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Finding Ireland

A Poet's Explorations of Irish Literature and Culture

Richard Tillinghast

Publication Year: 2008

Richard Tillinghast, a celebrated American poet and critic, lived for a year in Ireland in the early 1990s and then returned each year until he became a resident in 2005. From an insider/outsider perspective, he writes vividly and evocatively about the land and people of his adopted home, its culture, its literature, and its long, complex history. Tillinghast orients the reader to Ireland as it is today. Following its entry into the European Union, Ireland changed radically from an impoverished, provincial, former British colony to a country where a farmer takes his wife on skiing holidays in Switzerland and is proud of his wine cellar, to one now home to immigrants from Europe, Africa, and Asia. For many Americans—Irish Americans in particular—Ireland is a mythic and timeless land; from his unique vantage point, Tillinghast debunks a good many stereotypes that prevent our seeing Ireland for what it was, as well as what it has become. Most of Finding Ireland is devoted to thoughtful readings of the works of Irish writers and playwrights, including W. B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Oscar Wilde, and Brian Friel, as well as lesser-known names that deserve a wider readership. Tillinghast also considers the significant contributions of Anglo-Irish authors—John Millington Synge, Elizabeth Bowen, George Moore, Violet Martin and Edith Somerville, William Trevor, and Derek Mahon—with excursions into Irish architecture, music, and garden design. In contemporary Ireland, Tillinghast finds a dynamic society that has stepped out of the shadows of its troubled past to embrace an inclusive, outward-looking interpretation of its history. Intimate in tone, entertaining, and always accessible, Finding Ireland captures an expatriate’s enthusiasm for his new country and its evolving identity.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

The writing of this book has been interwoven with friendships with people in many parts of Ireland, some of whom I would like to acknowledge: Seona Mac Réamoinn, Terence Brown, and George O’Brien at the Trinity College Summer School in Dublin; Bob and Becky Tracy in...


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Finding Ireland

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pp. 3-25

To visit a country whose authors we have read, to read books by writers from lands we have visited— these are two ways we learn about cultures beyond the one we were born into. The desire to visit places we first encountered in books must be among the commonest instincts of literate...

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Letter from Galway, 1990

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pp. 26-35

Thirty-five years ago when I first came under the spell of poetry,Yeats was my introduction to Ireland. More truly,Yeats was my Ireland. It follows that my Ireland was a land of myth—austere, medieval, and aristocratic. I was enchanted by the opening of his poem “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory”:...

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Letter from Dublin, 1998:The Celtic Tiger

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pp. 36-46

What has drawn me to Dublin once or twice a year over the past decade has nothing to do with the Celtic Tiger. Dublin is an incomparable if constantly threatened gem of Georgian architecture, the contemplation of which freshens one’s sense of pure form. Like the music of Mozart...

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Letter from Dublin, 2005: Wilde, Synge, and Orpen

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pp. 47-57

Old Dublin is hard to locate these days—the city James Joyce, Seán O’Casey, Flann O’Brien, and Patrick Kavanagh wrote about, with its tobacco-brown pubs, drizzle, and the sound of the Angelus on the radio every day at noon and six p.m. The Angelus is still rung on RTÉ (Rad...


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Who Were the Anglo-Irish?

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pp. 61-68

Hybrids, as horticulturists know, sometimes produce the most brilliant blossoms in the garden. Hybridization in human culture, particularly in the arts, can also have memorable results. Anglo-Irish writing, from Maria Edgeworth to William Trevor, has been one of the glories of literary...

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The Uneasy World of Somerville and Ross

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pp. 69-84

"Let us take Carbery and grind its bones to make our bread,” Violet Martin wrote in a letter to Edith Oenone Somerville in 1889, “and we will serve it up to the spectator so that its mother wouldn’t know it.” Violet (1862–1915) was then twenty-six years old, and Edith (1858–1949) thirty-one;...

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Travels through Somerville and Ross’s Ireland

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pp. 85-88

Readers of Somerville and Ross’s novels and Irish R.M. stories will have formed their own mental pictures of the characters and settings found in the writings of the two literary second cousins. Real people resembling their fictional characters, being creatures of the late nineteenth and early...

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The Asymmetrical George Moore

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pp. 89-103

Once numbered among the best-known authors and most controversial literary figures of his day, George Moore has been relegated to a footnote on the Irish Literary Revival in the first decade or so of the twentieth century. Moore’s most important book remains the three-part...

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Elizabeth Bowen: The House, the Hotel, and the Child

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pp. 104-123

To read Elizabeth Bowen is to enter, both with pleasure and with consternation, the world of the Anglo-Irish in their decline. By the time Bowen was born, in 1899, the shadows of what Mark Bence-Jones has called (in his 1987 book of the same name) the “Twilight of the Ascendancy”...

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William Trevor: “They Were As Good As We Were”

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pp. 124-140

The fictions, careers, and milieux of Somerville and Ross, then Elizabeth Bowen, and finally William Trevor provide a history in brief of the Anglo-Irish from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Trevor was born and raised a Protestant in provincial Ireland, went to school there, attended...


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Listening to Irish Traditional Music

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pp. 143-149

Unofficial clubs whose only dues are the price of a drink, impromptu stages for the flights of fancy and rhetoric Irish talkers are renowned for, pubs also provide a setting for traditional Irish music, which since the early 1960s has enjoyed a worldwide revival. The term “traditional” is to...

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Flann O’Brien: No Laughing Matter

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pp. 150-155

My best guess is that “the luck of the Irish” is a phrase that originated in America. When one contemplates the lives some of the best Irish writers have led in and out of the pubs of Dublin during the past half-century or so, “curse” comes to mind as a better word than “luck.” Hence...

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Brian Friel: Transcending the Irish National Pastime

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pp. 156-169

“How these people blather on!” the London Sunday Times’s drama critic, John Peter, wrote about a recent production of The Plough and the Stars by Seán O’Casey. Irish playwrights have, over the years, confirmed the nation’s reputation for talk by mounting plays that live or die through their characters’ ability...

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Seamus Heaney’s “Middle Voice”

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pp. 170-178

The convenient fit between poetry and politics suggested by the coupling of Seamus Heaney’s 1995 Nobel Prize with the peace process in Northern Ireland is not so neat as the journalism I have read on the subject would have us believe. Not only is Heaney not a product of the Northern...

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Derek Mahon: Exile and Stranger

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pp. 179-192

Ireland over the past few decades has been the breeding ground for a dozen or so notable poets. One of them, Seamus Heaney, has become world-renowned, and rightly so. A quite different poet, equally worthy of attention, is Derek Mahon, a near-contemporary of Heaney’s, born in 1941, two...

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The Future of Irish Poetry?

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pp. 193-217

Few readers would question Seamus Heaney’s position as the preeminent Irish poet of the second half of the twentieth century. But few of us have a good grasp of who his successors may be, which poets those of us with an interest in Irish writing might want to read next, which poets readers in...


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Mount Stewart: Its Gardens, House, and Family

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pp. 221-230

Midsummer’s Day I was up early, walking in the Italian Garden at Mount Stewart, County Down. I was staying for a week or so at a B&B just outside the demesne wall, in an eighteenth-century farmhouse that had once been part of the estate, and was spending my days in the gardens. The...

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W. B.Yeats: The Labyrinth of Another’s Being

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pp. 231-246

The veils surrounding William Butler Yeats come in such degrees of thickness and coloration that we shall probably never see the man plain. The title of one of the first major critical studies, Yeats, the Man and the Masks, by Richard Ellmann, addressed questions of disguise and shifting...

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Looking for Yeats in Yeats Country

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pp. 247-251

January 28, 2009, marks the seventieth anniversary of the death of William Butler Yeats. As time is reckoned in this country, seventy years are not many, and most of the places associated with Yeats are easily found and conveniently visited.Yeats spent most of his boyhood in Dublin and London,...


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From Venice to Tipperary

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pp. 255-275

It is November now, the wind roars across this hillside acre as if it wanted to wrench the garden shed where I write off its foundations and scatter its pine boards across the face of Sliabh na mBan. I live on the side of the mountain at the end of an unmarked lane in a remote corner of Tipperary, three miles...


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pp. 276-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780268093709
E-ISBN-10: 0268093709
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268042325
Print-ISBN-10: 0268042322

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2008