- Cover Note
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The photographs of children's faces that comprise Éire-Ireland's cover image suggest the range of attitudes toward and representations of Irish childhood addressed in this issue. Taken from a larger installation by Dorothy Cross (b. 1956) entitled Close Your Eyes and Open Your Mouth and See What God Will Give You, the prints capture an array of reactions—anticipation, reverence, humor, patience, innocence, trepidation—and they invoke just as many responses in the viewer. The children's open mouths awaiting Communion—mouths that demand our attention despite the implied silence of the faces—first arrest our gaze. Suggestions of a grin are evident on one girl's face, while one of the boys might as easily have been caught laughing as waiting to receive the Host. But any such implied humor seems undercut by the reverential quality of the imagery. Several of the children's faces are serene, with eyes closed gently and trusting heads tilted back expectantly. Still other children evince some uneasiness; one boy's mouth is partly obscured by his tongue, his right eye squeezed tightly shut and his face contorted into what might, in another context, be read as a grimace. Viewed collectively, these children's faces convey both deference and humor, desire and [End Page 291] apprehension—rather than simple pleasure. The photographs and Cross's caption for them, particularly for those viewers familiar with this Irish artist's iconoclastic and witty sculptures and site-specific installations, deliberately unsettle the religious ideology to which they refer.1 As in so many of her other works, Cross's photographs challenge the conventions and institutions of a traditional Irish national identity. The images comprising Close Your Eyes and Open Your Mouth and See What God Will Give You resist a simple religious, political, or pedagogical interpretation, instead opening themselves to expansive and potentially disturbing readings by contemporary viewers. Like Dorothy Cross, the contributors to this issue approach the study of Irish childhood through many lenses—literary, sociological, and historical—and across different periods. Echoing her photographs, their articles depict a subject at once playful and insistent—a subject calling for further critical attention just as Cross's images, offered to viewers in 1995-96, after the trusting relationship between the Irish Church and Irish children had been undermined, demand a closer look. [End Page 292]
Dathalinn M. O'Dea is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Boston College with a speciality in Irish Studies. Her interests include nineteenth and twentieth-century Irish literature, postcolonial studies, and Anglo-American modernism. In particular, she is interested in representations of the city and Ireland's print culture during the first half of the twentieth century. Currently, she is researching Ireland's little modernist magazines, specifically how they register and respond to Irish politics even as they showcase innovative writing.
1. For example, titles of some of Cross's most striking installations include Caught in a State (1991), La Primera Cena [The First Supper] (1992), and Virgin Shroud (1993). For an analysis and images of the artist's site-specific work, see Robin Lydenberg, GONE: Site-Specific Works by Dorothy Cross (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). See also Lydenberg's articles on Cross's art in previous issues of Éire-Ireland, including "Contemporary Irish Art on the Move: At Home and Abroad with Dorothy Cross," Éire-Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies 39, nos. 3-4 (Fall/Winter 2004): 144-66.