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Bernard Shaw's Other Irelands: 1915-1919 Stanley Weintraub The Pennsylvania State University ALMOST ANYONE KNOWLEDGEABLE about Irish drama, English drama, or Shaw, recognizes one play as Shaw's contribution to Irish theatre, John Bull's Other Island (1904). Yet there would be two others, each far less known to the stage. The depiction of Ireland in John Bull's Other Island was at once realistic and sentimental, ironic and romantic. Its heiress, Nora Reilly, for example, has all of forty pounds a year. Larry Doyle, her one-time swain long self-exiled from Ireland, excoriates the Irish for living on dreams, but he has his own. The local priests are sour Father Dempsey, a cleric of limited and rigid vision, and saintly Father Keegan, a man of God of such enchanting vision that he has been unfrocked on grounds that a madman may not celebrate the Mass. The town of Rosscullen is a lonely place of "granite rock and heather slopes" where scratching out a living is hard, inglorious work. The inciting force in the play, the ambitious English entrepreneur Thomas Broadbent, wants to turn the region—exploit it might be another view—into a tourist hotel with golf course and villagers of commercial quaintness. Eleven years later, with some visits to Ireland between scripts, Shaw wrote a playlet that examined good-humoredly English attempts to recruit Irishmen into the ranks to fight the Germans. The Great War is a year along; casualties are heavy and replacements needed. For the Irish, ideals of King and Country mean little; most want neither, and Private Dennis O'Flaherty on going off to the war tells his fervidly Fenian mother he is leaving to fight on the side of the French and Russians. She has no idea that the English are on the same side too. As Shaw observed in the preface to O'Flaherty, VC, young Irishmen "were willing 433 ELT 42 : 4 1999 enough to go soldiering on the side of France and see the world outside of Ireland, which is a dull place to live in."1 Although they had to be approached "from their own point of view," rather than form Irish units with Irish Catholic officers, the British put up posters exhorting, "Remember Belgium." Shaw's contrary "recruiting pamphlet," as he subtitled the playlet, was addressed simply, he wrote, to the business of obtaining recruits. I knew by personal experience and observation what anyone might have inferred from the records of Irish emigration , that all an Irishman's hopes and ambitions turn on his opportunities of getting out of Ireland. Stimulate his loyalty, and he will stay in Ireland and die for her; for, incomprehensible as it seems to an Englishman, Irish patriotism does not take the form of devotion to England and England's king. Appeal to his discontent, his deadly boredom, his thwarted curiosity and desire for change and adventure, and, to escape from Ireland, he will go abroad to risk his life for France, for the Papal States, for secession in America, and even, if no better may be [found], for England. To the Irish, "England" meant colonial rule from Dublin Castle, but Shaw's contention was that the Irishman in his literal insularity could not realize that the German version of Dublin Castle—"the jack boot," as Shaw put it—would be worse. He had "no scruple," then—the words are his—in appealing to other motives, including what he called an unmentionable one that he claimed helped recruiting sergeants and patriot orators in every war everywhere: The happy home of the idealist may become common under millennial conditions . It is not common at present. No one will ever know how many men joined the army in 1914 and 1915 to escape from tyrants and taskmasters, termagants and shrews, none of whom are any the less irksome when they happen by ill-luck to be also our fathers, our mothers, our wives, and our children . Even at their amiablest, a holiday from them may be a tempting change for all parties. That is why I did not endow O'Flaherty VC. with an ideal Irish colleen for his sweetheart, and gave him for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 433-442
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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