist Ireland. By contextualising the liminal aspects of A Whistle in the Dark, the primary aim of this paper is to focus on these contradictions and the resulting indeterminate identity that lies at the borderlines of Irish culture. This analysis is informed by Homi Bhabha’s concepts of hybridity and mimicry in relation to the dynamics of colonialism. Through the sense of failure that permeates the play, and the desire to escape the confinements of constructed identity categories, which restrict and trap the characters within ascribed identities, A Whistle in the Dark explores the boundaries between essentialising narratives of Irish identity, and a non-dialectical space. The nature of identity is further complicated by Bhabha’s hybrid voices and performances that allow for an indeterminate plurality of identities to exist. The contemplation of liminality in A Whistle in the Dark allows the characters to occupy spaces where they are forced to make their own private myths fuse with the contemporary public identity they must inhabit.

Carmen Zamorano Llena: “Variations in Migration and Collective Identities: Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin and the Cosmopolitanisation of Irish Reality”

The transnational mobility of people is usually underscored as a pivotal feature of contemporary globalisation. In the Irish context, as G. Honor Fagan observes, mobility in its various modes, particularly as relating to exile, migration and diaspora, is inherent to constructs of national identity, and has undergone a radical redefinition in globalised Ireland (2003). The centrality of this mobility to definitions of “Irishness” also accounts for its outstanding position in the national literature, which is particularly emphasised by contemporary fictional writing, as exemplified by the work of Roddy Doyle, Dermot Bolger, Hugo Hamilton or Colum McCann. In McCann’s case, images of flight and fleeing are recurrent in his work and underscore the centrality that mobility occupies in his fictional world, in which these flights are, not infrequently, a metaphorical act of escapism from material reality and physical conditioning. However, mobility in Let the Great World Spin is articulated as a characteristically twenty-first century phenomenon in its emphasis on how interconnectivity beyond differences, especially in the form of transnational exchanges, defines contemporary societies and shapes individuals’ realities and identities. The aim of this paper is to analyse how Let the Great World Spin (2009) suggests a re-definition of Irish fiction and its most popular tropes, particularly exile and migration, through the prism of what Ulrich Beck has termed the “cosmopolitan outlook,” defined as a “sense of boundarylessness,” namely “the possibility of shaping one’s life and social relations under conditions of cultural mixture,” (2006: 2) where the national and the cosmopolitan complement each other.