Leanne O’Sullivan, who won the O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award in 2011, was born and raised on West Cork’s Beare Peninsula. In her recent collection The Mining Road (2013) and in the personal essay with which we open this issue, she brings us with her to that rocky and rudimentary region. As O’Sullivan recalls a visit at Christmas, she reveals her home as a place where the mythic and the personal walk close together. Her Beara is above all a place of stories, relayed in varying registers. The landscape resonates with the legends of the Cailleach, or Hag of Beara; Gorth village is peopled by memories of now-gone residents; and her own history of illness and recovery is always near. O’Sullivan gratefully embraces the healing power of story: “before medication or maps or theology or logic,” she writes, “we told each other stories to make sense of our experiences.”
A persistent trap in writing Irish history has been to conceive of it as somehow detached from events and trends abroad. Current historiography has grown more attuned to internationalism—yet, as Dr. Michael Huggins notes with some surprise, as recently as 2008 an influential historian could claim that the Young Irelanders of the 1840s had only a nugatory connection to continental Europe. The reality, Huggins shows, was quite the reverse. Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, and John Mitchel were very much a part of a cosmopolitan and romantic sense of nationalism that developed in Europe, of which a central figure was Italy’s Giuseppe Mazzini. The founders of the Nation regularly reported on Mazzini’s campaigns, expressed their admiration for his writings, and their own publications showed the pervasive influence of Mazinni, sometimes in highly specific ways. Michael Huggins has published widely on nineteenth-century Irish history in such journals as Irish Historical Studies and the Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies. He is the author of Social Conflict in Pre-famine Ireland: The Case of Co. Roscommon (2007). [End Page 5]
Geraldine Mitchell has lived near County Mayo’s Clew Bay since 2000, after long residence abroad in France, Algeria, and Spain. Reading her poems, one senses that she is drawn to simplicity and balance, for these poems often return to images of stillness: a stone, a bog-body frozen in time, a view of the sea where “the picture in the window does not move.” But Mitchell finds no security in stasis: her poems take familiar images and transform them into something unsettling. In “Lurch,” she asks, “What if the world did shift / on its axis, make bockety turns . . . ?” Under our ideas of what is comforting and familiar in this world is a fault line that could disrupt it all. Geraldine Mitchell won the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award in 2008. Her first collection World Without Maps (2011) will be followed by Of Birds and Bones later this year, both from Arlen House.
As Ireland plunges into its “Decade of Commemorations,” during which a litany of decisive events—including the Dublin Lock-out, the Easter Rising, and the Irish Civil War—will mark their centennials, it seems clear indeed that the past is still contested ground. In one of our periodic “Ceisteanna Úra / Fresh Questions” roundtables, New Hibernia Review has asked four scholars (each active in shaping the commemoration conversation) to reflect on the larger questions raised by the decade. A watchful skepticism runs through all of their responses. Dr. Dominic Bryan is a social anthropologist who specializes in parading and public ritual in Northern Ireland; in his view, we should begin our assessment of the decade by asking how it serves contemporary politics. He emphasizes that it is “the present that will influence the past, not the other way around.” Bryan’s many publications include the recent “Titanic Town: Living in a Landscape of Conflict” in Belfast400: People, Place and History (2012). Dr. Mike Cronin, who convened this roundtable, has written extensively about the evolution of Irish national identity, with special attention to the role of popular and public culture; currently, he is shepherding Boston College’s “Century Ireland” web site. Cronin notes that the new realities...