September 06, 2013

Patrick Kavanagh and Sean O'Faolain - Tackling de Valera's Mytholgised Irish-Ireland

Eamonn Wall wrote an article on Patrick Kavanagh entitled, 'It is midnight in Dublin and Europe is at war": Patrick Kavanagh's Poems of "The Emergency".' Available here, Eamonn made some fascinating analyses on the role of Kavanagh and the Bell Magazine in working to counter de Valera's rural, mythologised Ireland.  Eamonn explained the role of "The Emergency", de Valera's euphemism for Ireland's neutrality during the Second World War. He said of it:
"Sean O'Faolain saw "The Emergency" as "six years of silence" (Brown 211). Clearly, neutrality, if not politically or morally, at least practically and psychologically, presented Ireland's southern intellectuals with major difficulties. This policy appeared to institutionalize the withdrawal from the wider world that Irish-Irelanders had been advocating since the last decades of the previous century, an ideology given plain voice by Thomas Derrig, the Minister for Education in De Valera's government, in a speech at the 1937 Dublin Feis:
"That set of values which makes the Irish mind different looks out at us clearly from our old music - its idiom having in some subtle way the idiom of the Irish mind, its rhythms, its intervals, its speeds, its build have not been chosen arbitrarily, but are what they are because they are the musical expression, the musical equivalent of Irish thought and its modes... The Irish idiom expresses deep things that have not been expressed by Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Elgar or Sibelius - by any of the great composers."
Eamonn explored the effect of this set-narrative:
Not only was neutrality an assertion of the independent policy that De Valera had advocated at the League of Nations, but it was also a reflection of Ireland's "destiny," one which called on her to be separate from a wider world she did not need. It indicated that the Irish "mind [was] different" and implied that it was superior. Derrig declared, as Hyde and Corkery had done before him, that the Irish psyche could only be given its full life in Irish modes. Six years later, in his much-quoted St. Patrick's Day speech to the Irish people, De Valera suggested, though this was probably not his intention, what form a literature founded on such orthodoxy might take: 
"That Ireland which we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis of right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit; a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with sounds of industry, the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths, the laughter of comely maidens; whose firesides would be the forums of the wisdom of serene old age."
Eamonn explained how the narrative began to be countered:
Writers such as Sean O'Faolain, Peader O'Donnell, and Frank O'Connor accepted the inevitable fact of neutrality, but they also accepted the challenge that neutrality threw at them-to focus their energies more intently on Irish life and, in the process, create a more realistic vision of Ireland to place beside the unreal "official" version. 
Towards this end, O'Faolain founded The Bell in 1940 whose social, economic, and political purpose was to undermine the assumptions that underlined the romantic visions of Irish-Ireland. One notion he challenged persistently was that the rural Irish peasant, as personified by the West of Ireland farmer, was the "true" representative of the ideal, free Irishman:
"If there once was an old association of the Peasant with Liberty it is all over. The romantic illusion, fostered by the Celtic Twilight, that the West of Ireland, with its red petticoats and bawneens, is for some reason more Irish than Guinness' Brewery or Dwyers' Sunbeam-Wolsey factory, has no longer any basis whatever."
O'Faolain made it his mission to show the Irish people that many of the notions put forward by Irish-Irelanders were untenable and false. Whereas De Valera espoused an unchanging view of the countryside, O'Faolain believed it to be in the process of disintegration, and asserted that farmers were frequently unhappy with their lot."
Eamonn continued:
"Kavanagh recognized, as a product of rural Ireland, that the Irish-Ireland version of how life was lived there (which often found its way into the poetry of his contemporaries) was a false one and applied himself in his poetry written during "The Emergency" to examining filrallife critically and producing a vision of rural Ireland that paralleled the work O'Faolain was producing in his essays, editorials, and histories. Neutrality had isolated Ireland from the world: Kavanagh's charge was to isolate the living rural Ireland from the mythical one which had been prosecuted in the early postcolonial period. Kavanagh was certainly the figure best able to perform this task, having proven himself both a writer of quality and as a man with first-hand knowledge of rural life. The Bell, though primarily a literary journal, was one which, as my comments on O'Faolain's role should have made clear, possessed a strong social and cultural conscience where Kavanagh himself discovered his own hitherto latent social conscience."
And some more:
"De Valera's St. Patrick's Day vision of Ireland isfull of such generalities as "comely maidens," "frugal comfort" and "the wisdom of serene old age" and exists in stark contrast to Kavanagh's raw vision which so powerfully undermines it."









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