Islands are, by definition, places apart. The shaping power of island places is among the several themes running through our opening essay from the nonfiction writer Karen Babine. Recalling her visits to two memorable islands, "An Island Triptych" in some ways becomes a meditation on the phenomenology of islands themselves. The essay opens and closes on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands and a touchstone of the Irish imagination; in between, we center on Canada's Grosse Île in the St. Lawrence River, where thousands of famine immigrants are buried. A torrent of connections and ideas swirl about each of these islands, which Babine evokes in lavish prose—yet each place also speaks of sparseness and grief. All along, the elusive meaning of "becoming island" is answered by the particularity of the place itself: this limestone slab, these birches and pines, this granite. Karen Babine has previously published on Tim Robinson in New Hibernia Review.
The episcopate of Bishop Michael Browne of Galway spanned much of mid-century Ireland, and—like his contemporary Archbishop McQuaid of Dublin— Browne's social and political influence was profound. Browne, too, often found himself in the midst of public controversy. Dr. James S. Donnelly, Jr., looks at four areas in which the bishop brought his influence to bear on matters of public morality: the censorship of books and magazines; the regulation of drinking and other vices during Race Week in Galway; persistent controversies involving dancing and dance halls; and his concern over modesty in dress, exacerbated by the rise of "mixed bathing" on Irish beaches. It will surprise no one that Browne's influence diminished as Irish society changed in in the 1960s and 1970s. Donnelly shows, however, that a close look at these controversies suggests that the ordinary Catholics of Ireland were never uniformly deferential to church authorities, nor were they as compliant with the moral directives of the hierarchy as is often believed. James S. Donnelly, Jr., is a prolific historian of Ireland and the co-editor of Éire-Ireland. The most recent of the seven books he has authored or edited is Captain Rock: The Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821-1824 (2009). [End Page 5]
The selection of new poems by James Harpur (b. 1956) opens with sonnets written for each of his parents, one set in a wooded countryside and one at his father's flat in London. In both places, Harpur testifies to his sense of a world beyond this world—or more accurately, of a numinous world that shares in our dailiness. Key to his rendering of a spirit-haunted reality is his fascination with the saints and seekers of the medieval church: St. Kevin of Glendalough, the mystic John of Roeysbruck in "Groenendaal," and the speaking figure from the Book of Kells who advises, "just be a pilgrim to yourself." The closing poem, "Christmas Snow" is vivid in its depiction of a fallen world that is steeped in holiness. Now living and writing in West Cork, James Harpur has authored five books of poetry, all published by Anvil Press, including last year's Angels and Harvesters.
Pascale Casanova's The World Republic of Letters (2004) offered an ambitious rethinking of the processes by which literary "capital" is created and bestowed, eventually resulting in a canon. As Dr. Michael Malouf points out, Casanova paid special attention to what she termed the "Irish Paradigm" that allows a peripheral literature to enter into World Literature. Malouf is unswerving in his conviction that Irish Studies is best served by a comparativist approach—but in this regard, he finds that "Casanova's work is too significant for Irish Studies to dismiss; yet it is also too problematic to be appropriated wholesale." One particularly knotty problem is that of definition: just what did Casanova mean by the word "paradigm," and what does it imply? Michael Malouf 's publications on cross-cultural literature include Transatlantic Solidarities: Irish Nationalism and Caribbean Poetics (2009) and chapters in The Black and Green Atlantic (2009) and The Irish In Us (2006).
Conventional wisdom holds that playwright Conor McPherson (b. 1971) is a distinctly—indeed, almost uniquely—apolitical author, and one...