In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

REMEMBERING IRELAND’S ARCHITECTURE OF CONTAINMENT: “TELLING” STORIES IN THE BUTCHER BOY AND STATES OF FEAR JAMES M. SMITH patrick mccabe’s third novel, The Butcher Boy (1992), describes the eventful life of Francie Brady, a traumatized schoolboy in a small town in late 1950s and early 1960s Ireland.1 Irish society deems Francie mad and resorts to confining his deviant behavior at a variety of different institutions—an industrial school, a mental hospital, and a prison. Hidden away, out of sight and out of mind, McCabe’s protagonist evokes the many real-life victims of Ireland’s architecture of containment.2 In its concrete form, this architecture encompassed an array of interdependent institutions—schools, hospitals, mother-and-baby homes, adoption agencies, and Magdalen laundries —that obscured the less desirable elements attached to a number of interrelated social phenomena, including poverty, illegitimacy, and infanticide .3 In its more abstract form, this architecture comprised both the legislation that inscribed these issues as well as the numerous official and public discourses that resisted admitting the existence and function of their “TELLING” STORIES IN THE BUTCHER BOY AND STATES OF FEAR 111 1 Patrick McCabe, The Butcher Boy (New York: Delta Books, [1992] 1997). All further references to The Butcher Boy refer to this edition and will be cited parenthetically in the text. 2 My understanding of the State’s investment in institutional containment is influenced by Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1995) and The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley, Vol. 1 (New York: Vintage Books, 1990). 3 The Magdalen was an institution for women deemed socially deviant or sexually promiscuous. In Ireland, women religious operated Magdalen institutions. Those committed invariably spent their days laboring in industrial laundries—the philosophy being that having been “stained” by the sin of immorality they could cleanse themselves by constant labor, prayer, and isolation. Thousands of Irish women were committed to the Magdalen by other family members. Many remained incarcerated for the rest of their lives and were denied all civil and legal rights. affiliated institutions. What remains incontrovertible, however, is that this bureaucratic apparatus and the discourses surrounding it served the nation-state: its function, to confine and render invisible segments of the population whose very existence threatened Ireland’s national imaginary, the vision of Ireland enshrined in President Eamon de Valera’s 1937 constitution .4 As a result, among those incarcerated were unmarried mothers, illegitimate and abandoned children, orphans, the sexually promiscuous, the socially transgressive, and, often, those merely guilty of “being in the way.”5 The Butcher Boy participates in the formation of a narrative that excavates the elided history of Ireland’s architecture of containment. In 1999, only seven years after the publication of The Butcher Boy, Mary Raftery’s three-part documentary States of Fear, examining the history of Ireland’s residential child care practices, aired on the national broadcasting network.6 It remains, to date, the most significant representation of the nation’s containment infrastructure. The first episode concentrated on Ireland’s industrial and reformatory schools prior to 1970, when the recommendations of the Kennedy Report indicted the whole system and resulted in the closure of many larger institutions.7 Thirty years later, seven witnesses challenged Irish television audiences with memories of neglect and abuse.8 John Prior revealed that he was “sadistically sexually abused” on the day he made his First Holy Communion. Barney O’Connell told how the Christian Brother in charge of the nationally “TELLING” STORIES IN THE BUTCHER BOY AND STATES OF FEAR 112 4 My use of the term “national imaginary” reflects the influence on my work of Benedict Anderson’s seminal text on modern nationalism. See Anderson’s Imagined Communities : Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso Press, 1991). 5 The use of the term “illegitimate” throughout this article refers only to society’s rendering of the birth as transgressive of social norms. It does not, obviously, refer to the child itself. 6 States of Fear, three episodes, narr., Áine Lawlor, writ., prod., dir., Mary Raftery, RTÉ, Ireland, 27 April to 11 May 1999. Raftery together with...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 111-130
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.