March is here (though since there has just been a flurry of snow here in Dublin I feel that there must be some mistake and its actually still January) and that can mean only one thing….St Patrick’s Day, the day when the world turns green. For a small country on the periphery of Europe and a population with of about 4.5 million the fact we’ve convinced the rest of the world to celebrate our national holiday is quite the feat. (Take that America, UK, Australia etc. Don’t see the whole world celebrating your national holidays 🙂 )
This year I commenced on a classics challenge and part of that includes expanding my knowledge of Irish classics. I read a reasonable amount of contemporary Irish fiction, and as required of any Irish student especially one who studied English in college I know my Yeats, Heaney, Kavanagh, Wilde, and Joyce (Midterm Break and The Lake Isle of [feckin‘] Innisfree are compulsory for every Irish child). However I feel there is a gap in my knowledge in terms of those who came after Joyce but before Toibin and the current generation of Irish writers. March seems the perfect month to rectify this. I was already planning on it when today I came across Reading Ireland Month or the Begorrathon hosted by 746 Books and The Fluff is Raging and figured and may as well join in, perhaps picking up some inspiration myself.
So what am I planning on reading you say? Well:
Flann O’Brien who also published under the name Myles na gCopaleen (both are pen names) is one of the key figures in that period of Irish writers between Joyce and the modern crop. While he has a following he is no where near as well known as Joyce or Beckett. His books are renowned for their slightly bizarre humour. There’ll be some who’ll say I should be reading The Poor Mouth in the original Irish, An Beal Bocht, but despite 14 years of studying it my Irish is terrible. I forgot every word of it the day I walked out of my final Irish exam, so the English translation it shall have to be.
2. The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien
When you start listing well known Irish authors, you quickly notice a dearth of women. Thankfully that has changed (our Irish Fiction Laureate is Anne Enright) but historically its a male dominated genre. Edna O’Brien is one of the few Irish female writers belonging to that older generation. The Country Girls is her first novel and achieved that stamp of greatness, achieved by our truly great writers, by being banned in Ireland.
3. The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy
The only contemporary book on my list this month is The Devil I Know. I received this book for Christmas. It explores our recent past, the glory days of the Celtic Tiger and subsequent bust, with the main character Tristram appearing before that Irish institution…a tribunal.
4. A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell
Tramp Press, a small independent Irish publisher have recently embarked on a quest to republish forgotten Irish writers. First in this endeavor is Charlotte Riddell, one of the most popular, prolific and influential writers of the Victorian era but who for whatever reason fell out of fashion and was forgotten. A Struggle for Fame is is semi autobiographical. It follows Glen Westley as she struggles to provide for herself and her father as a writer, one of the few professions open to a woman of rank at the time.
I’ve a few others in the back of my mind which I may read, time permitting but for now these 5 are my aim. Are you planning on reading any Irish Literature this month? Leave a comment below and consider joining Reading Ireland Month. There’s more to Irish Literature then Joyce, Yeats and Wilde. Perhaps you’ll discover a new favourite author.
P.S Interesting fact about St Patrick’s Day. Despite falling in the middle of Lent, St Patrick’s Day is a feast day and therefore a pass day in terms of whatever you’ve given up for Lent. So if you gave up buying more books for Lent you can go mad on St Patrick’s Day. Start planning now.