In the late Seamus Heaney's Human Chain (2010), his elegy for Colin Middleton "Loughanure" becomes a Proustian exercise in remembrance as well as an examination of individual legacy prompting him to return to his time at the Irish College (Coláiste Bhríde) in Rannafast in 1953. In the final two parts of the poem, the young Heaney's inadequacy in Irish dovetails the limitations of remembrance as the elder poet tries "to remember the Greek word signifying / A world restored completely: that would include / Hannah Mhór's turkey-chortle of Irish."1 The Irish College rite of passage is apt for many reasons. Heaney's elegy for Middleton centers on his painting of Loughanure, near Rannafast, which is part of the landscape the poet had recently traveled by ambulance having suffered a stroke—circumstances that clearly add urgency to remembrance. But equally, the Irish College experience was, and still is, about trying to reconnect with the lost legacy of previous generations, a return to the source of language and identity in the Gaeltacht.
In this context, the phrase "Hannah Mhór's turkey-chortle of Irish" carries an intriguing ambivalence that reflects the inherent contradictions of revivalism. On the one hand, there is an overwhelming immediacy in Heaney's sound picture but, at the same time, an immutable distance commensurate with irretrievable loss. The "turkey-chortle of Irish" is unmistakably described, yet entirely incomprehensible and unattainable. Therein is the paradox of the revival: its attempt not just to restore a world completely, as a frozen image, but also to bring that world to life in the present. In the case of the young Heaney it did not quite work. Yet, though he did not go on to become a fully engaged Irish speaker, the literature of the Irish language had been a constant source [End Page 17] of productivity—as witnessed in his numerous translations from the Irish and other critical engagements.2
As my use of the term itself implies, my intention here is to consider revivalism to be a discrete discourse and in so doing, to resist the tendency toward histoire évenémentielle, according to which revivals are seen primarily as events. As such, significance has been ascribed to the Irish Revival of the 1880s to the 1920s mostly as a catalyst for bringing about the event of political independence in 1921. What follows here is predicated on the understanding that revivalism is a recurrent socio-cultural force, centered around religion and art, which is both international and transhistorical. The proliferation of revivals throughout history points to a recurring force rather than a discrete event: the Renaissance, the Gothic Revival, the Greek Revival, Islamic Revival, evangelical revivals and so on. The common feature of all of these revivals is the basic desire to renegotiate the present by means of a radical synthesis with the past. Yet, the notion of revival is implicitly contradictory, in that the literal sense of revive (from late-Latin reviver "to live again") appears to make no sense except to the imagination. Revival is a way proposed originally by religion and art to overcome the limits of nature, and of mortality in particular. In rejecting the finality of death, in whichever sphere it pertains, revival replaces this finality with a radically different temporal scheme, one that allows for traffic or even synthesis between past and present, living and dead. In other words, revival replaces the "'natural" boundaries of time with an open-ended and negotiable temporality.
Gothic literature typically places characters out of sync with time and induces historical time to lie heavily on the present, stifling progress and forcing an anomalous, unnatural set of circumstances that must be confronted.3 It is no surprise that the temporal idiosyncrasies of the Gothic are often referenced to those of [End Page 18] colonialism, which creates its own temporality in which the colonized is perceived to be out of step with "public time." This sense of alienation from the present was summarized by the nineteenth-century Belfast revivalist, Robert Shipboy MacAdam, in his remark that "the lineal descendants of the...