Sunday, 5 April 2009
The Luck Of The Irish
I'm proud of my heritage. Many great writers have emerged from both Northern Ireland and the Republic over the decades, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats and Samuel Beckett, many of whom are Nobel prizewinners.
And why are Irish writers so great at what they do?
Some critics jest, saying that it's so cold and wet that people have nothing else to do. Or is it because Irish folk like a good yarn, they ask? Is it because they are so repressed and that this provides the best creative outlet?
Irish writers of yesteryear were fond of penning poetry and prose about wars. From the First World War to the 1916 Easter Rising, from the Spanish Civil War, to the horrors of the Second World War, the poetic voices captured it all, in their guises of soldiers, patriots, protestors, mourners and simple observers. And the themes they touched on included patriotism, hope and regret, anger and most notably compassion.
Turning our attentions to Ulster, out of Northern Ireland come the wonderful C.S. Lewis, Seamus Heaney, Brian Moore, Colin Bateman, Bernard MacLaverty, and Robert McLiam-Wilson.
There has always been plenty of material to write about - Troubles, Troubles, Troubles - so important, it officially has a capital T. But, disillusioned by what the Province had to offer, many of the leading lights of literature upped and left Northern Ireland to locate their careers elsewhere. It didn't stop the exiles writing about home though.
Back in the 90s, the main characters in Ulster literature took the form of balaclava-clad men with menacing rifles whose allies were fellow terrorists. Their enemies were not only the people they were fighting, but also the ordinary person in the street.
Amid all this woe, it didn't stop writers from incorporating humour into their work. John Morrow's novel The Confessions of Proinsias O’Toole heightens the Troubles to the point of absurdity.
One must bear in mind that as far as literature goes, the Troubles are never going to go away, no matter how hard the writer tries. More than a decade after the IRA ceasefire, writers are still using the Troubles as a backdrop (and yes, I too have used them).
In Zane Radcliffe's book 'London Irish' the character Bic says: "If it wasn’t for the Troubles, Northern Irish novelists would have nothing to write about." I don't think that's strictly true, but the ghosts of yesterday have provided so much material, especially human interest stories that readers relish.
After The Troubles ended, there was a push on to establish new ways of writing about Northern Ireland. With the economy booming and an influx of tourists, writers are now dabbling in quirky themes such as town versus country and the restrictiveness of provincial life.
If you visit, you'll find a wealth of writing-related places of interest and you can also enjoy literary walking tours around Belfast. There's the added promise that the people are warm, friendly and welcoming and they love a good chat. They might just want to hear all about that book you're writing!