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Éire-Ireland 42.3&4 (2007) 4-8

Editors' Introduction
James S. Donnelly
Ver Kreilkamp

Often in an issue organized without a predetermined focus, contributions by scholars from different disciplines enrich each other's perspectives, testifying once again to the serendipitous value of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary publication. In this issue of Éire-Ireland, two essays, one by a historian and the other by a literary scholar, examine responses to enduring social and political problems facing Ireland in the mid-twentieth century. Roisín Higgins investigates how state planning for the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising reflected a series of national anxieties—the survival of partition, the languishing role of the Irish language, the continuing scourge of heavy emigration—that led to an "undercurrent of uncertainty and ambivalence" surrounding the 1966 commemoration. This ambivalence, argues Higgins, resulted in attempts to disavow for the postwar world any reminders, now termed "anti-modern," of the violent political nationalism that had accompanied the formation of a small sovereign state in the 1916–21 period. In a very different sort of essay, one examining high culture rather than popular commemoration and the working out of state policy, James Matthew Wilson suggests how the mid-century poetry of Denis Devlin reflected a related anxiety about Ireland in the decades since independence. Wilson reads Devlin's theologically inflected modernist political poems as this Irish poet/diplomat's response to the continuing failure of the small Irish nation-state to assert genuine sovereignty in the postwar world. [End Page 4]

Through new research and interpretation several essays in this issue challenge accepted historical or literary assumptions. James Donnelly investigates the Rockite movement, a sustained outburst of extreme agrarian violence in the early 1820s. He concludes that although the Rockites gave primacy to the claims of local inhabitants, the movement nevertheless constituted a major regional agrarian revolt exhibiting many supralocal features. Promulgating laws intended to supersede parliamentary statutes even while asserting their loyalty to the king and constitution, the Rockites also expressed nationalistic, sectarian, and anti-English sentiments. In another essay interrogating received opinion, Raphael Ingelbien turns to Sydney Owenson's last novel, The Princess, or the Béguine (1835), to undermine the assumption that with the advent of Daniel O'Connell's repeal campaign in the 1830s, Irish writers revealed their essential conservatism by turning against their own country as a subject for fiction. Calling attention to the affinities that Owenson (Lady Morgan) found between a liberal post-revolutionary European nation like Belgium and O'Connell's Ireland, Ingelbien argues for a reassessment of her political trajectory by demonstrating that in a late work set outside Ireland, this novelist continued to advance a liberal agenda for her own nation.

Keri Walsh's study of Elizabeth Bowen's short fiction written in the 1930s and 1940s implicitly challenges a more familiar reading of that writer as a conservative Big House novelist. In "Elizabeth Bowen, Surrealist," Walsh instead views Bowen as an innovative cosmopolitan, experimenting with the avant-garde techniques of European modernists in order to forge her own distinctive literary style. Caleb Richardson, however, confirms the accepted view of an inward-looking Ireland during the 1940s as he explores a culture retreating into defensive isolation during the World War II era of the "Emergency." In his analysis of the 1942 Senate debate surrounding the censorship of Eric Cross's The Tailor and Ansty, Richardson makes abundantly clear that in the very period when Bowen (and other Irish cultural modernists) were looking beyond Ireland for inspiration, key national figures were preoccupied with protecting the country from what one senator termed the foreign "floodgates of filth."

Two essays in this issue engage with the creation of symbolic political spectacle in Ireland. Such historical displays, increasingly [End Page 5] reported in newspapers, influenced public opinion and provided enduring imagery whereby the state or its opponents sought to impress vivid ideological meanings in situations of intense political conflict. Padhraig Higgins examines the growing role of popular commemorative events enabling Irish Protestants during the Volunteer movement of the late 1770s and early 1780s...


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