- History Repeating Itself:Men, Masculinities, and "His Story" in the Fiction of Micheál Ó Conghaile
The status of Irish as a minority language and recognition of its broken and often traumatized past give it a distinctly alive, almost virtual sense of reality in contemporary Irish-language letters. This recognition prompts the feeling that, in language as in life, in the words of the poem by Seamus Heaney, "Anything can happen, the tallest things … / Be overturned, those in high places daunted, / Those overlooked regarded" (10). Yet despite its minority status the Irish language is far from overlooked: Irish, or an Ghaeilge, is a feminine noun, and thus it should come as no surprise that in contemporary Irish criticism the female experience and the feminine—in terms of both writers and characters—have been the subject of exploration. To be sure, a number of Irish-language women prose writers and dramatists who began publishing in the 1950s and 1960s have not yet received the critical attention that their works deserve, and this absence of critical attention is all the more striking in an era of Irish-language feminist criticism.1 Nevertheless, writing in 2005, Brian Ó Conchubhair ("Novel in Irish" 227) noted that in the period since 1984 "a little improvement has occurred" with regard to a greater [End Page 17] proliferation of women fiction writers in Irish. Since the publication of his essay the "improvement" mentioned has continued, and there are increasing numbers of women fiction writers in Irish.
For all of this slow-growing visibility of female writers in Irish, however, the fact remains that the majority of contemporary Irish-language fiction writers active since the 1980s—in particular, novelists from Irish-speaking regions—have been male. More importantly in the context of this essay and masculinities studies, the writing of these individuals has focused to a large extent on the male subject, on men's life experiences, on their interactions with women, and on various expressions and themes related to masculinity. Among contemporary Gaeltacht fiction writers who explore different versions of masculinity and the male subject, one finds works by Micheál Ó Conghaile, Pádraig Ó Cíobháin, Joe Steve Ó Neachtain, Pádraig Standún, and Pádraig Breathnach. Yet apart from Sarah McKibben's comprehensive study of masculinities in bardic poetry, Endangered Masculinities in Irish Poetry, 1540–1780 (2010), there have been no critical studies of masculinities in contemporary Irish-language prose writing. This absence of criticism contrasts with interdisciplinary critical studies by scholars on Irish masculinities in English-language literature and culture in Ireland (Magennis and Mullan 2011). For instance, Debbie Ging (2013) has carried out critical research on masculinities in Irish cinema, and Brian Singleton (2011) has done work on masculinities in the contemporary Irish theatre. The dearth of critical work on masculinities in Irish-language literature also stands in contrast to critical studies carried out internationally on both the male-authored novel, such as Alice Ferrebe's 2005 study, Masculinity in Male-Authored Fiction, 1950–2000, and on masculinities and men in other genres.
The writer and scholar Alan Titley ("Saol is A Thuistí" 329) has described much of the feminist critique of Irish-language literature that took place in the 1990s and its focus on the dearth of female prose writers in Irish as concerning itself with "cad-nach-bhfuil-ann" (that which does not exist). It is highly contestable whether the dearth of female prose writers in Irish precludes examination and debate about the subject or discussion as to the possible reasons for the lack of female authors. Nevertheless, differences in the representations of men and women in Irish literature have prompted comment in other [End Page 18] studies. For example, Máirín Nic Eoin and Aisling Ní Dhonnchadha (12) noted in 2008 in a study of emigration in Irish-language literature that there was a marked difference between the portrayals of women's and men's experiences of emigration in modern Irish literature: "Tá sé suimiúil freisin go dtagann léiriú na litríochta le fianaise na staire a dhearbhaíonn nárbh ionann meon na mban agus meon na bhfear i dtaobh na...