Irish Literature

One Semester Course
Open to 10, 11, 12
Range of difficulty 1-3

1. Rationale:

This course offers students the opportunity to discover and explore the rich and multi-textured literature of Ireland. Since the history and culture of Ireland is virtually inextricable from the literature, the course introduces the students to the various facets of Irish life, past and present. The course is not an exhaustive study of Irish literature and history; it is an introduction. About half of the course focuses on the literature of the Celtic Renaissance; the other half of the course examines contemporary Irish literature. Ultimately, the course attempts to peel away the myths and stereotypes of the Irish and Ireland to reveal the complexities of Ireland’s troubled history and dynamic culture. The central question of the course is “What is Ireland?”

2. Topics and Themes:

• Beyond the Pale: The allure of the “Wild West” during the Celtic Renaissance
• Dublin City Life
• Religion
• Silence, Exile and Cunning: The exiled and self-exiled from Ireland
• Family Life
• Women in Ireland
• “The Troubles” and modern Irish history
• The intersection of Irish literature and history
• Traditional and Contemporary Music
• Language: A weapon of oppression
• The presence of the ancient Celtic culture in contemporary Irish Literature
• The Famine

3. Methods and Sample Assignments:

The primary methods are close reading, discussion, brief lectures, formal compositions, journaling, and informal “writing to learn” exercises. There may be several outside projects offering students the opportunity to explore areas not covered in class, such as non fiction works, historical events and music. Connections are made between works, historical contexts and themes in the course. As mentioned above, the guiding question is “What is Ireland?”

See below for a sample assignment.

4. Expectations for Students:

In addition to the department-wide expectations, students are expected to be capable readers and good writers. Students are expected to come to class prepared with observations, thoughts and questions on the nightly reading. In class, students are expected to participate regularly and to listen carefully to one another. As students learn more about Ireland and its literature, they are expected to draw conclusions, make intertextual connections between, and generalizations from the reading.

Reading: Students have nightly reading that varies with the difficulty level of each text: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 20 pages; A Star Called Henry, 30 pages, for example.

Writing: Students have regular formal and informal writing assignments. Three to four formal compositions in the course, plus in-class “writing to learn” exercises, and activator questions to stimulate discussion. There is a final examination. Students are expected to keep notes on the reading, lectures and class discussions.

5. Reading List and Other Materials:

Novels
Doyle, The Snapper
Doyle, A Star Called Henry
Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
MacLaverty, Cal
Trevor, Felicia’s Journey

Non Fiction
Swift, “A Modest Proposal”
Synge, The Aran Islands

Poets
Eavan Boland
Greg Delanty
Seamus Heaney
Patrick Kavanaugh
Michael Longley
Derek Mahon
Paula Meehan
William Butler Yeats

Plays
Friel, Dancing at Lughnasa
Friel, Translations
Lady Gregory, “Spreading the News”
McDonagh, The Cripple of Inishmaan
O’Casey, The Plough and the Stars
Synge, The Playboy of the Western World
Synge, Riders to the Sea
Yeats and Lady Gregory, “Cathleen ni Houlihan”

Short Stories
Doyle, “Ask Me, Ask Me, Ask Me”
Lavin, “Happiness”
Joyce, Dubliners
Kiely, “The Dogs in the Great Glen”
Moore, “An Answer from Limbo”
O’Brien, “Wilderness” and “Irish Revel”
O’Connor, “First Confession” and “Guests of the Nation”
O’Faolain, “The Man Who Invented Sin”
O’Flaherty, “The Sniper”
O’Kelly, “The Weaver’s Grave”

Films
“Bloody Sunday” (2002)
“Dancing at Lughnasa”
“In the Name of the Father”
“Man of Aran”
“My Left Foot”
“Playboy of the Western World” (Druid Theater Production)
“The Wind that Shakes the Barley”

Documentaries
“Language: A Loaded Weapon” (From: “The History of English” PBS Series)
“The Road to Bloody Sunday”

Music
Traditional and Contemporary

6. Bibliography

The following titles are useful to teacher and students alike. Many of the following titles may be suggested to students for independent reading projects.

Fiction
Barry, Sebastian, A Long Long Way
Doyle, Roddy, Oh, Play That Thing
Doyle, Roddy, The Dead Republic
Doyle, Roddy, The Barrytown Trilogy
Johnston, Jennifer, The Captain and the Kings
Joyce, James, Ulysses
McGahern, John, Amongst Women
Moore, Brian, Lies of Silence
O’Brien, Edna, In the Forest
O’Brien, Flann, At Swim Two Birds
O’Brien, Flann, The Third Policeman
O’Connor, Frank, The Complete Stories
Swift, Jonathan, Gulliver’s Travels
Trevor, William, Fools of Fortune
Trevor, William, The Collected Short Stories
Trevor, William, ed., The Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories

Nonfiction
Boland, Object Lessons
Boll, Irish Journal
Bourke, Angela, The Burning of Bridget Cleary
Cahill, Thomas, How the Irish Saved Civilization
Caulfield, The Easter Rebellion
Collins, Killing Rage
Conlon, Gerry, In the Name of the Father
Deane, Seamus, Reading in the Dark
Dwyer, T. Ryle, Big Fellow, Long Fellow: A Joint Biography of Collins and De Valera
Ellmann, Richard, James Joyce
Foster, Roy, W.B. Yeats Volume I: The Apprentice Mage
Foster, Roy, W.B. Yeats Volume II: Arch-Poet
MacDonald, Michael Patrick, All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
Marreco, Anne, The Rebel Countess
McCourt, Frank, Angela’s Ashes
O’Brien, Edna, Mother Ireland
O’Faolain, Nuala, Are You Somebody?
O’Hara, Kevin, The Last of the Donkey Pilgrims
O’Malley, Padraic, Biting at the Grave
Sheridan, 44 Dublin Made Me
Synge, J.M., Aran Islands
Woodham-Smith, Cecil, The Great Hunger

Sample Assignment

Assignment for Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

1. Examine the centrality and importance of walking in the novel.

2. Re-read the Hell sermons carefully, paying particular attention to the ways in which Hell offends the senses. Write a Joycean description of the L-S Cafeteria as Hell.

3. Trace your changing perceptions, opinions, responses or reactions to Stephen throughout the novel.

4. Write Stephen’s college admissions essay answering the following question: Describe a meaningful experience that you had, the way the experience shaped you, and what you learned from the experience.

5. Stephen views nationality, language and religion as “nets cast upon [his] soul to keep it from flight.” Consider what entities in your own life serve as nets keeping you from flight and compare your adolescence with Stephen’s.

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