- Nótaí na nEagarthóirí: Editors’ Notes
It must be a nearly universal experience to, at some point, feel suddenly and fully at home in a new environment. Catherine Foley—who found a psychic home in the County Waterford Gaeltacht to which she moved with her family at age eleven—recalls just such a twinning of place and self in “Home to Ring,” the memoir that opens this issue. For Foley, the move was no mere change of address, but a collision of worlds and ways of being: the enclosure of the town against the openness of the fields and sea, the demureness of the convent school against the tumble of her new bunscoil, and, in the most subtle and the most dramatic of changes, her discovery of Irish as a language of emotion. “In the village of Baile na nGall,” she recalls,“I felt myself slip toward wildness, toward strangeness and volatility.”A former Irish Times staffer and regular contributor to RTÉ’s iconic “Sunday Miscellany” program, Catherine Foley is the author of two novellas in Irish.
The long history of prison literature abounds with Irish writers, from John Mitchel to Gerry Adams. Among the influential works in this genre are those of the Land League’s founder Michael Davitt, especially Leaves from a Prison Diary, or, Lectures to a “Solitary” Audience (1885). Here, Dr. Sean O’Brien examines Davitt’s “lectures” (supposedly addressed to a bird in his prison cell) and finds that Davitt skillfully employs his position as an inmate, melding the credibility that came from his experience of incarceration with a strategic tone of detachment. Davitt declines to challenge the authority of the prison; instead, he turns the logic of the prison against itself, showing that the system yields neither reform nor justice. Leaves concludes with Davitt’s study of prison poetry—doggerel that, like Davitt himself, defied the mandate of silence. Sean O’Brien is currently co-editing a collection of essays on race and immigration in contemporary Ireland. [End Page 5]
The literary career of John Millington Synge, now all but synonymous with the West of Ireland, began with the slight and highly aestheticized poetry and prose of Vita Vecchia and Étude Morbide, unfinished works influenced by Synge’s visits to and studies in continental Europe. Professor Alex Davis shows us that, in reaction to the dominant poetics of the fin de siècle, the young Synge was rapidly drawn to a more authentic, less mannered approach to language and to writing, culminating in his famous assertion that “before verse can be human again it must learn to be brutal.” In rejecting the self-conscious artifice of the Decadents, Synge was influenced by the linguistic theories of Paul Passy, and by the invigorating example of Villon. In this latter instance, Synge prefigured Ezra Pound. Alex Davis has explored the ins and outs of Irish and other modernisms in numerous articles and books, among them The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Poetry, co-edited with Lee M. Jenkins (2007), and A Broken Line: Denis Devlin and Irish Poetic Modernism (2000).
Catherine Phil MacCarthy has titled the last of the eight new poems she presents here with the single word “Ritual,” and indeed, these poems tune themselves to the rhythms and small ceremonies of ordinary life: a walk beside a river, a holiday retreat from the city, the way in which a thunderstorm imparts a strange renewal to a day. Here, as in each of MacCarthy’s four collections from How High the Moon (1991) through to Suntrap (2007), the landscape of her County Limerick childhood is a shaping presence. These poems meditate on how grief, frailty, and loss invest places with meaning: in “Threshold,” the tidying up of a yard in anticipation of funeral visitors; the almost unbearable sadness of burying a stillborn child in “Limbo”; and the primeval affirmation of the morning in “Facing the Rising Sun,” a poem dedicated to her late mother in which the sunrise bestows “a sense of first breath on the earth, of birth.”
Veronica Hegarty, the narrator of Anne Enright’s novel The Gathering (2007), writes her story after her brother’s suicide in an effort to come to...